204 N. Washington, Munfordville, KY: The Francis Asberry Smith & Louise Thomas Smith House

Kentucky is full of little towns with only a relative handful of people (who are usually all relatives!), quietly abandoned houses, and a lot of silent, ignored history.

Munfordville, Kentucky, just off I-65, fits the bill.  Most notably in its rich past, Munfordville brought up two boys who would end up generals on opposite sides of the Civil War.

As I was strolling Munfordville in early 2013, I couldn’t help but notice this incredible–and very neglected–old house.

The House

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The sagging porch, the faded grandeur of an age long gone–oh, I had to see more!

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The walking tour and the sign in front identified the home as the Francis Asberry Smith & Louise Thomas Smith House.  The details of its origins were meager, which only served to make it more mysterious.

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The more I saw, the more I was amazed.  The house seemed to never end.  It was certainly one of the largest in-town homes I’ve come across.  And from the broken glass of its front windows to the sidewalk that hugged the south wall to the curiously empty lot next door, it practically oozed a story ripe for the telling–if I could only find it.

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The notice–a small sign posted on the front door–told me what the home had been most recently.  But before this old beauty was an apartment, who had she belonged to?  Who lived here?  Who dreamed her up?

My most immediate source was the walking tour pamphlet that was guiding me through town.  It offered this tidbit:

At the end of the block is the Francis Asberry Smith House.  This beautiful old home was built around 1835, the date impressed on several of the bricks used in construction.

F. A. Smith moved to Munfordville in 1830 and started a general store and later a meat processing plant. During the war, Smith, a staunch Union man, refused to sell any products to the Confederacy. It is unknown as to why they did not confiscate his goods, unless his friendship with Buckner had some influence.

The Smith house was at different times occupied by senior officers of both armies. John Hunt Morgan, the notorious Confederate cavalry leader, occupied the residence briefly in September 1861 while awaiting his original troop of cavalry in the Confederate service.
http://www.munfordvillestories.com/old-munfordville-tour/stop-7-thomas-bolin-munford-house/

Knowing that this home had once hosted Civil War generals made the fact that it looked about to fall into the dust all the more disheartening.  However, as time passed, thoughts of the FA Smith house faded, and it wasn’t until recently that I thought of it again.

Pulling up my trusty Google maps, I decided to cruise downtown Munfordville and see if this ghostly structure was still standing.  Sure enough…

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June of 2013, so sayeth the Google maps copyright date, shows one of the most obvious features of the home in chaos: the front porch, fallen from its perch, now resting on the façade of the home.  Look closely, however, and you’ll notice that this is not the doing of nature, but rather of two men standing to the left of the porch.

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Of course, being the fatalist that I am, I immediately worried that this was part of the demolition until I realized…they wouldn’t send two men to remove the porch if they were bent on destroying the house.

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Well, would you look at that!  Signs of someone cleaning up the place?  It’d be a first in my F&F chronicles that a beaten up and abandoned old home was actually reclaimed and restored, but that’s exactly what it looked like they were up to in June of 2013.

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Old Photos

In the process of researching F. A. Smith for the purpose of a more in-depth history post, I was fortunate enough to come across a historic photo of the house at the following link:

http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=pv&GRid=23035899&PIpi=56693090

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Yet again, another prime example of the consequences of passing time.  This photo is undated, though the caption at the link above indicates that a photo of the home ran in a Harper’s Ferry newspaper during the time of the Civil War.  (Please note: it is not the opinion of the writer that this was the photo that was used in said article as the apparel of one of the men on the porch and the quality of the photo would suggest a later era).

Of course, finding a photo of that age led me to search for even more photos, and what I found–though much more recent–showed me what used to occupy that mysterious plot next door.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/jstephenconn/3779618474

One of the first “modern” photos I found of the house was the above photo, listed on Flickr.  Taken in 2009, this photos reveals that a very run-down church, complete with boards over the windows and scattering shingles, used to sit next to the Smith House.  Even back in 09, you can still see the sag in the porch roof, but the house appears to be in overall better shape than it was when I found it 4 years later.

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In December of 2010, the house is starting to show signs of wear and tear.  The church next door is still standing, though it appears that debris from the dilapidated church still blows over onto the Smith house and property.
http://landmarkhunter.com/153384-f-smith-house/

http://preservationkentucky.org/home.php
A photo of the house in January 2011, with the nearby church still standing.

In addition to yielding the photo, the landmark hunter link also indicated that the house was placed on the Historic Register in 1980.

Of note in this winding tale of discovery is that several sources for this historic home indicate that the original owner is not known.  Until I discovered the following document, I believed this to be the case.
http://focus.nps.gov/pdfhost/docs/NRHP/Text/80001546.pdf

The above document is an NPS “Kentucky Historic Resources” form.  It is dated Jan 23, 1980–just about 6 months before the home was placed on the historic register.  This revealing document details several facts:

  1. According to sources in the area, the original owner was a man named George A. Craddock.
  2. Even according to this revealing document, the builder remains unknown.
  3. Craddock sold the home to Mr. Smith in 1837 when Smith moved to Munfordville from Harper’s Ferry.
  4. The porch was added in the 20th century, proving my assumption (that the photo above was taken in a later era) correct.
  5. Judge McCandless bought the home in the 1920’s, which would indicate that there was a significant gap of time (from 1889, when the Smiths moved to Missouri, to 192?, when McCandless moved in) during which a different, unknown family(ies) likely occupied the house.
  6. Judge McCandless was the owner who added the porch according to this 1980 document, which would put the date of the oldest photo known of the home sometime in the 1920’s or 1930’s.
  7. At the bottom of the document, someone appears to have sketched a layout of the interior of the house, era unknown.  It indicates that the back of the house is an addition

Still wondering about Mr. Smith and Judge McCandless?  Don’t worry.  An in-depth history post with all the details of the known owners is soon to follow.

Present Day

I knew it’s happen sooner or later–one of the questionable old derelicts I’d photograph, document and research would be restored.  And that’s what happened with the F. A. Smith house.

http://hcn.stparchive.com/Archive/HCN/HCN09052013P01.php
Newspaper article detailing renovation plan for the Smith House, 2013.

http://hcn.stparchive.com/Archive/HCN/HCN09052013P05.php
Article page 2.

Incredibly, I saw the home at what was likely the peak of its neglect, just prior to renovation efforts, which turned this historic old home into a physical therapy and wellness office.  The work carried out by the physician who bought the place was so noticeable that he was recognized with an award.

http://preservationkentucky.org/home.php

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Check out the links below to see photos of the house during its renovation and more photos of the house today, serving as the FMC Physical Therapy & Wellness Center!

http://www.munfordvillefmc.com/physical_therapy_wellness_center.html
http://www.munfordvillefmc.com/ptwc_construction_pictures.html

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