That owner, Washington, D.C. resident Joseph Hall, came to town this week
to see how work on is ancestor’s home was progressing and to show off the
old structure to eight interested citizens. Standing in the main entryway,
the retired professor of European history described his interest and
connections in the rambling structure that depicts both pioneer construction
and Victorian architecture. The great-great-great grandson of Jacob Shook,
the house’s builder, Hall described the passionate interest his grandmother
held in the Shook family in which she’d married.
His grandmother, Hall said, had little family
and so adopted her husband’s Shook family and history as her own. When
Joseph Hall was 6 or 8 years old, that grandmother had insisted he visit the
Shook house, then inhabited by Mary Smathers Morgan.
Morgan was the last person to live in the
house, which sat vacant since her death in 1981. Hall, who grew up in
Asheville but had not been back to the area, saw an advertisement for the
house in a magazine published by the National Trust for Historic
Preservation. In a dual transaction this past winter, Morgan’s family sold
the house to Preservation North Carolina, which immediately sold it to Hall
with a covenant. The covenant commits Hall to preserve the historic
integrity of the home and its architecture as he works to restore it as a
Hall has hired an architect, Jane Mathews
of Mathews Architecture, and a contractor, Heartwood Renovations. Both are
experienced in restoring old structures. The contractor expects the project
to be completed next summer at the earliest. The work will be extensive –
and slow, as the teams work to preserve and save as much of the old house’s
history as possible.
For example, the renovating team had to
jack up the newest portion of the house by 8 ˝ inches to bring it level with
the old part, Hall said. The porches which wrap around both the first and
second floors are being completely redone. However the porches, added on in
the Victorian-era expansion, served their purpose, Hall said.
“The porches were gone, absolutely gone,
but the porches protected this house literally, from the weather,” Hall
said. If the porches had not been in place, the original structure would
have suffered much more damage, he added.
Hall began an improvised tour of the Shook
house in the main entryway where, he warned his guests, “you are going to
see it at its worst.”
Take this staircase out,
he said of the steps that ascended from the main hallway, “and you are
standing in one of the original rooms of the original house.”
The date of the house is
uncertain. Tradition carries it back to 1795, but Hall’s researcher has not
been able to cinfirm that. As contractors scour and repair the building
from its crawl spaces upward, they have found critical clues.
Historian John Horton
had dated the nails used in wooden girders under the house to about 1800,
Hall said, confirming the house’s two centuries of age.
Other discoveries have
come to light under the pink-and-light-turquoise wallpaper used in several
of the rooms and under the 20th-century paneling placed over the
original beam walls. Knowing the existing staircase was not the first, Hall
and the contractor figured the original stairs would have been under the
staircase going from the second floor to the attic chapel. When they
removed the paneling in the front room, under the second floor stairwell,
“you can see these wonderful ghosts of those old stairs climbing up and
making a wonderful spiral,” on the old original wall, Hall said. He plans
to cover that original wall with Plexiglas so visitors can see the shadow of
the original stairway.
In that front room the
contractors also found the original door into the House and an original
window, a small one that would have held four panels of glass. They also
found the frame for that window in the attic and hope to find a glass-glower
to re-create the original style of glass.
Shook constructed the
original portion of the house, possibly with and for his son, Peter.
Jacob Shook died in
1834. About 1850, Levi Smathers bought the house and later had it enlarged,
doubling its size. It was at this time that the stairway was moved and
porches added. The house remained with Smathers’ descendants until Hall’s
Hall is avoiding the
debate over Bishop Francis Asbury’s role at the Shook House. What is known
is that Jacob Shook built three floors in the original section of the house,
with the third devoted to the worship of God. What is also known is that
Asbury, America’s first Methodist bishop, mentioned in his diary that he
stayed a night at “Vater Shuck’s” (Father Shook’s.) Tradition carries it
further, declaring that Asbury preached in the third-floor room, but that
has not been proven.
“I’m mot getting into
the controversy of his preaching,” Hall said to his guests. “He said he
slept here, and that’s enough.”
collecting dozens of items as they work, among them several photographic
negatives at least 60 years old, old shoes, medicine and canning jars,
pieces of old tools and a hand-carved wooden piece that may have been a
fire-place mantel or the headboard for abed. Hall plans to have many of the
In the chapel room sits
a short (by today’s standards), three-legged desk-like item used as a
lectern for the many preachers who visited the house. Hall also plans to
have it restored.
Other items are not
quite so old. The house still has several light fixtures, including a
chandelier that dates from when it was first wired for electricity around
1910 or 1915, Hall said. He plans to leave unused sections of the old
electric wiring to show how these first wires were run, exposed, along the
ceilings of existing homes.
After finishing his
tour, Hall took a seat outside on the first-floor porch. There he answered
questions from his guests and others who stopped by to talk about the house
and figure out family connections.
After 23 years of
vacancy, Haywood County’s oldest house and its well-known porches were host
for their owner and receiving visitors once again.