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Full text of the article -- August 29, 2003

By Kathy N. Ross

Clyde – For some 20 years the Shook-Smathers house has collected history, layer upon layer, buried in dust and time.

  Now the county’s oldest house is revealing pieces of the past as a new owner, his contractor and architect proceed toward restoration.

   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 museum.

   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 purchase.

   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.”

   Renovators are 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 items dated.

   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.