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Ashville Citizen-Times
Haywood County News

May 5, 2005

 
by Bill Studenc, Local commentary
published May 5, 2005

The town of Clyde, ravaged by floodwaters when heavy rains spawned by the twin tropical storms Frances and Ivan transformed the gentle Pigeon River into a raging torrent twice in the month of September, is slowly returning to normal.

In the hard-hit low-lying area of town, lights are beginning to flicker again in the windows of several houses, one of several signs that at least some residents have been able to return home.

To be sure, much work remains to be done. All it takes is a quick spin through town and seeing all the still-darkened buildings emblazoned by those bright orange Xs, indicating structures remain unsafe for habitation nearly nine months later, to realize many Clyde residents are still feeling the impact of last fallís meteorological monsters. The story is much the same in the neighboring town of Canton.

Nevertheless, the reappearance of lights in windows, cars in driveways and kids in yards is cause for quiet optimism that the town is on its way back.

While not related directly to recovery from the disastrous flooding, thereís another recent development that should warm the hearts of residents of Clyde.

Itís the reopening of the historic Shook-Smathers House.

In fact, the transformation of the once-dilapidated structure should serve as a morale boost for the town, a symbol of restoration and resilience, proof positive that hard work and perseverance pays off.

For years, Iíve watched what appeared to be a once grand old house sitting vacant and falling into disrepair, plainly visible from U.S 19/23 through the center of town. I often thought the structure would make a great bed-and-breakfast inn, and wondered why no one bothered to buy the place and fix it up. A few weeks ago, something even better happened, as the house opened its doors for the first time as a museum of history and architecture.

The man responsible for bringing the structure back from the brink of demolition is Joseph Hall, a descendent of the family that originally built the house in either the 1790s or the 1800s.

Regardless of which of the stories you choose to believe about when the place was constructed, the house nevertheless is believed to be the oldest frame structure in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Built by Revolutionary War veteran Joseph Shook, the house was visited often by acclaimed Methodist Bishop Francis Asbury, whose name adorns the walking trail around Lake Junaluska.

Descendents of Shook sold the house to the Smathers family in the 1850s, and members of that family, who expanded the house in the 1890s, continued to live there until about 20 years ago. Hall, a great-greatgreat- grandson of Joseph Shook, bought the house in 2003, and began the arduous process of restoring it.

Under Hallís watchful eye, much of the house has been transformed back to its original appearance ó or as close as could be approximated ó except that all appliances and utilities are up to current code.

At the same time, he has attempted to show the way that architecture, interior design, and the arrival of modern conveniences impact a building over the decades. Instead of providing an architectural snapshot of a single historical period, Hall wanted to give visitors a glimpse at how a house is sort of a living, breathing being, changing with the changing fashions. (Thankfully, no shag carpet or avocado appliances).

Members of the public got their first glimpse at the restored Shook-Smathers House a couple Saturdays ago during a preview tour. An official opening and regular operating hours have yet to be announced, but plans include a modern kitchen that would enable the facility to be used for catered events such as weddings and parties.

Like a lot of things in Clyde these days, the Shook-Smathers House remains a work in progress. And like a lot of things in Clyde, it will be well worth the effort and the wait.