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Local History

W. C. Smith Home

A Landmark Makes Way for Progress
Fine Old Home is Being Razed
by Mary Ritchie

Springfield Daily News, August 12, 1959, page 13

"When W. C. Smith came to Springfield from Paris, Tex., as an official of the Frisco Railway early in the 1890's, he acquired land in the north part of the prospering railroad town and promptly set about having a home built for his family.

"In 1893 the fine new residence was ready for occupancy. Located on the southwest corner of Grant and Atlantic it was an imposing structure of ten rooms, with fully floored attic and a large deep basement.

"In addition to its architectural assets in a style typical of the times, it had the distinction of being the only house in the immediate area which had a bathroom and a furnace.

"There were few changes in the family residency until some 12 years ago and now 66 years after it was constructed the old house is coming down to make room for the expansion plans of Woodland Heights Presbyterian Church.

"Now standing to the west of the Smith home is a new church unit, facing Atlantic, which in this functional glass and brick contemporary design, suggests the broad contrast of building styles of yesteryear and today.

"Smith, who was widely known as 'W.C.', had sold the original lots for the church, which erected its sanctuary on the southeast corner of Atlantic and Douglas. Its space has now expanded over most of the Smith property holdings.

"The Grant and Atlantic site was long known by the family name and indeed during the streetcar strike in the 1920's it inadvertently attained a lot of notoriety. It is recalled that at various points along the track age of the old city street railway company the tractions strikers placed 'charges' which went off resoundingly much to the consternation and possible injury of the passengers -- as well as the motormen.

"Since the Grant tracks made a sweeping turn onto Atlantic this was a favorite spot for the 'bombing' episodes and it got so that the conductor just before reaching the location would loudly announce 'Coming to Smith's corner -- look out for the torpedoes.'

"In the quiet days of 1898 Mr. and Mrs. Smith, who was the former Margaret Ann Reese of St. Louis where the couple was married, and their three young daughters moved into the new residence. The girls were Miss Hazel Smith, who now resides at 1684 East Belmont, Mrs. W. C. Bryant 'Bess Smith' of Fort Worth, Tex., and the late Mrs. James H. Billings, who was Emma Smith.

"Not only the Smith girls, but grandchildren of the W. C. Smiths' enjoyed playing in the large attic and also in what was known as the tower room on the second floor.

"For a tower originally graced the house on the northeast corner and under it was a curved wall. On the first floor was a curved alcove in the reception hall from which a handsome stairway ascended. The alcove had a window seat and above it, forming a canopy-like arrangement, was a grille intricately designed of wood, composed of small balls and spindles, a most unusual decorative piece of designing. At one time the windows of this bay were draped in something like Turkish hangings.

"On the other side of the house were the parlor and the sitting room, which at a later period were combined into one large room. Throughout the main rooms the selected woodwork, including the carved stairway and newel post was all hand rubbed and had a soft burnished quality in the old days, Miss Smith remembers.

"Along the font stairwell wall were two narrow leaded stained glass windows, sash windows. On the south side of the house was the back stairway which also had a full-size stained glass window on its landing.

"At three other places were stained glass windows, rectangular ones in an east bedroom and a south bedroom and at the stair landing on the north side.

"About in 1909 a fire which destroyed a neighboring house set the roof of the Smith house ablaze. At the time of the re-roofing a wide cornice was added and the tower came down. Another change brought the removal of a narrow rounded front porch which was replaced by a wider, squared veranda.

"There were three fireplaces fitted into a triangle and using the same chimney in place of the original tiles of two of the grates, bricks were laid during later remodeling.

"When the Smiths first moved into the home lamps were still in use, then came open gas flames, followed by incandescent gas with fancy new fixtures, with this mode of illumination eventually giving way to electric lighting. The early day stoves in the kitchen were wood and coal and older members of the family remember that the bread baked in the kitchen never did taste as good from the ovens of the newfangled gas stove.

"Through the years the house was nearly always painted white, at one time it was tan, with light brown trim, but this didn't please the artistic tastes of the female members and the next time it was coated white again.

"When the girls were still at home their mother acquired the services of an artist in town and the main downstairs rooms blossomed forth with hand painted ceilings in dainty patterns which included cupids and bowknots and ribboning. It is not recorded just what the menfolk thought of these decorations. Mrs. Smith died in1938.

"Mr. Smith, who was at various time general agent, claims and then freight agent for the Frisco, retired from his railroad duties at the age of 70. For five years he served as secretary of the Springfield Chamber of Commerce and after that devoted his leisure hours to his roses, which he raised so expertly. The rose gardens are no longer blooming at the old property.

"However, after the house was sold in 1947, and Smith took up residence, after some months in Texas, with Miss Smith at the East Belmont address he worked there with new rose beds. He died in January of 1951 at the age of 92.

"After an interval as a residence, the Smith home was sold to its old neighbor Woodland Heights Presbyterian Church and in its last days served as a Sunday school annex"

For more information on the Springfield streetcar strike see The Streetcar Strike of 1916-17 by Elijah Robison. For more information about the St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad see The Frisco, a digitization project of the Springfield-Greene County Library. If you are looking for the Smiths' death certificates, look for Margaret under Maggie A. Smith.

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