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Man saves forefathers’ home from neglect

Shook-Smathers House important link to Methodist history in WNC

By Jodie Munro O'Brien  August 17, 2003
Staff Writer

Clyde -- It was like a ghost house when Joseph Shook Hall first entered the more than 200-year-old structure of his forefathers.

   “It was completely furnished, and there were pots on the stove but the house had been vacant and unattended for 20 years,” he said.  “The house was being demolished by neglect.”

   The house has stood empty since the early 1980s, and has been waiting for a buyer since 1993.

   In February, Hall, a retired educator and school administrator living in Washington D.C., purchased the historic three-story Shook-Smathers House and four-acre property on the corner of Morgan Street and Carolina Avenue in Clyde.

   His plans to turn the house into a regional museum are underway.  Renovations are expected to cost at leat $300,000, with the work being completed next summer.

   Built circa 1795, the Shook-Smathers house is said to be one of the oldest frame houses still standing in Western North Carolina.  The house takes its name from Jacob Shook, a Pennsylvania farmer who moved to WNC after getting a 1,500 acre land grant for his service in the Revolutionary War.  He forged nails and cut boards a foot wide to build the house at a time when most homes were simple log cabins.

   The house is also associated with the development of the Methodist Church in this area.  The third floor contained a chapel where the family worshipped.  That room remains intact to today.

   The first Methodist Bishop consecrated in America, Bishop Francis Asbury, is said to have visited the Shooks on a number of occasions and organized the first Methodist church in Haywood County in 1810.  Locals believe Asbury even preached from the Shooks’ third-floor chapel at least once, although that particular belief has yet to be factually confirmed by historians.

   Shook was born in 1749 and lived to be almost 100,  After his death, a man by the name of William Welch owned the house, and then transferred it by deed to Levi Smathers in 1850.  Smathers left it to his daughter who passed it on to her daughter, Ruth Jones.

   Hall is a great-great-great-grandson of Shook and first saw the house when he was 6 years old.

   Last summer, while reading a magazine published by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Hal saw the house advertised for sale.

   “I understand the importance of its history in North Carolina, as well as my family connection,” he said.  “The fabric of the house itself is very historic.  In the 1800s, it would have been one of the only houses with wooden walls and floors and a wooden ceiling,” he said.

   Had it been left another year, Hall said he does not think the house could have been rescued.  He purchased it for $84,000 from Preservation North Carolina, which had purchased it from Jones and the other two owners 10 minutes earlier.

   Barbara Wishy, director of the Endangered Properties program at Preservation North Carolina based in Raleigh, said the Shook-Smathers house is an important link to Methodist history in the area as well as the architecture of the house.

   “The house was built in several stages, and represents the early architectural practices, and early types of family living,” she said.  “The appearance today is more of a Victorian era, but those additions were added in the 1890s.”

   “I am ecstatic.  The house has so much history and family history,” said Brenda Hudgins, a third-generation Shook descendant.  “I can see my grandfather plowing those fields and I can see him building the nails to build the house, and building the house – thee are no words to describe it.”

   Hall is trying to have the house placed on the National Register.

   “If someone doesn’t preserve history the future generations won’t know where they came from,” he said.  “We have to save our heritage, or we won’t have any left.”


Want to know more?

§         For information on the Shook-Smathers House, visit www.shookhistory.org

§         For information about historic properties available for restoration with the Preservation North Carolina, write to P.O. 
     Box 27644, Raleigh, NC 27611-7644