homepage logo

Women In History

By Staff | Mar 25, 2013

David and Mertie Derr Smith with sons Myron (left) and Jasper just before the father’s death in 1939 leaving his wife to become the first female tax collector in Moreland Township.   A widow became Moreland's first female tax collector.

MORELAND – During the 1930’s the entire nation was in financial stress, so much so a federal works program was implemented. It was slightly easier for farm families who were able to seek out a living on the land. This was especially true for David Smith and wife Mertie Derr.

The Smith’s married July 1, 1910. The couple acquired acreage near the Columbia County line in southern Moreland Township, where in addition to farming, income was supplemented with the husband’s work as a school teacher and township tax collector.

“I don’t know who the previous land owners were but locals referred to it as the Hughes place,” said Myron Smith. He and elder brother Jasper often reminisce of those long ago days. They knew that in 1918 a new barn was erected on the farm by the Holdren carpenters.

Several years passed until the arrival of the two sons who were birthed with the assistance of neighbor Phoebe Lowe Gardner. The mother was 32 years old when the eldest Jasper was born, named for her only brother Jasper Derr a well know area teacher.

The Derr’s were from Lairdsville, In addition to her brother, sister’s included Lizzie wife of Harry Neufer and Mary, wife of Elmer Fahrenbach of Erie.

Sons Jasper and Myron went to school at Laurel Run, church at Katy’s Lutheran and grocery shopping at Charley Craig’s store in Pine Summit. “Mother traded eggs for groceries and if there was a dime left over, we could have candy,” Myron said.

In 1938, tragedy loomed on the horizon. “Dad became sick and in less than a year he was gone. Mother finished his term as tax collector and went on to be elected for two additional terms on her own,” the son said.

Moreland’s first female tax collector was now in office. Residents could make payment at the Smith farm. For convenience, one day a year she held hours at various homes throughout the township. “Mother didn’t drive, so it was my job to take her to these places where we spent an hour before traveling to the next stop,” Myron said.

Sites included the homes of Domer Reese of Green Valley, Dennis Smith near Warn Hill, Ralph Craig near Frenchtown School, Brady Harriman near Frazier bridge, Harry Fenstermaker near McKee’s Heights, and the William Opp store at Opp.

Revenues from collecting taxes were not enough to meet the family’s expenses. With a catch in his throat the son said, “We didn’t have any money.” Myron became a farm hand for neighbor Clinton Shipman who rented some of the widow’s fields. “I was paid a dollar a day, six days a week working from six in the morning until after supper,” he said.

By this time WWII was raging and Shipman had Myron deferred for a year, the young man enlisting when it expired. By this time hostilities were coming to a close and much of Myron’s duties in Florida were passing out assignments to returning soldiers. Jasper was also late enlisting, and both benefited from the GI bill which provided additional education for them. Myron recalled one post war event in 1946 when electricity came to his part of Moreland Township.

In August 1949, Mertie Smith sold the property to Sylvanis Wagner which is farmed to this day by grandson Denny Wagner and family. The widow moved to Hughesville finding work as a housekeeper for Charles Snyder.

In 1959 when her brother Jasper died, Mertie relocated to Lairdsville taking residence with his widow. The former tax collector died June 14, 1977 at age 86.

Meanwhile son, Myron Smith, is a longtime teacher retired from Ferrell Elementary School in Picture Rocks. Keeping a hand in agriculture, son, Jasper Smith was a milk inspector with the DHIA and is now a retired farmer near Canton, PA. Both are Hughesville High School graduates.