Title: Mayor of Philadelphia
Birthdate: November 11, 1844
Death Date: November 28, 1917
Plot Location: Section 125, Lot 48
William Burns Smith was born in Glasgow, Scotland and arrived in the United States with his parents and two siblings when he was seven years old. Another five children would be born after they settled in Philadelphia, where his father was a cabinet maker. Growing up around wood, William became an apprentice woodcarver at age 11.
The marriage register at West York Street Methodist Episcopal Church records William’s wedding day as October 28, 1869 with Ellen Cochran, listing his occupation as a carver. Their lives were blessed with two children, William in 1871 and Ellen in 1874. By 1880 they also had a live-in servant and William owned a thriving furniture store.
Not long after their wedding William also joined the Pennsylvania National Guard, First Regiment Infantry and served 14 years. It was nicknamed the “Dandy First” since it is the oldest continuously serving military unit in Pennsylvania, dating back to when Benjamin Franklin organized an infantry company in 1747. (Known today as the 103rd Engineer Battalion, its armory on Drexel University’s campus houses the 1st Regiment Infantry Museum.)
William was a man who made friends with everyone, joining the Masons, the Young Republicans Club, and the private men’s club, the Union League. He rose to a leadership position in the Republican Invincibles. In 1881 William’s party involvement led him to winning election to a seat and eventual president of the Select Council, which was one of two chambers of the Philadelphia City Council, the other being the Common Council.
He then won election as Mayor in 1884, serving until 1887. One of his first actions as Mayor was to install telephone service between his home, his business and the mayor’s office so he could be notified any time of the day about city business that required his immediate attention.
In November of 1884, Mayor Smith received a request from the mayor of New Orleans requesting the loan of the Liberty Bell to the World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition. He approved the request and permission was granted by the two Councils for the famous bell to travel to New Orleans “as a gesture of goodwill and solidarity.”
This clipping from his obituary describes life after his term was over, but doesn’t mention that his nickname as the “Dandy Mayor” is actually a reference to his years in the Guard. William remained active in business but a few years later Ellen died, so William remarried in 1898. His occupation listed in the 1900 census was furniture maker, and in the 1910 census was assistant fire marshal.
William’s son, State Senator William Wallace Smith died in August, 1917 and William Burns Smith followed less than three months later. Aside from his last few years in Laurel Springs, New Jersey, William lived all of his adult life not far from the York Street church where he was first married. Pictured here is the former mayor’s unique gravestone on the Yeadon side of Mount Moriah. Nothing is written on the black cube except the name Smith.
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