Coming off a successful first year as Douglasville's mayor in 1917, Vander R. Smith announced in January 1918, he wanted to serve a second term. Back then the term of office for mayor was one year, so without any opposition whatsoever, Mayor Smith was beginning his second term by February 1918.
Vander R. Smith had been a popular and well-respected citizen across the county for several years. In his personal business dealings, he was known to treat customers and employees with courtesy and fairness and was known to apply himself diligently making him one of the most successful businessmen in this section of the state.
He was one of the county's most honored and useful citizens. He stood for progressiveness in business and civic affairs and generally led the way in all things. Smith was very active in the Commercial Club, a forerunner of what we would consider today to be the Chamber of Commerce, a subject I hope to feature in an upcoming column.
If we remember Mayor Smith for anything it would have to be the fact he was the mayor during the entire 19 months the United States was involved in World War I. Suddenly, when war was declared on April 6, 1917, Mayor Smith was overseeing the mobilization of a draft board, formation of a Red Cross group, and responsible for holding the town of Douglasville together. Mayor Smith seems to have done a great job. He served on the Red Cross finance committee, and it was reported in April 1918, he made a $1,000 donation to the organization, a considerable amount in those days.
In June 1918, Mayor Smith led the way during a War Saving Stamps drive issuing a proclamation that called for citizens to devote June 14 and June 28 for purchasing the stamps. He wanted citizens to wake up to their responsibility to help with the war effort, and he wanted the most noise made possible to serve as a reminder by asking for the church bells, the chimes in the clock tower of the 1896 courthouse, the steam whistle at the cotton mill and other noise makers around town to be activated at noon on the specified dates.
By the end of June 1918, Mayor Smith announced he would run to represent Douglas County as state representative succeeding J.T. Duncan. The Democratic primary would be held on September 11th, and Smith began to gear up for campaigning. William J. Harbin, W.R. Willoughby, and F.M. Yancy were also running for the seat.
The bid for the statehouse, however, was not to happen. Five days before the primary Mayor Smith had to pull out of the race for representative due to family matters and the intrusion of the war. Mayor Smith's brother was heading to Europe as a soldier, and in a published statement in the "Douglas County Sentinel" Mayor Smith said, "I will not have another opportunity to see (my brother) before he sails, and if I remain in the race for representative I would have to forgo the pleasure of being with (my brother) in New York. I have decided to withdraw from the race." Yes, Mayor Smith sacrificed his political aspirations for what could have been one last visit with his brother.
Folks in Douglasville learned early in the morning, Monday, November 11, 1918, that the war was over. People were asleep when the bells and whistles began to ring. It must have been a sight as people assembled in the streets, some still in their bedclothes. Speeches were made, and Mayor Smith declared a holiday for the town. It was reported large numbers of Douglas County folks left for Atlanta to be in on the larger celebrations there.
By the end of 1918 thoughts turned to the upcoming city elections. There were rumblings the very popular Vander R. Smith would stand for re-election to a third term and would probably have no opposition. However, for whatever reason Smith decided not to run, and the mayor's race for 1918 was between Z.T. Dake, the publisher and editor for the "Douglas County Sentinel," and Dr. T.R. Whitley. It was a close race with Dake winning the office of mayor by just 19 votes.
And Vander R. Smith? He remained a progressive changing the business landscape of Douglasville for many years to come. In 1920, he surprised family and friends when he finally married for the very first time at age 37. His bride, Carrie K. Nutt, was twenty-two years younger than him!
Smith died on July 28, 1948. His funeral was held at the Douglasville First United Methodist Church, and he was laid to rest at the Douglasville City Cemetery.
Lisa Cooper writes the amazing stories of Douglas County each Sunday. You can find her new book "Every Now and Then: The Amazing Stories of Douglas County" online at Amazon, print and Kindle versions. Locally, her books can be found at the Douglas County Museum of History and Art, The Farmer's Table and Lithia Springs Pharmacy.