The first politicians and businessmen

By Kate Stow

Incorporation and city offices

On Aug 19, 1876 the Cass County Commissioners Court, upon application of 20 citizens residing in Atlanta, ordered that an election be held on Saturday, Sept 9, 1876, at the “Store house of John O’Dell in Atlanta for purpose of submitting to voters the questions of incorporation and be what name said town shall be known…it appearing that said town has at least 300 inhabitants.” The court appointed B.P. Wood presiding officer of the election and authorized him to select two judges and two clerks to assist.

The election was held and Atlanta became incorporated on September 9, 1876. Its boundaries began “at a point in center of Hiram Street where said street crosses railroad bed at a stake, thence half a mile in every direction making a circle with said stake as a centre.”

On Sept 12, 1876, the commissioners court further ordered that an election be held in the office of R.M. Blaydes, Esqr. in Atlanta, on Saturday September 30, 1876, for a mayor, constable and five aldermen. Minutes of the court show the election was held on the third Monday of September 1876, and J. F. Christian was elected to serve as the first mayor, a position which he held until 1879.

J.F. Christian

Little is known about Atlanta’s first mayor. According to the 1880 Federal Census he was 28 years old at that time and worked as a druggist -making him only 24 when he became mayor. In 1877 he owned J.F. Christian Dry Goods in Atlanta.

J.F. was born in 1852 in South Carolina. He married Laura Ward on January 1, 1879 in Miller County, Arkansas. When he married Laura in 1879 J.F. was 27, Laura was 20, and a daughter, Allis Christian, was five years old. It is unknown if Allis was adopted by J.F. when he married Laura, if he was her natural dad, or even if Laura was her birth mother.

Thomps Robins “Tom” Richey

The owner of Atlanta’s first automobile dealership was born the same year the town was – 1872 – in South Carolina, to Joseph M. and Sarah Quarles Richey.

Richey married Mattie Lanier, also born in 1872, on July 12, 1904. Mattie was the daughter of William David and Paulina Lemmon Lanier of Cass County. The couple had three children: Lanier, Verde and Mozelle.

As a young boy, Richey was a mule train leader dragging tree trunks to a sawmill. Later he became a president of First National Bank of Atlanta and bought several of those sawmills.

The story is told that Tom arrived in Texas at the age of 14 from South Carolina with only 5 cents in his pocket. He then discovered the train had lost his trunk.

He worked at local sawmills and became a chief engineer for a local lumber company, where he met Mattie, who was the bookkeeper.

In 1915 he opened the Richey Motor Company, a Ford dealership, and in 1922 became president of First National Bank. He served one term as mayor of Atlanta, from 1937 to 1939. His home on Louise Street was kept in the family until last year, when David and Kristin Thompson bought it, and are currently remodeling it.

Richey’s daughter Mozelle grew up and married Larry Smith, who later owned Smith Wholesalers. They had two sons, the late Steven and Stuart, who still lives in Atlanta. The Mattie Lanier Richey center at the city park off Holly Street is named for Richey’s wife.

T.R.A. Willis

Thomas Ruffin Anderson Willis was born in Hardeman County, Tennessee, on February 4, 1848. He was the son of Ruffin Anderson Willis, who was born Feb. 12, 1832, in Caswell County, North Carolina, and Jane Hutchins Willis, who was born May 23, 1824, in Wake County, N.C.

The Willis family crossed the Mississippi River at Memphis, TN, in October, 1853, on the way to Texas. However, they stopped in Dallas County, AR at the town of Tulip, where twenty or thirty families had located for the purpose of establishing schools for their children. Here they remained for several years.

At the age of 15, T.R.A. Willis enlisted in Company B, 1st Battalion of the Arkansas Mounted Volunteers. He saw much active duty as a member of the staff of General Cabell.

When the Willis family arrived in Cass County and they settled on a farm which is now the location of the Indian Hills Country Club. Records show that Willis bought those 30 acres of land from Preston Rose Scott.

On December 24, 1865, T.R.A. Willis was married to Emma Amanda Henning of Jefferson, TX. She was born November 22, 1847 in Montgomery County, Alabama, the daughter of John A. Henning, who had come to this country from Paris, France, and Jane Lovejoy Henning of Alabama.

Mr. and Mrs. Willis had seven children: Thomas Oliver Willis, Emma Jane Willis, Ruffin Pelham Willis, Paul Henning Willis, Lupton Wilson Willis, Patrick Claiborn Willis and Annie Allice Willis. Mr. Willis was a cotton buyer and he was superintendent of the First Methodist Sunday School for many years, beginning in 1882.

Mr. and Mrs. R. A. Willis are buried in the Laws Chapel Cemetery with a son, Howell Willis (1857-1884) and a daughter, Mrs. Charles L. Gormon. Mrs. Gormon was previously married to John A. O’Dell, an early Atlanta business owner.

Mr. and Mrs. T.R.A. Willis are buried in Pine Crest Cemetery.

David Smith

David Andrew Smith was born in Talladega, Alabama, on June 3, 1842, the oldest of seven children.

He served in the Civil War from 1861 to 1864, when he was wounded near Vicksburg, Mississippi and confirmed to the hospital for the duration of the war. While on furlough to his home near the end of the war he married Jane Elizabeth Calley.

They farmed in the Delta land for a year, and then the Smith and Calley families started out to find a new home. They settled for a few yeas in Marion County, then moved to Cass County where they bought some land near Kildare and lived there until their deaths.

“Uncle Dave,” as David was called, had a mule named En that lived for 33 years. The Smith’s had no children of their own, but raised her orphaned nephew, Johnny Poe. They also kept their home open to boys who needed a home and substitute parental care.

Jim Smith, Dave’s brother, moved to Cass County with his brother and the Calley family, and later married Jane Calley Smith’s sister. They also lived in the Kildare community until their deaths and buried in the Kildare Cemetery along with Dave and Jane.