Another restored antebellum home, the Smith-Atkinson House (built ca. 1853) stands in Johnston County, nine miles east of Smithfield, on Brogden Road. The home, together with four acres surrounding it, was bought from my great uncle Roger Smith by the Johnston County HistoricalSociety in 1982. The Society hired a reconstruction expert from New York to restore the home. After nearly a decade of painstaking work, the restoration was completed in summer 1992, and the home was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Smith-Atkinson house was originally owned by my great-great-grandfather William Alexander Smith, an anti-secessionist Republican who, after the war, was elected as a Republican to the U. S. House of Representatives and who later corresponded frequently with President Ulysses S. Grant.
During the war, in spite of his political beliefs, he remained good friends with NC's Civil War Governor Zebulon Vance. Nicknamed "Blow-Your-Horn-Billy," he was elected nearly unanimously as Major of the Home Guard in early 1865. (Only his opponent, a die-hard secessionist, voted against him!)
I fondly remember my grandfather driving me out tothe "old Smith homeplace," as he called it, where the tenants then residing in the house, provided a tour throughout its spacious rooms and hallways.
(These visits happened during the fifties and sixties--long before the "old Smith homeplace" was restored.)
During the Battle of Bentonville, my great-grandfather, Roger A. Smith, then six years old, sat on the front veranda and could hear the sounds of the battle fought just a mile away as the crow flies, on the south side of the Neuse River. He could even hear the old rebel yell when the Confederate soldiers charged and the hey-hey-hey-hey when the Union soldiers charged.
As family legend has it, the Union officer designated by Sherman to burn the house refused to do so when he saw the Masonic emblem above the parlor mantelpiece. (The officer and Blow-Your-Horn-Billy were fellow Masons.) So Masonic botherhood trumped Union-Confederate divisions!
In June 1992, I visited the Smith-Atkinson house, now completely restored. The New Yorker gave me a tour of the renovated home. He had furnished it with 1840s Empire furniture, had enclosed all modern appliances in wooden compartments, and eschewed installing central heat and central air, using propane in wintertime for the many small fireplaces and open windows for cooling during the summer. I took a number of photos, of both the interior and the exterior. What most caught my eye (and camera) was the re-finished curving mahogany staircase winding its graceful way to the second floor.
Another building on Brogden Road and now on the National Register of Historic Places is the plain clapboard church that my great-great grandfather built (in my grandfather's words) "for the colored people three years after the Surrender." The small plaque above the front door reads "Shiloh Primitive Baptist Church."
On Tuesday April 19, I visited, for the first time in nearly a decade, the Bentonville Battlefield, the restored Shiloh Church, and the Smith-Atkinson House.
(Around 2002, since the New Yorker had finished its restoration, the Johnston County Historical Society sold the house to a family formerly residing in Goldsboro.)
Accompanying me on this visit were an old classmate from Hollins College, his wife, and the couple's three cute Pekingese.
On my blog, Daily Lights, Daily Darks (http://dailylightsdailydarks.blogspot.com/ and http://dailylightsdailydarks.wordpress.com…), I go into more detail about my April visit. The title of the blog entry: An April Journey to Klan Country. An accompanying blog entry: Photos from Klan Country. ("Klan Country" is explained in the text blog entries from both the Blogger and the WordPress sites.)
Indy Week • 302 E. Pettigrew St., Suite 300, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
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