Cooper: Remembering Vander R. Smith's first term as mayor

Special Photo/Douglas County Museum of History and Art

Vander R. Smith was sworn in as mayor of Douglasville in February 1917.

There's a chapter in my book, "Every Now and Then: The Amazing Stories of Douglas County," where I discuss Douglasville's first theater, the Kozytorium, built and opened in November 1914, where Fabiano's is located today. I thought it was time I discussed the man who built the theater a little bit more in depth.

Vander R. Smith first came to Douglasville around 1879 with his father, David Smith, who had been a wheelwright and blacksmith at Brownsville. At the time I wrote the column regarding Smith's theater I was uncertain as to the location of the Smith home, but since then have discovered the family moved to a home that reportedly is the same one still standing on the northwest corner of Strickland Street and Chicago Avenue.

The first instance reported where Vander R. Smith engaged in business in the city of Douglasville was in 1896 when he bought out the dry goods firm of Theo and Charles O. Dorsett and became a downtown merchant. This stake in business gave him the money to diversify into real estate, acting as a cotton buyer and in fertilizer sales, and eventually build the brick building for the Kozytorium.

After Smith's father died in 1907 census records indicate Vander R. Smith remained in the home on Strickland Street with his mother Ellen D. (Winn) Smith, daughter of Reverend Francis Winn who settled at Dark Corner about 1828 and would later be the founder of what would become the First United Methodist Church of Douglasville. At various times two of Smith's sisters, Bettie and Mollie, resided with Smith as well as Mollie's young son.

In 1907, Smith was named one of the Directors of the Farmers and Merchants Bank, and by 1908 was involved in town politics serving on the city council. The Kozytorium theater was opened in November 1914.

Smith made his announcement to run for mayor mid-January 1917 stating, "If you elect me I promise to serve you to the best of my ability and work for the best interest of the town."

Back then campaigns were shorter. Smith announced for mayor mid-January and the primary was held January 24th the same year and just days later. He would run unopposed, so once he secured the primary win, Smith was declared the mayor-elect.

During the first week of February 1917, Mayor Smith was sworn in and thanked outgoing Mayor Abercrombie for his service stating he realized that many things Abercrombie had worked tirelessly for would be realized during his term. An example was the latest depot building constructed by the railroad. This would be the city's third and final depot and was the one many citizens today still remember prior to its move to private property on Chapel Hill Road in the 1970s.

In late March, Mayor Smith advised many people were behind on their city taxes and license fees going back to 1915. A deadline of April 10th was announced, or legal action would be filed. In 1917, the only electricity to be had in the county was within the city of Douglasville. The city owned the small power company, and it fell to Mayor Smith to advise citizens if they didn't pay their power bill on time they could be dropped from the service. During Mayor Smith's first term he along with the city council passed an ordinance setting rates for businesses dealing with automobiles. Auto dealers, those selling oil and other automobile necessities would pay a yearly license fee of ten dollars with garages paying half that amount if they wanted to operate businesses within city limits.

In mid-July, it was announced the city marshal, S.A. McGouirk, under supervision of the street committee would replace the sidewalk along Broad Street running from the east side of W.T. Roberts' store, today's Precedence Building, to the west side of the Duncan Brothers store, today's Blue Rose Art Gallery, using cement. The costs would be assessed against the property owners.

It was often announced Mayor Smith traveled on business. It was never noted if his travels were for personal business or in the interest of the city, but he was well travelled taking trips to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and New York.

Mid-March 1917, Mayor Smith entertained the Governor of Florida, Sidney Johnston Catts, with lunch at Atlanta's Piedmont Hotel along with Douglasville citizens, L.C. Upshaw, R.E. Edwards, Rev. J.C. Atkinson, and Z.T. Dake. Three months later Governor Catts would name Mayor Smith's brother and former Douglasville citizen, D. H. Mason Smith who resided at that time in Milton, Florida, as the superintendent of the Florida hospital for the insane. At 33 years old Dr. Smith was the youngest man to hold that position up to that time.

The most major event of Mayor Smith's first term in office was the declaration of war made by the United States against Germany and her allies on April 6, 1917. Suddenly, Smith was overseeing the mobilization of a draft board, formation of a Red Cross group, and responsible for holding things together. It's understandable that as his first term in office came to an end Mayor Smith took the first week of December off and headed to New Orleans.

Next week I'll discuss Mayor Smith's second term and a bid for legislative office.

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.

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