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Dream project becomes home for retired couple

The house dates from 1842 and much of the furniture reflects the character of the era.

But, says Alan Smith, "It's a home, not a museum."

So the building that preserves moments of earlier eras also contains a play area for the grandkids.

The stone-based structure facing Old Mesena Road west of Thomson has been part of McDuffie County's history for a century and a half. It has been at the center of a couple's retirement plans for more than 20 years. It has been home to Judy and Alan Smith since early this summer. He retired from 37 years with the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church. She retired from a career as a schoolteacher. Neither is ambivalent about their intentions of staying retired, and enjoying it.

It was that same certainty that brought the Smiths back to Thomson, where he served as an associate pastor about 20 years ago. They bought the home in 1990, and have been restoring it as time allowed. This year, their project became their home.

"We like it here, very much," Alan Smith said. "It just feels like home."

"The church here has really made us feel at home again," he said.

The Smiths saw and served many communities during their careers. He held 10 assignments, and some assignments included as many as four churches.

Smith was an associate pastor at Thomson First United Methodist Church when he and Judy began looking for a retirement home. Judy taught at Pine Street Elementary during her first stay in Thomson.

The house itself reflects the county's history. According to Smith's research, George Washington Hardaway built the house in 1842 to face the new Georgia Railroad; he had deeded the right of way for the railroad in 1835. Hardaway came from Virginia as a young man in the early 19th century and built his first home, The Cedars, about a half-mile from the home the Smiths now own. Only foundation stones now mark the site of The Cedars.

Hardaway sold the house to his son James Lafayette on the son's 19th birthday for $10. The plantation was 2,000 acres.

Smith describes the house as a raised cottage, which he said was common from Warren County to Richmond County. The two-story house has four rooms on each floor. Wide hallways separate the rooms. Smith said the kitchen and dining rooms are on the first floor, which is granite with brick floors. The second floor is frame construction. The major features of the original building remain intact, according to Smith.

Three generations of Hardaways owned the house. It was owned by the Simons family from 1896 to the 1920s, when Paul Bowden bought it. In 1940, he sold the house to Thomas Weathers, whose family sold it to the Smiths in 1990.

The Smiths have kept the house as intact as possible. They added all the utilities and plumbing. Porches, a breakfast room, and an extra bathroom were added to the back of the house. The Smiths have restored the wide, wooden front steps and front porches.

An upstairs room preserves the look of another time, and many of the fixtures are original. The sturdy bookcases that look as though they might have survived another era were, in fact, built by Smith himself. The house is on the National Register of Historic Places and is listed as the James L. Hardaway House. That name appears on the later deeds to the property.

"The colors used in the house are period colors which closely match the original colors," according to Smith.

Alan and Judy continue working on the yards and outbuildings.

Smith did more than read about the history of the home; he also unearthed part of that history. He found a depression in the stone floor in front of a fireplace in one of the original downstairs rooms. After some digging, he found the remains of a pistol. He believes the gun might have been concealed there in post-Civil War years.

Smith is an avid genealogist, historic preservationist and grandfather. He is writing a book on Tom Loyless, an editor of The Augusta Chronicle in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Loyless family, Judy's mother's family, came from Warrenton prior to moving to South Carolina in the 1840s. This connection provided the spark for Smith's book on Loyless.

Smith said he's considering writing other books, but the Loyless book is his priority.

The Smiths have two children, Thomas and Andrew. Thomas is a United Methodist minister in Spartanburg, S.C. Thomas is married to Ellen, and they have two children, 7-year-old Harper and 5-year-old Kirksey. Andrew just returned to Georgia from the Baltimore Museum of Art to become the coordinator of technology at the Fernbank Museum of Natural History, in Atlanta.

Smith has transferred his Rotary membership from his most recent assignment, in Athens, to his new home in Thomson.

The Smiths's home contains items that testify to the building itself and to the time of its building.

Etchings dated 1827 by traveler Basil Hall, of the Royal Navy, look out on the upstairs hallway. Smith said Hall was impressed by the native American Indians he met on his travels, but had little respect for average Americans.

One fixture, though, is not just a historic piece but a piece of the historic home itself. Somehow the wooden mantle from a downstairs fireplace had made its way to a Thomson factory, and the story of the mantle's origin had followed. When the factory closed in the 1990s, the Smiths acquired the mantle.

They took it to the frameless fireplace overlooking the floor where some previous owner had hidden a now-rusted firearm. It was an exact fit.

Web posted on Thursday, September 15, 2011

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