The Swamp Road Chronicles

 

"The Mint Sisters"

Dear Editors,

I want to share with you a horrible, yet, little-known part of the history of Licking County which includes the Swamp Road region. My story comes from historical research involving The Licking County Historical Project 1921 and subsequent items from numerous local newspapers, as well as entries from personal journals kept by prominent figures in the county.

 

There were twin spinster sisters named Leena and Leeya Smith. They lived on a farm that was located near what is now called 'Watkins Road'. They had inherited their farm from their father who was a successful railroad investor.

They had received a healthy sum of money it is said, though no record of the amount can be found. It was assumed by the people who knew them that they were financially independent which allowed them to never marry or work.

They did, however, sell a product that was extremely sought after: MINT!

 

Behind the Smith sisters barn was a large meadow through which a small stream flowed; the meadow was flat and was often flooded by the stream. The soil there was extremely fertile and was ideal for growing mint. They did not plant the mint, it grew wild all through the meadow. It was some extraordinary variant of spearmint that had a remarkably strong, yet very sweet scent.

 

They would harvest it and hang it to dry in their large 3-story barn. It was said that you could smell the mint over a mile away; it was that powerfully scented. The mint was sold to drug companies to be used in medicines, candy, tobacco blends, lotions, creams, and many other products. It was of such high quality that the buyers would pay premium dollars to obtain it. Apparently due to the value of their crop, the barn was very well secured with strong doors and locks.

 

The Smith sisters soon began to be known far and wide as the "Mint Sisters."

The Mint Sisters were not reclusive, they often had parties in their well-appointed residence and several guests for Sunday dinner were common. It was often noted that a perennial guest was the local Methodist minister from nearby Kirkersville; known as 'Brother Blue'. Brother Blue was well-known for praising the Mint Sisters for the quality of their cooking, especially for their extravagant offerings of tender and savory meat dishes of which Brother Blue was especially fond. He showed his appreciation through enthusiastic consumption. It is noteworthy that during the Panic of 1907 many people could hardly afford potatoes, let alone meat, still, the Mint Sisters had plenty.

 

The Mint Sisters were well-known for their generosity to anyone who stopped at their gate requesting food. Many people were out of work back then and men, women and entire families would travel down The National Road which passed by the sisters' home.

 

During the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 Leeya Smith passed away, her sister Leena followed her three weeks later. They had no heirs, so the county took possession of the farm and auctioned it off with all of the Smith sisters', personal items and furnishings.

 

After the sale the new owners were cleaning out the barn and uncovered the dismembered skeletons of 6 children and 4 adults. The Smith sisters had many well-placed friends and the apparent murders were kept out of the papers. Nothing could be proved, and the Smith sisters were dead and had no relatives, so why stir up scandal, was the thought. There had been no reports of missing children or adults but many transients never arrived at their destination in those days. It seems that there may have been a disreputable source for the Smith Sisters' abundant supply of meat. The victims' bodies were not buried, but covered by a few inches of straw. It would seem that the strong scent of the Mint Sisters' produce served to mask any odor.

 

Dr. Allen P. Dunesette, Ph.D. Homer, Ohio April 12, 2023


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