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By Kathy N. Ross

April 20, 2005
-- Last Sunday evening, the first Shook descendant to own the Shook Smathers house since 1840 spent the night in one of its upstairs bedrooms.

   This Saturday, at 3 p.m., he will invite the public to tour the restored structure, believed to be the oldest frame house in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

   Dr. Joseph Hall, a retired professor of European history and a resident of Washington, D.C., purchased the Shook-Smathers house in early 2003 with plans to open it as a historical and architectural museum.  With a public tour Saturday, he is about to see his dream come to fruition.

   Hall is the great-great-great grandson of Jacob Shook, a Revolutionary War veteran who built the original portion of the house about 200 years ago.

   Jacob Shook originally built three floors to the house, with the third dedicated to the worship of God.  Methodist traveling Bishop Francis Asbury records staying the night at the Shook home, though this journals do not indicate that he preached there.  The structure was sold to the Smathers family in 1850, and Smathers descendants lived there until the early 1980s.  Since that time, the house has been vacant and had fallen into disrepair before Hall purchased it.

   During the past two years while contractors and architects have been restoring the house, they have encountered many surprises as they peel back layers of history going back 200 years, through a major renovation and two architectural styles.

   The challenge for Hall was that he wanted to show all of the periods of the house, from the federal-period original structure with its square-hewn lumber, to the Victorian touches added during the 1890s expansions.  To meet that goal, the original portions reflect the earliest period of the house while the renovations show many elegant Victorian touches.

    Other techniques show off various stages of the house.  In the main room, for example, most of the walls have been stripped down to the original wood.  However, a portion shows the wallpaper that was placed over the wall -- then the paint that was next used for decoration and finally the false-wood paneling that last covered the walls during its final years as a residence.

      The original sawed-lumber timbers can be seen in places, covered in Plexiglass.

      "The entrance hallway ... presents itself as the two confusing periods of this house, the early 1800s period and the 1890s," Hall said.  For example, the upper portions of the wood are part of the original house, while the wainscotting and the staircase come from a much later period.

   What visitors will get, when they visit what is officially known as "The shook House Museum at the Shook-Smathers House," is not an exhibit representative of a single time period.  This, rather, is the story of a house that evolved with time and with a change of owners, beginning as a fairly simple square-hewn lumber house with a chapel on its third floor, to a Victorian residence, enlarged and complemented with elegant details that mark that period, including the outer porches and carved fireplace mantels.  It is also the story of a house that endured the changes of the modern age -- from that false paneling that once covered the beautiful walls of the main room to the arrival of electricity.

   The main room still shows off some of the earliest electrical wiring and a metal chandelier that dates from that period.  When electrical service was first offered in the region, homeowners did not want to tear into their walls, so they ran wires along the outside of the walls and also the ceiling.  Such was the case that the Shook-Smathers house.  (The usable electrical wiring is well-hidden, up-to-date and fully meets code.)

   To help visitors understand what they see, trained docents will offer tours in a few weeks.  These guides will show off and explain the features of the house and discuss the time period in which each feature originated during a presentation that will take about an hour.

   Despite the renovation and research, the house holds tight to her secrets.  Like many a lovely lady, she has refused to reveal her age.

   Oral history has claimed the house goes back to the 1790s, when stories claim Revolutionary War veteran Jacob Shook arrived in what is now Clyde.  Other historians have been more skeptical, believing the house was built sometime after 1800.  Hall had hoped to solve the mystery by taking samples from the logs used as the foundation and having the samples examined by a dendrologist, a specialist in dating wood and when it was harvested.

   But the specialist at the University of Tennessee was unable to date the Shook-Smathers House sample, Hall said.  He could only report that the wood was very old.  A dendrologist compares wood and its growth rings with other wood from the same period, wood with a known history.  The specialist could not find any other wood in Western North Carolina old enough to use for a comparison.

   Other mysteries include three very old and lovely Georgian doors unusual for the period, and a question of where food was prepared for the Shooks in the original house, whether over the fireplace, or outside.

   The fire place in the main room was the only source of heat for the original house.  A small metal grill was placed in the ceiling at some point to allow heat to rise to the second floor.  Later, a fireplace-like opening was made into the flue on the second floor for another popular source of heating - Siegler "heatrolas."

   The amount of furniture in the house is very limited, to show the architecture of the structure, Hall said.

   "We have been offered so many things, but the house will show very few pieces, and those few are ones we know for certain have connections to the Shooks and Smathers," he said.

   The three-legged lecturn that stood for many years in the attic chapel is now being restored and will soon be back in its place.  It does not date back to the earliest Methodist meetings in the house, Hall said, but in fact was given to the family by the first post office of the Clyde community.

   Hall has received much support for local citizens, he said, including his volunteer curators.  The Town of Clyde has supported the Shook-Smathers house restoration, and Haywood Community College students have volunteered their labor for the grounds as part of their education. 

   Anyone interested in the Shook-Smathers house is invited to the preview opening this Saturday.  For more information on the house and its restoration, visit its website at www.shookmuseum.org.