State News

Century-old Fayetteville home set for renovation

Posted September 3

— The historic home of E.E. Smith, one of the city's most influential African American leaders, will get a second chance at life.

The white, two-story home, which is in serious disrepair, is at Blount and Chase streets downtown, a block west of Gillespie Street. As part of the federal Hope VI project, the city plans to invest $200,000 in renovating the house, which it hopes to open as a new office space by the fall of this year, says Nathan Walls, a city spokesman.

I drove by on a Thursday, and saw that workers had already reinforced part of the porch's foundation and put up a new wooden support beam. What appears to be a new walkway from the road to the house has been laid. A full dumpster in the back and old wood and other debris piled by the eastern side of the house were further signs a renovation is in full swing.

Plans include putting a parking lot in an empty lot west of the property.

Walls said the city bought the property in June of 2011 from Daniel I. Okunbor and his wife, Joyce Nwanya.

Last year, Fayetteville State University indicated it would be willing to move the 114-year-old house to its campus on Murchison Road and fix it up into a museum. The house used to be next to the school when it was downtown.

The idea was intriguing, and the city indicated it would give the house to FSU. Ezekiel Ezra Smith served as president of the school from 1883 to his death in 1933, with some breaks in between. E.E. Smith High School is also named for the educator, who was an ambassador to Liberia and a veteran of the Spanish-American War.

But the university changed its mind in December, citing budget concerns and the state of the house's deterioration.

It looked like it might be curtains for the old house, which local historians and others have wanted to save. For some time, a sign has been attached to the house reading, "Save the E.E. Smith House" with a phone number attached. The house has 12 rooms and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

J.C. Davis, part of the Umoja Group that posted the sign, said, "It's about time" in reference to the property's renovation. "That's a good thing."

He said it's important to save buildings and structures that tell the city's black history, adding that the Smith house "is one of the primary ones."

"We're going to stay on top of that," he said about the project. "Hopefully the local people can have some input."

Hope VI is a years-long $20 million revitalization project focused on the Old Wilmington Road area and is funded by a grant through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Campbell Avenue, which intersects with Old Wilmington Road, turns into Blount as it crosses Gillespie.

A renovated Smith house on Blount would stand out in the neighborhood — it is located across from an occasional night club on a road that flows into an industrial section. The area was considered gritty enough to be the setting for rapper J. Cole's first music video, which he recorded nearby in 2010.

The house is an historical reminder that the university to which Smith was so valuable was once located there.


Information from: The Fayetteville Observer


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