“We were approaching this house
and my grandmother asked to stop,” he remembered. “She said ‘I want Joseph
to see the house.’”
“The house” had been built by Joseph’s
great-great-great grandfather, Jacob Shook. Though Hall remembers very
little of the inside of the house, he remembers the outside and he remembers
how the resident owner at the time, Mary Smathers Morgan, loved her home.
Then Hall grew up, went
to high school, and left Asheville. He eventually retired as a college
professor with a doctorate in European history.
He didn’t see the house
again for more than five decades. Not until one day last summer, when the
Washington, D.C. resident was reading an international magazine published by
the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
“My eye zoomed in on an
ad ... with a picture,” he recalled, “and I said ‘I know this place.’”
The advertisement was a
notice that the Shook-Smathers house, possibly the oldest North Carolina
house west of the Blue Ridge, was for sale.
Jacob Shook, a
Revolutionary War veteran, built the house perhaps as yearly as 1800. Shook
used nails he forged in his own blacksmith shop, and dedicated a third-floor
room to the worship of God.
The Smathers family
purchased the house about 1850 from the Welch family who has purchased it
from the Shooks.
Descendants of that
family have owned the structure ever since.
Until late this winter
that is, when it again passed to a Shook descendant in the person of Joseph
Hall, whose mother was a Shook.
Hall, who is a member of
the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington, made inquiries
about the Shook-Smathers house after seeing the ad. He visited Clyde and
his ancestor’s homeplace last October and met with a contractor known for
renovations of historic structures.
The sale took place as a
double transaction Feb. 24 in the office of lawyer Frank Queen. The house
first passed from Ruth Hones, daughter of Mary Morgan, and two other owners
to Preservation Trust of North Carolina. Ten minutes later the property was
transferred to Hall, who signed a covenant that he would not destroy any of
the house without specific permission from Preservation Trust of North
Carolina. The covenant requires Hall to maintain the historical integrity
of the property, and is very specific on what kinds of changes can be made,
including the sizes of trees that are to be saved on the property.
In other words, I can’t
cut trees of a certain size and wouldn’t want to, anyway,” Hall said.
I just felt somehow
within my mind that it would have been a shame to let this thing fall down,”
Hall said. “The house was undergoing demolition by neglect.”
Hall paid $84,000 for
the house and grounds, he said. He expects to spend about $200,000 for the
restoration, he added, and expects additional expenses for the historical
Hall has three goals for
the Shook-Smathers house.
The first goal, he said,
is to stabilize the house, make it structurally sound. That work is
“We want to make it
capable of receiving a number of visitors for many, many more years,” he
The second goal is to
restore the house to its original two periods of architecture, he said.
The first part of the
house, built by Shook, is of the early federal period and at possibly eight
rooms, was “an unheard-of large home at that time,” Hall said.
The actual number of
rooms for the original house has yet to be determined, pending more research
and renovation work, he added.
When you see the lumber
work, you can’t imagine that house being put together with pegs and nails he
made himself,” he said.
After Levi Smathers
bought the house, he added four rooms and a kitchen, roughly doubling the
house size. Hall aims to restore the original portion of the house to look,
as much as possible, as it did when first built, and to restore the added
portion to “look much as it did in the Victorian period,” he said.
A third goal, allowed by
the preservation covenant, is to install the modern conveniences for the
kitchen and bathrooms, Hall added.
“My vision for the house
would be a self-supporting museum,” Hall said. “I see it as being a very
welcoming place for schoolchildren and others to visit. …My goal is simply
to save this house and make it a place for future generations to learn
something of our history.”