Smead Mausoleum: The House That Delia Built…and Rebuilt 

When we ask ourselves what we really want in this life, many of us can say we’d like to be independently wealthy (but let’s face it, that’s not going to happen). Unless you are lucky enough to have been born into a wealthy family, or marry into a wealthy family, or win the lottery, you’d better get used to working! For Delia Smead, she did manage to get this lucky, she got a job which led to a wealthy marriage and finally her own financial independence. However, she appears to have had a bit of a mental breakdown somewhere along the way because most of the articles that we can find about her concern her odd behaviors and brief stays in the asylum.

Delia was born Delia Bridget Smith in Ireland on April 23rd, 1836. There doesn’t seem to be much information about her early life, and in later years it looks as if she changes her birth date on different passport applications and census records. It is difficult to say exactly when she was born and how she ended up here in Poughkeepsie. On her 1887 passport application, it says that she was born in Dublin but married a “native US citizen” in 1862, which would have been her employer, Dr. Wesley Smead. While on her 1895 passport application she claims to have been born in New York. 

Based on the various newspaper articles about her life, Delia had worked for Dr. Smead as his nurse when he moved to Poughkeepsie. Dr. Smead was born in Westchester County in 1800, and had practiced medicine and served as a druggist in Cincinnati, before venturing into loans and banking. He had been married at least twice before, but by the time he married the much younger Delia, he had been a widower for quite awhile. The marriage produced no children but the doctor certainly cared for Delia, as he wrote in his last will and testament, “and finally for her devoted affection in cheering the path of my declining years for her ever anxious solicitude for my comfort for her watchful and tender loving care of me by night and by day during my many years of impaired health, I bequeath to her my never dying love” (oh yeah, and a good amount of money to live comfortably on for the rest of her life).

The couple appears to have lived in the Morgan House Hotel, as opposed to owning a grand house of their own (which means you won’t find them on any census records, which also equals one annoyed historian). When Dr. Smead died in 1871, the funeral for him was held at the hotel, and Delia began making plans for an elaborate memorial. With her newfound wealth, she decided to buy several plots of land on top of a beautiful hill in the Poughkeepsie Rural cemetery. She then began preparations for an ionic styled tomb made entirely of Quincy granite. The cost was said to be somewhere close to $25,000. It was reported that she would head down and watch construction everyday, even taking part in the work: she “would take an old pail and shovel and go down to the Smead mausoleum and work with the men, even climbing up to the top of the monument and working there.”

When the tomb was completed in 1878, Delia refused to accept the work that had been done, as she did not like the look of “one or more of the blocks of granite used.” The building was leveled and rebuilt, and the remains of Dr. Smead were finally interred in July of 1879, nine years after his passing. Stories of Delia’s odd behavior would continue to appear in the papers, everything from telling indecent stories to random strangers in the dining room at the Nelson House hotel, to tipping trolley conductors $5 for a ride (that would be a few days worth of salary). She was known for her liberal donations to various charities and Catholic organizations, including St. Mary’s Church and the Columbus Institute. However, some of her family seemed to feel that her costly donations to random workers was a sign that she needed a rest, which in those days meant being sent to a sanitarium. 

Delia spent about a week at the Hudson River State Hospital before finally being released. She appears to have moved down to New York City, where she lived in a boarding house on West 12th Street. This may give you the impression that she had no money, when in fact her estate was said to be worth well over $100,000 at the time of her death on December 26th, 1909. After a large funeral at St. Mary’s Church, her remains were brought to the grand mausoleum that she painstakingly worked on at the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery.       


U.S. Passport Application – 1887, 1895
U.S. Federal Census 1880
Last Will and Testament of Dr. Wesley Smead, 24 Nov 1869
The Daily News Poughkeepsie – 6 Apr 1874, 21 Oct 1878, 29 Jul 1879
Poughkeepsie Eagle News – 22 Nov 1910, 11 Jul 1908, 27 Dec 1909     


Photo 01-1873 – A photograph of Mrs. Delia Smead from the Vail Brother’s studios here in Poughkeepsie, 1873 – LH Collections.
Photo 02 – A modern photograph of the Smead Mausoleum in the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery.
Photo 03 – A modern photograph of the back side of the Smead Mausoleum.