Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Visiting the Archibald Smith Plantation, Roswell, Georgia

In my post of October 14, 2014, I mentioned that we had planned to visit the Archibald Smith Plantation that past week-end but instead we went to the ChalkFest festival in Marietta.  A week ago on Friday October 17, 2014, the weather was quite warm and sunny so we did go to Roswell to see the third antebellum home owned by the city of Roswell, the Archibald Smith Plantation.  Seasonal decorations had been placed by the front door - and pumpkins, of course. 

Since visiting this plantation I have read up on its history.  Archibald Smith was born in Savannah, Georgia, in 1801, and had married his cousin, Anne Magill, in 1830.  They had two plantations along the coast near St. Mary, Georgia,  (below Savannah,) which were struggling financially.  The Smiths were strict and devout Presbyterians.  Another Presbyterian, Roswell King, was founding a small town in North Georgia, named after him, and invited the Smiths to come up and settle there.  Archibald Smith moved to Roswell with his wife, their four children and 30 of their slaves in 1838.  Archibald was the only farmer among the founding fathers - the others were involved in the cotton mill.  The Smith farmhouse and outbuildings were built, between 1843-1845, a mile from the Roswell town square.  The Smith plantation included 300 acres (1.2 km2) of cotton-producing land.  Below is a picture of Archibald and his wife Anne.

Three generations have lived in this house and saved many family belongings which are on display.  Arthur William Smith (1881-1960) the grandson of Archibald married Mary Norvell in 1940 and they renovated the historic home.  Arthur had studied architecture at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris and his wife had a Master of Arts degree from Columbia University.  The house was in the Plantation Plain-style and had been left unoccupied for 25 years.  Below is how the house looked before and after renovation.  (Courtesy Georgia Archives.)

The house, a two-story wood structure, is the standard two-story four-square, i.e. four rooms down and four room up with a central hall.  It originally had a full width one-story front porch.  Mary Norvell Smith, who was a fan of Gone with the Wind, had the original front porch replaced in 1940 with a two-story porch with square columns.  An indoor kitchen, indoor plumbing and electricity were added as well. A back view of the house shows a one-story porch.

Apart from these renovations the house has been left pretty much the same during these past 169 years.  As we entered the house, we went back in time.  A docent took us to look at several family photographs and explained the family tree.  Archibald and his wife Anne raised two daughters (who stayed single) and two sons in this plantation home.  Both sons fought in the Confederate Army.  Archibald, Jr., "Archie" (1844-1923) was the only child to marry.  Archie's son, Arthur William Smith, was the last Smith descendant who married Mary Norvell when he was almost 60 years old.  They had no children and when Mary died on New Year's Day 1981 the house passed to her niece, Josephine Skinner.  Below are the family pictures with enlargements of Archie, Mary and William Smith.  (Click on collage to enlarge.)

We passed from the hall to the office library.  It has original family furnishing from the first to the last generation, such as Archibald's desk to an old television console and small portable record player.


The parlor also contains fine antiques.  When the Smiths fled Roswell during the Civil War they moved their 1833 piano to the Georgia-Florida frontier - to Valdosta, Georgia.

A black trunk can be seen in the picture above - this is William Smith's (1834-1865) trunk.  "Willie" as he was called - the other son of Archibald Smith - was stationed near Savannah during the Civil War.  As General Sherman of the Union Army was taking control of the Savannah area, Willie sent his trunk with his belongings back to the family.  Unfortunately Willie died during the long march home, two weeks after the Civil War ended.  The family was devastated.  The trunk was put away in the attic.  (Pictures below courtesy Roswell Historic and Cultural Affairs.)

There Willie's trunk stood, undisturbed, until Arthur Skinner, one of the heirs of the estate, found it in 1987 - 122 years later.  The trunk contained letters, clothing and more.  Arthur and his brother, Dr. J. Lister Skinner, selected some of the letters and published them in a book "The Death of a Confederate" (which I found second-hand and have ordered.)  Willie had written a list of the items contained in his trunk, and most of them were still there.  Below is the trunk which contained Willie's coat as well as a little box of quinine pills among other personal items.  The trunk was donated to the Smith Plantation in 2006.

A lovely seasonal arrangement was centered on the banquet-size walnut table in the dining room.  The table is original to the house.

There was also an Empire style crotch mahogany sideboard from the 1860s.

We went upstairs to view the bedrooms.  Some clothing from the 19th century was displayed as well as a "washing tub."

The last resident of the house was the housekeeper Mamie Cotton.  She started working as a cook for the Smith household in 1940 and was in their employ for 54 years.  When Arthur Smith died in 1960, Mamie Cotton moved into the house to take care of Mary Norvell Smith until Mary's death in 1981.  When the Smith property was sold to the city of Roswell one of the stipulations of the sale was that Mamie Cotton be allowed to live the rest of her life in the house.  Mamie passed away in 1994.  Here is her picture below, courtesy Roswell Historic and Cultural Affairs.

Below is the kitchen now.

On the back porch is a door going to a small room that was called a "Traveler's or Parson's Room."  It used to be left unlocked so that any passing traveler or preacher who needed a room for the night could stay there.  In the morning he would have had breakfast with the family and provided them with any news he was aware of.  Below you can see the wall of that room on the right, next to the window.

As you can see it was a warm and bright day - not much fall color showing and a temperature of 80 degree F (26.5 C) in the shade.  In 1980 the Skinner family sold 32 acres of the plantation land to the city of Roswell for a municipal complex.  Then in 1984 they sold the plantation home and 10 original outbuildings on the 8 acre-grounds for $125,000 to the city of Roswell also.  This was a much lower price than had been offered by developers to the Skinners, but they wished to have the property preserved.  The house has been opened to the public since 1992 (while Mamie Cotton still lived there.)  We walked around the house to the cookhouse, which was used as a kitchen for the plantation until 1915.  Now it is used for cooking demonstrations.

Then we walked by the caretaker's house.  Originally built in 1844 it was destroyed in 1996 when a huge tree fell on it.  A sign indicates that this was the second oldest white oak tree in the State of Georgia (250 to 300 years old.)  Below is a picture showing the tree, when standing and when it fell (courtesy Jim Skinner.)  The house is now an office.

The carriage house built in the 1850s was converted into a garage in the 1940s.

The slave cabins were torn down a long time ago but there is a slave dwelling representative of such a building.  Being close to the house this would have been used by house servants.  There is an old picture of a slave cabin, but the type that would have been for slaves in the fields.

Walking around the house and in the gardens, I was surprised to see so many tall lamp posts.  I found out that Mary Norvell Smith purchased approximately 39 London street lights from the City of London in 1960.  They were shipped on the Queen Mary.  They were electrified and placed on the Smith Plantation grounds.  Here is one below in front of the house.

Below is another London lamp post on the grounds.

Here is an interesting fact that I discovered: on the information panel in the slave cabin (shown above) I read that Archibald Smith's farm in St. Mary in coastal Georgia had been named "Appenzelle" which I thought an unusual name for a southern farm and believed it was for a reason.  I knew of Appenzell, a city and canton in Switzerland.  So I did some digging and found out that around 1730 or so the new colony of Georgia, had sent PR leaflets to Europe to entice immigrants to settle in this new southern frontier.  In 1737 two hundred Swiss immigrants from Canton Appenzell relocated close to Augusta, Georgia, near the Savannah River, in Beech Island.  The leader of these German and French speaking Swiss settlers was John Tobler.  Anna Tobler (1725-1765) came to Georgia from Appenzell and was the great-grand mother of both Archibald Smith and his wife Anne Magill Smith (they were cousins.)  So this is why Archibald Smith had called his plantation Appenzelle.   Below are photos of Appenzell (courtesy French General Consulate in Zurich) and two vintage postcards showing Appenzell costumes.

The Archibald Smith Plantation is a beautiful place but, it does not have the mountain vistas of Canton Appenzell.  I played with my photos and made the house in sepia color.

Then I used the "paint" option and made my photo of the house as a watercolor.  But in black and white, sepia, or in color, it is truly a lovely place to visit.  With the house museum, all the artifacts, buildings and structures we got a glimpse at the lives of the inhabitants of this "big house" in the antebellum Deep South.


23 comments:

Carol Crump Bryner said...

I loved reading about and seeing this beautiful house. How wonderful that it has been preserved for others to see. The items in the trunk and the list made of them show how precious each possession was to a person back then. How would we list our precious possessions today, I wonder? Thanks, Vagabonde, for this interesting glimpse into the past.

Elephant's Child said...

Another wonderful, detailed post. Thank you.
I love that Mamie was allowed to remain in the house - which was undoubtedly a home to her.

Valerie-Jael said...

Great post, very enjoyable. Thanks for sharing. Valerie

DJan said...

So much history in that house! I am always amazed at the detail you are able to discover and provide about the places you visit and the pictures you take. Thank you for another wonderful visit to Georgia. :-)

Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

I love to visit and read about old houses. We all have histories and it is fun to look back at how the generations before us lived.

Things and Thoughts said...

How many things I learn here...How interesting are the information you give us and the wonderful photos you take.And I have visited Appenzell two years ago, while we were in Zurich.I also like playing with my camera and computer possibilities so I have much appreciated your sepia colored or watercolored pictures.
Thanks for sharing and happy weekend!
Olympia

David said...

Vagabonde, This is a nicely preserved and restored piece of Americana... Thanks for all the history and background. It's great that so many aritfacts and family items were saved and are part of the exhibit. As usual your photos are terrific! I like the fact that Mamie was allowed to live in the house after Mary died. My now deceased wealthly aunt from the Atlanta area built homes and furnished them for her 2 housekeepers and her secretary. Take care of those who take care of you and yours...a good rule to live by! Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Patricia said...

I really enjoyed reading this post and learnd so much history. Stunning photos, thank you for sharing. P x

Magic Love Crow said...

Amazing history and great photos! I love coming to your blog! Hugs ;o)

Thérèse said...

Que de recherches pour ce formidable billet. COmme si nous y etions. C'est formidable et decrit si bien la vie de l'epoque. J'eprouve bien sur de l'admiration pour ces proprietaires qui se separent de leurs biens tout en voulant garder les lieux dans leur etat, quitte a en tirer bien moins d'argent.
Mamie Cotton devait surement avoir des souvenirs dignes d'etre ecrits. Je me demande si elle a ete interviewee?

Dee said...

Dear Vagabonde, your postings are always so satisfying. Usually, I take a deep breath when I finish reading one, content that I've learned something new and delighted with all the facts and the research and the beauty of your photographs and the details shared in text and photo.

Thank you once again for taking me with you on this adventure to Roswell. Peace.

Mae Travels said...

Your collage of the old kitchen (1940?) is fascinating. The arrangement of dishes, utensils, tablecloth, timers, and "food" (I assume artificial) gives such an interesting idea of how it would have been used. On my food blog I always try to show kitchens I've visited.

Very nice post.

ELFI said...

un peu de' autant en emporte le vent'...les coffres sont magnifiques!

Cergie said...

Il semblerait que cette demeure même abandonnée soit restée en bon état, et que seul le parc et sa végétation aient cru et prospéré, ayant des airs de château de la Belle au Bois Dormant. L'intérieur est cossu et sobre, c'est charmant mais devait être difficile à entretenir ! Il fallait du "personnel"...
;-)
Je souris, mais ma grand mère elle même était très gâtée, elle a eu des nurses pour ses enfants et n'a jamais fait une vaisselle de sa vie (selon une de mes tantes). Autrefois, la vie n'était pas forcément heureuse pour tout le monde...

Down by the sea said...

Reading about this house was so interesting, your posts are always so informative. Sarah x

Carola Bartz said...

These plantations are gorgeous... reminds me a lot of Gone with the Wind. I adore this collection of old suitcases and trunks, what a treasure!

rhymeswithplague said...

Another absolutely fascinating post, Valerie. Like the New Yorker who has never visited the Statue of Liberty or the top of the Empire State Building, I have lived in East Cobb and Cherokee Counties since 1975, attended church in Roswell for years, and passed by the historic buildings many times without ever checking them out. Thank you for the wonderful photographs and thorough research that are hallmarks of all of your posts.

Nadezda said...

It's surprising to learn that Mary Smith purchased 39 London street light! What a idea for American Plantation! I think these street light looked nice around the Plantation grounds. The story you "dug" of Appenzell is interesting and unusual, Vagabonde. Love the old photos you posted here!

EG CameraGirl said...

It's wonderful that this home has been renovated so we can see what life was like a century and a half ago.

rhymeswithplague said...

Vagabonde, please forgive my social faux pas regarding your name (I called you Valerie). It was due to my poor eyesight; I apparently can't distinguish a period from a comma any more. While reading through the comments, I thought someone had revealed your named by saying, "Thank you, Valerie." Now I see that commenter Valerie-Jael said, "Great post, very enjoyable. Thanks for sharing. Valerie" -- that is, she had signed her name at the end of her comment. She was not addressing you. Such is life as one ages: periods and commas, when small, look alike.

If you like, you may refer to me as Maurice or Pierre for the next couple of months.

Perpetua said...

I love coming with you on your informative visits to historic houses, Vagabonde, and this was no exception. Your words and pictures bring the house and its history vividly to life. Totally fascinating.

Friko said...

I love the picture of the house best. It’s like a scene from Gone With The Wind, as I imagine it.

Abraham Lincoln said...

I found you and others whose addresses were lost -- seemingly lost in time. When I found you I started reading about the Archibald Smith Plantation. Your written description of where you went and what you got to see is amazing and the details caused me to think that you must carry a kind of steno book and use shorthand to record your thoughts as you pass from place to place on the plantation. Plantations have always intrigued me and I love the old movies about them. That special TV series about the one black boy stolen and brought to this country -- I cannot remember the name of the series -- was an eye opener to me. I am related to President Abraham Lincoln and in my research I learned that my family, from Tennessee, owned slaves and when my relatives died, they were sold and the families were broken up. A sad take to be sure.

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