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Shady Oaks Plantation

Life as it was almost 200 years ago

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The history of the Oaks Plantation

The main house has been intermittently expanded. The main kitchen was once housed in one of the servants' cabins, where the cooking was done in massive stone fireplaces. Two of the houses still have these fireplaces in them. Around the turn of the century, the main kitchen was moved to the south wing of the main house just beside the General's office and the dining roon. Later it was moved to the opposite wing of the main house, where it remains today. These later additions were built of stone quarried in the vicinity. All the other building supplies came from the plantation.

  What sort of town was Ansonville?

Shady Oaks Plantation provides a rich venue for visitors to step back in time -- almost 200 years. It was a prime time in the history of Piedmont North Carolina, a time when Ansonvillle offered many amenities: a college for women, a major north-south road, called Old Plank Road, a railroad and depot, prosperous cotton and tobacco plantations, grand columned houses, and a population of thriving farmers and the people who worked for them. A ferry went acros the Pee Dee River to Montgomery County.

        Who were the Smiths?

                            W.A.Smith                                               Mary Jane Bennett Smith

The father of General W. A. Smith started the construction of the plantation, originally called "The Oaks," in 1832. While his father was in the Revolutionary War, the younger son expanded the house. The son's honorary military rank was bestowed upon him, some say, by General Robert E. Lee himself, as a tribute to his allegiance and commitment to the Southern cause.

General Smith served only a very short stint in Southern Virginia as a private in the Civil War before he was wounded seriously and returned home. His mother, over several months, slowly nursed him back to health, but he always walked with the assistance of a half crutch and was usually attended by his "Black" retainer. After the death of his first wife, Mary Jane Bennett, and his three biological children-- All of whon died in their childhood years-- Smith later adopted two children on the condition that they assume the family name of Nelms after his own mother who left no heirs to perpetuate her maiden name. He later married a widow by the name of Flake from Lilesville. These wealthy women no doubt enhanced his financial solvency.

General Smith's generosity is well documented. He left money in trust to fund the upkeep of the local Episcopal Church, which he built from his own funds and still holds services regularly. His picture is proudly displayed in the hall of the main house, and two large stained glass windows in the church depict the general and Mary Jane Bennett Smith.

In addition, General Smith contributed money to the support of a female academy in Ansonville and even left money to support a "junior" college in the town, later named Anson Technical Institute. Both these educational institutions are now defunct, the female academy having closed after a mere five years. The junior college was later moved to Polkton, thereby losing the general's endowment, which was to be spent only if the school remained in Ansonville.

The Oaks Plantation has a wondrous history. Undergoing many changes and additions, the plantation remained until rather recently in the family of "General " W.A. Smith, the patron of Shady Oaks. He was a prosperous farmer as well as a businessman with various business endeavors. Apparently he left no direct blood kin since his beloved daughters, Etta and Oona, died in the house.

                Who are the heirs to this historical monument?

Many of the Ansonville's citizens' names are chiseled on the grave markers in Bethlehem Cemetery, just across the street from the Oaks. Noteworthy is the fact that the family names on the tomb stones bear no distinction as to race other than the fact that the Blacks resting there had their own separate section of the burial ground (usually in unmarked graves) but occasionally bore the names of their "owners." Even today, Black and White deceased who rest in that cemetery share family names as is the case with the general citizenry. The remains of an itinerant free Black preacher (Ralf Freeman) are enshrined in Bethlehem Cemetery. He was singled out by a legislative act that forbade blacks from preaching to congregants.

What about the main house?

The main house started around 1832 as a basic four-over-four structure with the kitchen originally located in an outside servant house that still stands along with the other dependencies. Later, two wings were added to the main house accommodating an office and a library, a kitchen, and a bedroom and bathroom. Four additional bathrooms for the upstairs bedrooms were only recently constructed. The kitchen was relocated around the turn of the century from the south wing to the north.

Various photographs attest to the plantation's illustrious history as the location of the last two reunions of Civil War veterans that were held until well into the twentieth century. These aging veterans encamped on the grounds and the general fed them with food prepared in the large fireplaces and water from the many

wells on the property.

Once a thriving farm covering between 1,500 and 8,000 acres, stretching from the main north-south highway (highway 52) to the Pee Dee River, Shady Oaks was a pivotal domicile in the historic town of Ansonville, where many other old structures once stood. Many of these structures unfortunately have fallen into disrepair or have been destroyed.

    What other amenities are there?

Both the front porch, punctuated by Lutyens benches and the back porch of the main house, offer respites from the encroaching world. Both porches offer relaxation, observation, and socialization with other guests. Tours of the historic grounds and structures, by special request, can be arranged. Modern additions in the back yard include a hot tub nestled underneath an ancient tulip poplar tree, a 45-foot lap pool, a fish-stocked pond, and exercise machines.

 

 

 

 

The Oaks Plantation is close to local attractions:

What is the future for Shady Oaks?

In the 1990's heirs of General Smith sold Shady Oaks to a buyer who had ambitious plans to restore the magnificent structure to its original glory. He, after years of restorative work, gave up his effort and sold the property in 2007.

Under the guidance of the current owner, restoration still goes on, and it has been transformed into a bed and breakfast facility with modern amenities, antiques, oriental rugs, and collections of folk art.

 

 

Plans not only call for the complete

renovation and modernization of the main house but also include restoring the servants' quarters and the magnificent three-story horse barn.

 

 

In addition, plans call for the construction of a gallery/museum to exhibit "folk" or "outsider" art. Four wells, a capacious garage, a workshop, a pump house, a greenhouse, food storage sheds, a granary, and a meat-curing house, in addition to the three servants' cabins, complement the main house.

Blacks comprised a significant part of the farm. More than likely, they built most of the buildings and slept in the upstairs crawl spaces of the cabins. In those days various chores were performed on the lower floors of the servants' quarters. Many Black as well as White artisans and craftsmen currently work on the restoration project.

Furthermore, the entire community has taken an enthusiastic interest in the ongoing renaissance effort, looking forward to meaningful occasions like weddings, receptions, reunions, and other gatherings where they can enjoy the premises.