The DCWM is proud to announce its inaugural winner of the Elizabeth Hudson Smith Award, Royce Kardinal. Many will be familiar with Royce’s work here in Wickenburg. She embodies the qualities of what the award was created for including leadership and inspiring other women to further the Western spirit!
Elizabeth Hudson Smith owned and operated the Vernetta Hotel in Wickenburg for over 30 years, from 1905 to 1935. As one of the first African American female entrepreneurs in the state, she served many passengers on the Santa Fe Railroad. Elizabeth Smith also opened an opera house in Wickenburg that showcased touring theatrical companies.
Elizabeth and her husband Bill Smith arrived in Wickenburg in 1897. At that time, Wickenburg contained a diverse population including people of Mexican, European, and Asian descent, as well as American Indians.
Elizabeth and Bill Smith first worked at the Baxter Hotel where Elizabeth cooked and cleaned while Bill managed the site. Elizabeth's excellent cooking attracted local attention. Santa Fe Railroad officials encouraged the Smiths to build and open their own hotel across from the railroad depot to provide food and lodging for travelers. They did just that, and the hotel became known for its fine cuisine and atmosphere. The building featured red brick walls that were twelve inches thick, six giant chimneys for the fireplaces and several wood cook stoves. Elizabeth worked with her husband there until the couple separated in 1912.
During the early twentieth century, racial boundaries were fluid in Wickenburg, and Elizabeth Smith found acceptance while the business prospered. She acquired a variety of properties in the area, including a farm, rental properties, and several mining claims. On her farm, she planted fruits and vegetables and cared for livestock for use in the hotel kitchen. Elizabeth Smith also taught French to local citizens as well as to students who traveled from Phoenix to study with her.
However, during the Great Depression, economic competition increased, and the hotel lost business. Elizabeth faced exclusion from social groups and even her own church, as Wickenburg's population increased and racism began to flourish. She continued to operate the hotel until her death in 1935, at the approximate age of 65.
The Vernetta Hotel, now called the Hassayampa Building, is a National Historic Register site. This lovely old building is now used for offices, but visitors may walk or drive by it in Wickenburg at 1 Apache Street.
Information from Arizona Women's Heritage Trail
Mrs. Smith was widely known and will always be remembered for her deeds of kindness to those in need of food, money or lodging.