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Text of op ed May 16, 2003

   In February, Joseph S. Hall invested $84,000 in a house he had visited only once in the last 50 years.

   That structure was the Shook-Smathers house built abut 1800 by Hall's great-great-great grandfather, Jacob Shook.  It is likely the oldest N.C. house west of the Blue Ridge, and it is in poor condition.

   Before he opens this rambling structure to the public, Hall will have invested close to $300,000 in its purchase and restoration.  That's a lot of money for a house that he will not live in, enough money that Hall may never see it recoup the investment s the museum he plans to make it.

   But Joseph Hall, a retired college professor who now lives in Washington, D.C., did not buy the Shook-Smathers house as a financial investment.  Rather, its purchase and restoration is an investment in history -- Hall's own family history as well as that of the county.  His investment is a hope that in restoring the house it will be a celebration of the past for future generations to enjoy.

   When finished, the restoration of the Shook House should also stand as an example of the best in historic preservation.

 


There have been times since 1993 that the future of this old structure stood in doubt, questions about whether the Clyde house would remain standing until the right buyer would be found.  Ruth Jones, a descendant of Levi Smathers who bought the house about 1850, and two other heirs had refused several buyers, Jones said, fearing they would destroy the historical integrity of the home and its revered third-floor chapel.  Unfortunately, the house also suffered 21 years of vacancy, as Jones, a widow and Raleigh resident, did not want to move to Clyde and live there alone.

   Then Hall spotted a photo advertising the house in the international magazine of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  He remembered the house from a visit in his childhood, and it sparked interest in his family history.

   He visited the house, consulted with architects, and purchased it with a covenant that pledges him to maintain its historical integrity.

   Now Hall has chosen an architect and contractor experienced in historical renovation.  Their assignment is to restore the Shook-Smathers house to its two original styles of architecture.  When visitors enter the house, Hall said, he wants them to see how the original portion, built in an early federal period, looked when Jacob Shook constructed it with nails he forged himself.  He also wants them to get a feel for the Victorian period of the renovations done by the Smathers family a little over a half-century later.

   Though he has not been a Western North Carolina resident for more than 50 years, Hall has rescued a historical treasure for this county and the region.  He deserves appreciation and support.

   The work should also be seen as an example of the respect and investment we should give historic treasures of the past.  Once destroyed these old homes and businesses can never be recaptured.  We should work to preserve them while they remain with us.