House provides positive symbol
It has provided a study in contrasts these recent months: as flood-ravaged houses in Clyde were gutted, sometimes dismantled, the oldest house in the county has thrived in its slow res-toration.
The floodwaters of the Pigeon River neared the Shook-Smathers House back in September, but they didnít reach it, so that the structure with around 200 years of history continued its comeback.
At a time when this little town and its neighbors have endured so much flood damage, the house has become a beacon of sorts, a kind of promise that Clyde will make it through these tough times.
This was the house that was almost beyond repair, after 20 years of vacancy. The interior portion had been built by Revolutionary War veteran Jacob Shook and possibly his son, sometime just before or after the turn of the 19th century. It had been a part of Methodist heritage, given the legends of Jacob Shookís cornfield conversion and the certainty that he had hosted pioneer Methodist bishop Francis Asbury. The Shooks had used the third floor of the house as a Methodist chapel, then donated land for what is now Louisa Chapel United Methodist Church.
Everyone wanted someone to buy the dilapidated house, but no one seemed willing to sink the huge amounts of money into the structure that would be required for its salvation.
No one, that is, until Dr. Joseph Hall, a retired professor, saw the house advertised for sale in an historical magazine. Dr. Hall, a direct descendant of Jacob Shook, remembered visiting the house as a child. Though he now lives in Washington, D.C., Hall was willing to buy the house and finance a huge portion of it restoration, sinking more than a quarter-million dollars into the project.
Hall certainly could have chosen a far more profitable way to use his money, but he has poured it into his heritage. Itís a grand gesture for someone who grew up in Asheville but never actually lived in Haywood County.
The timing has been remarkable, coming when so much of Clyde was flooded last September, when so many people have had to leave their homes, many never to return. But folks could still look toward the west end of town and see that big old house coming back into its glory. It was a visible reminder that if the house beyond saving could be rescued, the rest of Clyde ó and Canton, and Bethel and Cruso ó could make a comeback as well.
Hallís February newsletter offers some promising hints of what the Shook House Museum at the Shook-Smathers House will hold when it opens, possibly in mid-April.
The museum will feature three periods of architecture, based on the original log building and the two additions built around it. An up-to-date kit-chen will also offer a site for special catered events such as weddings and receptions.
Family members have do-nated artifacts and old legal records. The records are now being studied by the National Trust in Washing-ton. The 1890s floors have been refinished and the chapel on the third floor has been configured as close as can be calculated from its early days.
Hall is getting a lot of help from the community. Staff and students from Haywood Com-munity College have been working on the landscape, trimming trees and planning the gardens. Patrick Willis of the Biltmore staff is serving as volunteer curator, while Fran-ces C. Hart is working as a volunteer managing director.
A web site, www.shookmuseum.org is available for more information on the project.
Hall is asking for financial help to develop a small visitorís center to accommodate school groups and other large groups. Those who want to help with this effort can send a tax deductible donation to the Shook Museum Foundation, Box 355, Clyde NC 28721.
Given Hallís investment in this community, those of us who can, should consider helping out with this final phase. Those of us who have found our finances drained by the Pigeonís flood waters should at least offer this man a warm thank you for his belief in the past and present of this community.