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Auction celebrates Dukes/Smith house centennial tonight

By Sherri Ellington Lamar Arts’ Silent Auction will be held Thursday, Oct. 4 from 7-9 p.m. at the century-old home of Jean and Charles Dukes, formerly known as the Walter B. Smith home. The auction will celebrate the 100th anniversary ‘“ or so ‘“ of the house, which was begun in 1910 but not finished until 1912 after Walter B. Smith Sr. decided in mid-construction he wanted the first house in Barnesville to have central heating. ’The architect had to tear out the foundation,’ said Smith’s grandson, Senior Judge E. Byron Smith. ‘Later, the worst job was trying to keep the slate roof fixed. The wind kept blowing it up.’ The original coal-fired heating system, which includes hot water pipes through the floors and walls leading to radiators, now runs on gas. The house also has a central vacuum system though Smith warned the Dukes not to try to use it. A magnetic butler’s call box system does work, indicating the room number from which the buzzer is rung. The buggy-making Smiths were one of the first families in Barnesville to get a telephone. It came in handy one day when the house caught on fire. ’Nettie Jenkins, our Smith servant, called and said, ‘˜Our house is on fire.’ The operator said, ‘˜Whose house?’ Nettie replied, ‘˜Ours!” said Smith. ‘The fire truck did eventually get here. My father followed it home.’ The Dukes’ are the second outof- family owners of the home, sold by Smith descendants Bill and Ruth Summers in 1968 to Mr. and Mrs. Roland Radford of Atlanta. ’There was mahogany and walnut imported from Africa and a mural my granddaddy paid a Dutch artist $5,000 to paint. The dining room was always a nice, bright place to come,’ said Smith. ’Mrs. Radford painted over it with yellow paint. There’s no telling what else she did. She lived here eight years alone after her husband was killed in an auto accident. I remember Mr. Roland sitting on the porch with his beer because she wouldn’t let him drink inside.’ While she kept her sewing supplies upstairs, Byron’s grandmother Willie Hunt Smith used the parlor next to the breakfast room as her sewing room. It overlooks Thomaston Street and is one of the rooms where the original Wedgewood fixtures are still in place. ’She liked to look out and see what was going on,’ he said. The former library, now a dining room, had thousands of volumes in it. ’After Aunt Ruth Summers’ death someone put them in the basement and they got wet,’ he said. ‘I saved what I could. The basement was a dark and scary place when I was a kid.’ Smith spent plenty of time in the house, which was next door to the Cook home, where his mother Sara Redding Cook grew up, before his parents moved into the Smith place. It was built on the lot of the Samuel K. Cook house, which burned. Walter Smith Sr. bought the lot, which at the time stretched all the way to Summers Field. ‘They called my dad ‘˜B’,’ Smith said of his father, Walter B. Smith Jr., before raising an eyebrow. ’My grandmother Cook called the Smiths ‘˜common.’ My grandfather insisted all his children were formally educated. My dad was as genteel as any man and my mama kept house here for eight years. She called the place a white elephant.’ Chewing on his signature cigar, Smith proceeded to tell some tall tales that show the Smith family as anything but common. First, he looked around the large downstairs room where the auction will be held. ’This was the ballroom. They had dances in here,’ he said. ‘That’s the courting parlor off to the left. My Aunt Sara was the beauty queen. She married Arthur Pew Jr. but he changed his last name from the original spelling. Aunt Annie Kate, who was born in 1888, got a music degree. They had to lower the grand piano into the house. She married Powell Cotter Sr. There were tales of Confederate gold used in the building of his house, Bonnie Castle on Murphey Avenue, which has walls four feet thick. Powell came here after the War of Northern Aggression.’ Bonnie Castle was the home of Louise Jackson, now 106, for many years. He remembers Cotter had a Twin Duesenberg, not so ancient at the time. ‘He had the muffler removed and it would rattle the windows,’ Smith said. A cousin, George Summers, ‘was a complete character,’ he said. ‘He went from second grade to Georgia Military Academy straight into World War I. Buster, William Summers Jr., died in World War I. Uncle Riley played a trombone ‘“ but he didn’t have one. Mama and Daddy raised Willie Hunt Summers. My cousins and I did play many hours in the basement. We called it Frankenstein’s lab.’ Relegating a large number of cousins to the basement ‘“ full of tremendous bins to house separate types of pecans sold straight to wholesalers ‘“ to wreak havoc may have come about because of B. Smith himself. After seeing a parachuting exhibit in 1915 he decided to try the feat himself. ’He took a bed sheet and launched himself off the third floor sleeping porch,’ Smith said, then paused for effect and took another chew or two of cigar. ‘It broke both his legs.’ The solarium has now been enclosed and is used as a playroom by the Dukes’ progeny. Three of the Dukes’ five children grew up there and all nine of their grandchildren and four great-grandchildren have spent time there. ’After my father went to college ‘“ he was Sigma Alpha Epsilon ‘“ everyone would stay here on break because this house slept everyone,’ he said, recalling one neighbor who called to ask about the welfare of her son. He had not bothered to walk the short distance home to tell her he had arrived. Then again, what Smith was told of his grandfather, Walter B. Smith Sr., shows the old man was a character himself, with a habit of spitting on the floor and demanding that fresh-cooked eggs be on hand whenever he woke up ‘“ which was not often at the same time every morning. ’There’s no telling how many dozen eggs got wasted,’ said Smith. After buying the house, the Dukes uncovered part of the yard the Radfords had allowed to become overgrown only to discover a working fountain. Smith confirmed it was part of the original landscape. ’There was a barn too but the carriage house still exists,’ he said. ‘It housed a Packard my grandfather bought straight from Detroit. They cranked it and bent the engine. It never ran again.’ Mrs. Radford also turned the original servants’ pantry into a prayer room, painting over the windows. Ironically, the piece of furniture she chose to use as a pew was what is known as a Prohibition bench. Each arm was cleverly made to hide several pints of hooch. It was not made by the Smith Furniture Company, which came into being after Henry Ford flooded the market with tens of thousands of his new automobiles and made the buggy business a thing of the past. Today, the Prohibition bench can be passed on the way up the back stairs to Charles Dukes’ photography workroom, which was once known as the Preacher’s Room because itinerant ministers stayed there. A nearby upstairs bathroom ‘“ the house came with indoor plumbing as well as radiant heat ‘“ still sports a foot bath, a miniature bathtub intended just for foot-washing. Segueing from foot-washing Baptist preachers to Greenwood originally having been a Methodist Cemetery led, of course, to the Smith mausoleum there. The stone was brought in by train, which derailed right at the cemetery. It took 40 laborers to get the stone unloaded and the train uprighted. ’My grandfather ordered stained glass from Scotland for it,’ Byron said. ‘Someone shot a hole through the durn thing and ruined it.’

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