David James Smith, 81, game warden, filmmaker

January 29, 1998|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

David James Smith, a former game warden and wildlife filmmaker, died Sunday of kidney failure in his 18th-century Harford Furnace home, which he spent 40 years restoring. He was 81.

In the mid-1940s, while working as a district warden for the old state Game and Inland Fish Commission, Mr. Smith discovered the overgrown ruins of Harford Furnace, a once-bustling iron foundry alongside James Run in Harford County that dated to 1754.

At its peak in the 19th century, the foundry, whose actual name was the Bush River Iron Works, grew to 48 buildings, including homes, churches and stores for the iron workers who lived there.

The foundry ceased production in 1864. Soap and chemicals were made at the site until 1874.

Mr. Smith restored the foundry's only remaining stone structure. The original 18-inch-thick slate roof and the heavy oak doors were intact.

"The one building left had formerly been the coke house used for storage of coke used in the manufacture of iron," said his son, William D. Smith, who lives in the house.

"The building hadn't been touched or used since probably before the First World War. Weeds were everywhere, but [David Smith] saw that it had the attributes of a house, and he purchased it and the surrounding 20 acres for around $12,000," the son said.

The elder Mr. Smith cut the black walnut trees on his land and used the milled and dried wood to build interior walls, paneling, stairways and floors of what became a 10-room house with stone walls 18 inches thick.

Guided by his lifelong interest in botany, Mr. Smith also landscaped his property, digging stones out of the ground for walls and stairways, and planting exotic trees and wildflowers gathered from all over the state.

"In the early 1950s, he planted a giant redwood that today is over 100 feet tall and straight as an arrow," the son said.

The house was placed on the National Register of Historic Places several years ago.

"He wasn't the kind of man who could sit still. He worked like no one I've ever known. That was his main characteristic -- maximizing every minute of the day," the son said.

In the early 1980s, health problems forced Mr. Smith to give up his vigorous lifestyle, so he turned to restoring and collecting classic automobiles, one a first-production 1932 Ford V-8 Deuce.

"He gathered parts from all over the U.S. and even had ashtrays and door knobs reproduced. The Franklin Mint in Philadelphia used the car for a model," the son said.

Other rare autos in Mr. Smith's collection included an original 1948 Lincoln Mark I with 12-cylinder engine, a 1957 Mark II and a 1973 Mark IV.

Born and raised in Hamilton in Northeast Baltimore, Mr. Smith graduated from Polytechnic Institute in 1934 and went to work as a fish and game warden in Prince George's County.

He served in the Navy during World War II, then returned to the Game and Inland Fish Commission, where he gained a reputation for his wildlife films. After serving as regional game warden for Harford, Cecil and Baltimore counties, he made wildlife films full time and retired from the commission in 1972.

He established Outdoor Films of Maryland and made films for the U.S. Department of Transportation and retired again in 1982 after suffering a heart attack.

For 62 years, he was married to the former Eleanor Nell, who died last year.

Services were held yesterday.

He also is survived by a brother, Earl C. Smith of Bel Air; and a sister, Catherine Hyink of Santa Rosa, Calif.

Pub Date: 1/29/98

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