Historical Perspective

Mayor Electrocuted in 1918

Photo | www.gaithersburghistory.com The building at 101 North Frederick Ave. served as Town Hall in 1912, and the second story was used as a public library.

Photo | www.gaithersburghistory.com
The building at 101 North Frederick Ave. served as Town Hall in 1912, and the second story was used as a public library.

One hundred years ago electricity had begun arriving in small towns in America. It was considered a luxury to have a house connected to the first power lines that often followed the telegraph wires on the railroad.

Richard Miles moved to Gaithersburg in the 1870s. He was the postmaster from 1893 to 1912 when he decided to run for mayor. He was a Mason and an active member of the still-rural community.

In those days Election Day was a rowdy affair with open betting on the day of the election and drinking around the polling place. Sometimes arguments occurred, which were followed by fisticuffs.

At the conclusion of the 1912 election, Miles found that he was tied with John Walker. Each man had received 56 votes. A runoff election was scheduled for just a few days later.

On that day in May, Miles won the election by a few votes and was sworn in as mayor. By all accounts he was an honest man and ran the city efficiently. His only headache seemed to be the annual visit by National Guardsmen who held drills during the summer on vacant land between Gaithersburg and Washington Grove.

Besides shoveling snow in the winter and keeping the streets clean, one of his accomplishments was bringing electricity to town. As a result, one of his duties was to turn the street lights on in the evening and turn them off in the morning. On the morning of Aug. 3, 1918, Miles drove to the town power plant and went inside. His task took so little time that he usually left the engine of his automobile running while he went inside.

Three hours later John Stover, whose home was directly across the street from the power house, noticed that the mayor’s auto was still out front of the building. Stover decided to investigate, and to his horror he found the burned body of Mayor Miles lying on the ground. Stover called Rockville and Sheriff Aud responded. He ruled that a defect in the transmission line had caused the electricity to run directly into Miles’s arm, causing his death by electrocution.

Richard Miles is buried in Forest Oak Cemetery.

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