James Van Hoose

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James Van Hoose

James Alexander Van Hoose (born May 15, 1852 in Tuscaloosa; died April 4, 1936 in Birmingham) was an Episcopal deacon and the 10th Mayor of Birmingham, in office from 1894 to 1896.

He was the son of James M. and Susan Alexander Van Hoose. He was tutored by R. D. Nevins, W. C. Richardson and B. F. Meek in Tuscaloosa before attending the University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee in 1871. He graduated in 1875 and was ordained at St John's Episcopal Church in Mobile by Reverend T. J. Beard in 1876. While preparing for examinations for the priesthood, Van Hoose developed a vision impairment which limited the time he could spend in reading and study. For this reason he remained a permanent deacon and was not ordained a priest.

He was assigned by Bishop Richard Wilmer to serve as deacon and the second pastor of the Church of the Advent in Birmingham, also taking charge of mission churches in Athens, Decatur and Trinity. In August 1877 he returned to Sewanee as general agent of the university's endowment fund and later proctor.

Vam Hoose returned to Alabama in 1879 and received permission to enter secular employment due to his poor eyesight. In 1880 he went to work for the J. M. Maxwell & Company wholesale grocers. When Maxwell died a year later Joseph McLester bought a 50% share in the business which was renamed McLester & Van Hoose and became very successful. Van Hoose married the former Virginia Frances "Jennie" McLester, then built the James Van Hoose residence on 20th Street South and raised five children there.

Van Hoose remained active in the mission of the Episcopal Church in Birmingham. He served numerous temporary appointments in the pulpit, including St John's Church in Elyton, and assisted the rector of the Advent. He was a key figure in the establishment of new mission churches such as St Mary's-on-the-Highlands Episcopal Church at Five Points South and St Mark's Episcopal Church for Black parishioners in Southside. He also supported the establishment of St Mark's School in 1892.

Van Hoose was also active in civic projects, helping to establish the Birmingham Board of Trade and helping to organize the 1884 Alabama State Exhibition. He was president and general manager of the Birmingham and Pratt Mines Railway in 1886 and was the originator of the East Lake Land Company which developed the park and residential subdivision of East Lake beginning in 1887. A year later he helped organize the Birmingham Warehouse & Elevator Company. When the Birmingham and Pratt Mines Railway merged into the Birmingham Street Railway Company, Van Hoose remained president and manager of the combined enterprise. In 1907 Van Hoose was one of the organizers of the Mobile Basin and Tennessee River Association which lobbied for improvements to water transport in Alabama.

Mayor of Birmingham

Van Hoose was elected mayor of Birmingham in 1894. He ran as an independent candidate, facing Democratic primary winner Robert Warnock, who enjoyed the support of outgoing mayor David Fox's political machine, with its base among the white working class. Van Hoose had the support of the Municipal Democrat Club and the Citizens Reform Union, who had led boycotts of the Democratic primary. He attracted additional support from the city's professional class and anti-unionists, as well as from Black voters alienated by the overt racism of the Democratic party.

Van Hoose served one two-year term, during which he made efforts to improve the city's finances and credit rating by reducing payrolls and making the budgeting process more transparent and business-like. Revenues to fund city services such as street lighting were a major challenge during his administration, exacerbated by the piecemeal and ineffective system for collecting taxes. He also complained of the state's imposition of an "Inferior Court" which was sending more inmates to the city jail than it could handle.

At the end of his term he reported improvements to the Birmingham City Jail, Birmingham Police Department, Birmingham Fire Department, Oak Hill Cemetery, and city parks mostly accomplished by the labor of employees in those departments and by prisoners. The city also paved several streets with chert and Belgian blocks, dug drainage ditches to dewater low-lying areas, and installed sanitary sewer lines. Those improvements were generally charged to adjoining property owners. He took care to note that his efforts to promote industrial development, regional infrastructure, cultural events, and improved utilities, which were not part of his official duties, were done outside of his regular office hours. Among the proposals he championed in his closing address were the annexation of Avondale and Elyton, Making Valley Creek into a canal connecting Birmingham and Bessemer to the Black Warrior River, and the establishment of a reformatory and work farm at Red Mountain Park.

Van Hoose did not stand for re-election in 1896. He was succeeded by Frank Evans as mayor. He went on to serve as president of the Birmingham Board of Trade and was one of the organizers of the Birmingham & Pratt Mines Railway Company which later absorbed the Birmingham Street Railway Company, which he served as president for two years. He was a founder of the Birmingham Savings Bank, which was later absorbed into the Birmingham Trust & Savings Co.

Van Hoose's home on Avenue I in Southside was damaged by the 1901 tornado. He later moved to a new residence on Glenwood Avenue in Forest Park. He died there in 1936, survived by his wife, Jennie, and four children. His funeral services where held at St Mary's, and he was buried at Elmwood Cemetery.

Preceded by:
David Fox
Mayor of Birmingham
1894 - 1896
Succeeded by:
Frank Evans


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