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Full text of the article --

Oldest house faces bright future

New Owner plans restoration For Shook-Smathers home

By Kathy N. Ross
Correspondent

May 16, 2003
-- Joseph Hall was about 6 years old when he saw the Shook-Smathers house.

   He was on a trip with his mother and grandmother, traveling west from his Asheville home, when their car neared a rambling three-story structure at the edge of Clyde.


   “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 research.

   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 underway.

  “We want to make it capable of receiving a number of visitors for many, many more years,” he said.

   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.”