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"Tilling the Soil, Cultivating Minds: William Smith's Legacy, July 9 to Nov. 3, 2024" BW Image of William Smith with color image of William Smith High School.

Tilling the Soil, Cultivating Minds: William Smith's Legacy

An early pioneer of Aurora, the life and legacy of William Smith shaped our city’s history, and his life is portrayed in a new exhibition by the Aurora History Museum, “Tilling the Soil, Cultivating Minds: William Smith's Legacy,” now open and running through Nov. 3 at the community gallery in the museum, located at 15051 E. Alameda Parkway.
Originally from Scotland, William Smith came to the United States in 1878. By the mid-1880s, Smith operated a farm along the High Line Canal in the vicinity of what is now Sixth Avenue and Peoria Street on the outskirts of Aurora. Smith raised sheep, alfalfa, barley, corn, wheat and sugar beets in addition to running a small dairy operation.
Passionate about education, Smith donated land for Aurora's first school and played an important role in the establishment of the local school district. He rode up and down the High Line Canal promoting the district, and in 1885, was appointed secretary of the school board, a position he held for fifty years, the longest term for any school board member in state history.
Throughout the 20th century, Aurora honored Smith’s legacy; his home along the High Line Canal, and Aurora’s first high school, William Smith High School, were both recognized as city of Aurora local landmarks in 1986. To this day, his home is well maintained; the William Smith High School is still in use as part of the Aurora West College Preparatory School, and his name also appears on the Aurora Public School’s William Smith Alternative High School.
“William Smith is one of Aurora’s pillars, and his legacy has a deep impact to this date,” said Aurora History Museum Director T. Scott Williams. “Smith’s name is associated with our local education system but extends to several aspects of our city; he was a very active member of the community for a long time, and his story is worth sharing, which is the goal of this exhibition.”
The Aurora History Museum recently acquired a unique desk once owned by William Smith. Generously donated to the museum's collection, it will be the centerpiece of the exhibit, “Tilling the Soil, Cultivating Minds: William Smith's Legacy.” Visitors will explore the life and legacy of one of Aurora’s earliest and most influential citizens and learn about Aurora’s early educational and agricultural history.

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