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Smith, Edward O.

Born: 1817-04-15 Montgomery County, Maryland

Died: 1892-03-08 San Jose, California

Flourished: Decatur, Illinois

Edward O. Smith was a businessman, landowner, politician, and mayor of Decatur, Illinois. Orphaned at an early age, Smith was raised by his maternal grandmother. After a basic education, Smith, at age fifteen, left home for Washington, DC, where he secured work as a clerk in a store. In 1834, he left Washington for the west, settling first in Columbus, Ohio, where he trained as a carpenter. After brief sojourns in Montezuma and Terre Haute, Indiana, Smith arrived in Decatur in May 1837. Utilizing his carpentry experience, Smith immediately entered into the building trade, amassing considerable wealth, which allowed him to purchase and improve large tracts of land. In 1843, Smith married Harriet Krone, with whom he had ten children. Interested in local, state, and national politics since his time in the nation's capital, Smith entered the political arena, representing Macon and Piatt counties at the Illinois constitutional convention in 1847 and winning election as a Whig to the Illinois Senate in August 1848. As a senator, Smith championed railroad development in the state and in Macon County. In 1850, Smith was a merchant and owned real estate valued at $5,000. In 1853, he began making trips to California for his health and business, amassing substantial profits from his ventures, which he invested in businesses in Decatur upon his return. After the Panic of 1857 and the general business downturn, Smith made a second trip to California, returning prior to Abraham Lincoln's election as president. In 1860, Smith was working as a carpenter and owned real estate valued at $30,000 and had a personal estate of $1,000. In 1861, he won election as mayor of Decatur. During the Civil War, Smith supported the Union cause, using his power as mayor and personal fortune to arm and feed military units from Macon County. He supported Lincoln for reelection in 1864, but after the war, he joined the Democratic Party. In 1870, Smith moved to California, spending the remainder of his life in San Jose.

Gravestone, Oak Hill Memorial Park, San Jose, CA; Illinois Statewide Marriage Index, Macon County, 19 May 1843, Illinois State Archives, Springfield, IL; John Clayton, comp., The Illinois Fact Book and Historical Almanac, 1673-1968 (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1970), 216; U.S. Census Office, Seventh Census of the United States (1850), Macon District, Macon County, IL, 128; U.S. Census Office, Eighth Census of the United States (1860), Ward 2, Decatur, Macon County, IL, 43; William E. Nelson, ed., City of Decatur and Macon County Illinois (Chicago: Pioneer, 1910), 2:673-77.