Update: The home was sold for $350,000 on February 28, 2023.
The number of historic homes for sale has contracted sharply in recent months, along with the rest of the market, but one still robust category is National Register properties in Guilford County. There are three for sale, and 204 E. Railroad Avenue in Gibsonville is by far the most affordable. At $425,000, the price comes out to a modest $120 per square foot.
“The Francis Marion Smith House, erected in 1898, is the most stylish and impressive residence in Gibsonville surviving from the 1890-1910 period that witnessed the town’s major growth,” its National Register nomination says. “The two-and-a-half-story frame house combines elements of the Colonial Revival and Queen Anne styles, including an elaborate program of classical trim and turned ornament.”
Not surprisingly, given its location and date, it’s associated with the Whitsett Institute and family, arguably the most prominent family of its day in eastern Guilford County. “It is one of three notable late nineteenth and early twentieth residences associated with the Whitsett Institute, a boarding secondary school and junior college in the Whitsett community near Gibsonville. The three houses (one of which has already been listed in the National Register) are among the finest houses combining Colonial Revival and Queen Anne style elements in eastern Guilford County.”
The house is an elaborate symbol of Gibsonville’s heyday, which was sparked by the establishment of the Minneola Cotton Mill in the late 1880s. The Smith house sits on a two-foot high brick foundation in common bond. “The roof is covered with square-cut and hexagonal slate shingles and has an asymmetrical configuration typical of the Queen Anne style; gables project in all four directions from the roof’s high-hipped main section. Two unusually tall chimneys with boldly corbeled caps pierce the roof’s main section and furnish fireplaces for seven of the eight rooms in the main block.
“A broad, one-story porch with a shed roof carries across the full facade and shelters one bay on each side elevation. The porch has Tuscan columns set on wood plinths linked by a turned balustrade. Distinctive square-in-section blocks trimmed with simple brackets cap the columns.
“The porch frieze epitomizes the house’s blend of the Queen Anne and Colonial Revival styles — a course of thin, turned spindles typical of Queen Anne design runs below a classically-inspired dentil molding. The projecting central entrance bay of the porch is defined by clustered columns on brick pedestals. Atop this bay the roof is flat to form the base of a balcony with a turned balustrade and trios of stout, urn-like posts at the corners.
“The entrance features a door with a molded panel under a window and latticed sidelights. The entrance also retains an early twentieth century screen door adorned with spindles. Directly above the entrance a two-leaf door with a handsome fanlight serves the balcony.
“The two flanking bays of the facade differ strikingly from each other, thus giving the facade an asymmetrical character. The east (left) bay features a second story bay window, rectangular in section, and a gable-roofed dormer above. The west (right) bay features an unusually narrow two-story bay set in a projecting gable with a two-pane attic window.
“The treatment of the side elevations further contributes to the picturesque asymmetry of the Smith residence. The west (right) elevation has a projecting, two-story, slanted bay near the rear. The front portion of the east (left) is sheltered by a gable set perpendicular to the house’s main facade; the rear portion of the east elevation has a shed roof with a small, gable-roofed dormer.”
Francis and Lizzie Smith
Francis Smith and Lizzie Whitsett married in 1897 and built their home soon after. “Francis Marion Smith [1864-1910] was a farmer, businessman, and civic official in and around Gibsonville,” the nomination says. “His wife, Lizzie E. Whitsett [1869-1922], taught at the Whitsett Institute both before and after her marriage.”
Lizzie’s brother was the renowned William Thornton Whitsett, president of the institute. (The 1883 mansion of their father, Joseph Bason Whitsett, was sold this month for $3.9 million, including 27 acres on U.S. 70 where urban sprawl is creeping in from Greensboro to the west and Burlington to the east).
Both Francis and Lizzie were born in Gibsonville. Francis’s father owned a livery stable, “one of the earliest enterprises in the town.” Although Francis joined his father in the business, his main occupation was farming. He became a prominent citizen in his own right, serving as a town alderman and as a director of the Bank of Gibsonville.
Lizzie was educated at Oakdale Academy, the Fairview Institute and Commercial College, and Salem Female Academy. She returned to Fairview, by then renamed the Whitsett Institute by her brother, and taught there for many years. A sister, Effie May, also taught at the school. “The school gained an enviable reputation and by 1900 Josephus Daniels was able to call the school ‘one of the first half dozen educational institutions in the state,'” the National Register nomination states.
Sadly, Francis died relatively young, at age 46. The Greensboro Patriot called him “one of Guilford’s best citizens.” Lizzie moved in with her mother, and the house was vacant for years. Lizzie, too, died relatively young, age 52, but the house remained in the family until 1976. Lizzie left the house to her remarkably long-lived sister, Effie Whisett Joyner (1877-1976), who outlived her by 54 years.
Effie and her husband, James Henry Joyner, another teacher at the institute, lived at their home, Holly Gate, in Whitsett, also on the National Register and also now for sale ($1.75 million). The Smith House was divided into two apartments, upstairs and downstairs, and was rented. One tenant, schoolteacher Iris Ruth, rented the upstairs for 40 years.
After Effie’s death, the Smith House was sold for $20,000 to Jerry Nix, who has restored several historic properties in Gibsonville. He sold it to the current owners in 1989.
204 E. Railroad Avenue, Gibsonville, Guilford County
The Francis Marion Smith House
- $425,000 (originally $475,000)
- 4 bedrooms, 2 1/2 bathrooms, 3,536 square feet, 1.12 acres (per county)
- Price/square foot: $120
- Built in 1898
- Listed June 9, 2022
- Last sale: $143,500, August 1989
- Note: County records show the square footage as 1,921, which looks way off.
- The property includes a storage building and a gazebo.
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