New Orleans Public Library
|Administrations of the Mayors of New Orleans|
Gerard Stith (1821-1880)
Gerard Stith was elected the fifteenth Mayor of New Orleans on June 7, 1858, being the candidate of the American or “Know Nothing” party. He served until June 18, 1860. He had been a member of the Council under Mayor Crossman and at that time was considered a staunch Whig; now he was a good American or “Know Nothing” as the party was called. Stith, it appears, was very much disliked and this prejudice lasted for many years up to the stirring days of the war between the States.|
Stith was born in Fairfax County, Virginia in 1821, the fourth son of Griffin Stith and Mary Dent Alexander. His family was prominent in the affairs of Virginia. One of his paternal ancestors in direct line, was President Stith, head of William and Mary’s College from 1752-1755, who was known as the “Historian of Virginia.” Gerard left his home at an early age and resided in Washington City where he began his career as a printer. His first work in that capacity was done in the printing house of Gideon. Subsequently he was engaged at the office of the Globe Newspaper, then conducted by Rives and Blair. He married Miss Clara Morsell, daughter of Judge Morsell of that city.
He first came to New Orleans in 1845 and was employed in the office of the old Bulletin. His connection with the Picayune began in the fall of 1845 and he was, in fact, if not in name, the real editor of that paper. The Picayune made its first appearance on January 25, 1837. He was also the first president of the New Orleans Typographical Union.
Stith’s administration was featured by several items of importance. No Mayor before him ever had, as he had, a definite policy with regard to public improvements. The need for proper enforcement of sanitary measures prompted him to advocate extension of granite block paving, improved street drainage and the reclamation of the swamps between the city and the lake.
At first he did not have the co-operation of the public in these projects, but his persistence and the assistance furnished by the press, eventually led to a complete change of public opinion with the result that at the end of his administration there were great improvements in the conditions of the streets which up to that time were considered the worst not only in this city, but perhaps of all cities in the United States. The cost of paving of the intersecting streets and those of Canal and Esplanade, was estimated to have been $100,000, an extravagant figure for those times. The Mayor introduced a system of flushing the gutters with water from the river, pumped for this purpose by a plant established on the levee facing the city. A new Normal School was opened in 1858. The Boys’ House of Refuge where trades were taught, was restored. John L. Lewis had been the first Mayor to recognize the importance of these boys having a chance to learn a trade which would enable them to make their way in the world.
During Stith’s administration, the remains of John Mc Donogh the millionaire, were taken from the tomb in the swamp cemetery in back of Algiers and brought to the city to be forwarded for reinterment at Baltimore. It is not known through what arrangements this was done, but it is presumed that it was agreed upon by the Baltimore and New Orleans Commissioners of the Mc Donogh Estate. So those who may visit his tomb and read its inscription, must remember that the body of this illustrious philanthropist is not there, having been removed on May 1, 1860.
Stith was a man of strong personality and great independence of mind. His popularity no doubt suffered through these traits, but they helped him in correcting a great number of abuses which were committed by the administration, so that in bidding him farewell in an editorial published the day he left office, the Picayune was able to say that his period of service was the beginning of a new epoch in city affairs. No man ever left office with as much assurance for future popularity. After leaving the post of Mayor, he became foreman for the “Delta” and later he returned to his post as foreman of the Picayune.
The failure of his health was sudden and unexpected. As a very ill man, he left his home at 83-85 Gasquet Street near Canal, to return to his old homestead at Wythville, Virginia, where he died. He was survived by his wife and one daughter, two children having died in infancy, and one manly son having succumbed to the yellow fever epidemic of 1878.
|Members of the Stith Administration|
June 21, 1858-June 18, 1860
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