Historic Smith T house still stands in Opelika
By Winston Smith T*
*Editor’s note: Winston Smith T (May 4, 1933 to June 5, 2007) was the father of Dozier Smith T, the brother of Dr. Joanne and grandfather to the current Winston. He wrote many stories about early Opelika, and his family has graciously allowed the “Observer” to reprint them. The story is preserved here in Winston’s own style.
The house on the corner of North Sixth Street and Fourth Avenue was built around 1910. I don’t know the exact date. But in 1910 my father would have been 7 years old. I know he was born in the house on North 10th Street where Duke Searcy now lives (313 N. 10th St.). That house belonged to my grandmother. But sometime around 1910 my grandfather, John Smith T, built the large two-story brick home. I guess you would call it in the “Greek Revival” style.
I remember my father telling me that the half dozen or so similar homes in Opelika were all built about the same time and all by the same builder. He told me who that was, but I can’t remember his name.
My father was raised in that house. He was the youngest in the family, and his older brother, F.B., and his sister, Sarah, married and moved out. Their father built homes for both Sarah and F.B. and, when he (John) died in 1930, he specified that his widow would live in the family home for the rest of her life, but that, on her death, my father would inherit it.
Daddy married in 1931 and brought my mother to live there. I was born in an upstairs bedroom on May 4, 1933. Shortly thereafter we moved to a little house just off Second Avenue and then built the house Joanne lives in today at the corner of North Eighth Street and Sixth Avenue.
My grandmother continued to live in the house on Sixth Street by herself. I loved to visit over there and explore all the rooms in that big house. I’ve noticed that so many of the large two-story homes of that era have basically similar floor plans: a master bedroom downstairs, a formal parlor and sitting room in front, dining room, breakfast room, kitchen on one side and a big sun porch in back. Upstairs there were five bedrooms. There were front and back stairs to the second floor and a small balcony overlooking the front porch. There was a sleeping porch in the back of the second floor. That was my father’s room. The house had only two bathrooms. I guess that was a lot back in those days.
In back were a garage for the car and a fenced-in area with a stable to keep the horse and buggy. Farther back down the hill was a house for the cook and her husband, who was the handyman.
There was a flower garden with rose bushes on the Fourth Avenue side and, early on, flower beds between my grandmother’s house and Aunt Sarah’s. There were gorgeous camellia bushes and huge banana shrubs. When the latter were in bloom, my grandmother would take my pocket handkerchief and crush some blooms inside it and stuff it back in my pocket, and I would wind up smelling like fresh bananas.
There was a pomegranate tree in back. There was an old, old fig tree on the back path that led next door to Aunt Sarah’s. The branches had to be propped up with “crutches.”
At some point in the 1960s Daddy asked me if I wanted the house. I said I didn’t. Today I have mixed feelings about that decision.
The house stood empty for several years, and it was vandalized during this time. The vandals took the marble face bowls and the stained glass window. They stripped the facing off the mantle pieces. They even took the hitching posts down by the street.
Once, when Vera was at home alone except for Dozier, who was just a baby, the phone rang. It was Judge Glenn. Mattie (his wife) was sure that people were in the house. Vera said she would go up and check on it. The practically blind judge told her, “Don’t go by yourself. Mattie and I are coming with you.”
The four of them – Vera, little Dozier, Mattie and the judge – headed over to confront the vandals. There were indeed a couple of men in the house. Fortunately they ran away when they saw they had been discovered.
Frank and Margaret Hopson lived there a long time and raised little Frank and Jimmy. When Frank died and Margaret moved to Montgomery, Daddy sold the house to a Milner from the Valley, who was an inventor and entrepreneur. He eventually had financial difficulties, and we had to foreclose on the house.
After that, a Mr. and Mrs. Moore bought the house and lived there. Mr. Moore was the brother of Kathleen Chapman. They began to do various things the house needed, like insulating, modernizing the plumbing, etc.
Along about this time 20th Century Fox came to Opelika to film the movie Norma Rae. They wanted to use the house for the scene where Beau Bridges weds Sally Fields. Thomas Samford played the part of the justice of the peace who performed the ceremony. Mrs. Moore was supposed to play the part of his wife but she got sick, and Lee County Tax Collector Virginia Leak stepped into the part.
The late Dick Moreman was given a free hand to decorate the front three rooms of the house in “period” style for the movie scene. He spent a ton of the movie company’s money on items – especially red velvet drapes for the formal parlor. Most of the filming of that part of the house wound up on the cutting room floor. Twentieth Century Fox left all those “period items” there with the Moores.
When that Mrs. Moore died, Mr. Moore remarried, to Evelyn Orr. They continued to live there in the house. I’m a bit unclear on who was there next.
Dr. Michael Greene and his wife Kitty have lived there for a number of years. They have done a big-time restoration job on the house – modernizing all the features but keeping its appearance as much the same as possible. Dr. Greene is a professor of electrical engineering at Auburn University and an inventor in the field of aviation. His wife is also an Auburn University professor.