House with historic significance almost demolished

February 13, 2012 10:17:30 PM PST
Fayetteville city planners wanted to tear down the Victorian house as part of a project designed to replace public housing with townhomes for low-income families.

That plan changed once it was discovered the house formerly belonged to Fayetteville State University's most famous president, Dr. E.E. Smith.

Dr. Smith served as president of the university for 50 years until he died in 1933.

He was born Ezekiel Ezra Smith to freed slaves in 1852. He also served as a clergyman, a soldier, and a U.S. diplomat.

Smith was considered ahead of his time. He believed that education was key for blacks to turn freedom from slavery into prosperity.

FSU Historian Dr. Bertha Miller said she believes Smith's significance extends beyond Fayetteville.

"He was also influential in setting the pace for teacher education in all of the schools in North Carolina."

Built in 1900, the house, now boarded up and rundown, was purchased by the city from an FSU professor two years ago.

The Fayetteville Observer reported that officials found a land deed and reviewed century-old city directories to determine that Smith resided there at the turn of the 20th century.

Records showed he bought the house in 1902 for $100.

Situated on Blount Street, the house sits on land that overlaps a block of Gillespie Street.

The city wanted to use the land to build a business park as part of the redevelopment project called Hope VI.

But now, Fayetteville City Development Director Victory Sharpen said the recent findings have changed plans.

"For this property, it has historical significance based on the person who actually occupied it as well as the type of structure that it is, being that we have very few remaining in the city of its kind," said Sharpen.

During the early 1900s, Smith was principal of the Howard Normal School.

The school was located across the street from his home on Blount Street until what would become FSU moved to its current location on Murchison Road.

"He wanted something that would be more adequate, so he found this plot of land here on Murchison Road, 40 acres, and rallied the community to help to buy this lot that we have here," said Miller.

The Blount Street location even housed seven students along with Dr. Smith and his wife until proper dorms for the university were built.

Officials said the home could be listed as a historical landmark and are trying to find a way to raise awareness and funds to preserve it.

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