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Preservation advocates hope to save historic Greenville home

January 08, 2020
The Greenville Historic Preservation Commission is publicizing information related to Civil War Veteran Jesse N. Smith and his former home, located at 9569 U.S. 150. Word of the historic home for sale prompted the town's historic preservation commission to research its former owner.

Preservation advocates in Greenville are hoping to save this home, one of the town's earliest. It is now on the market. Submitted photos
"We love history in all its forms," said Matt Uhl, HPC chairman. "Buildings like this are a foundation to build a greater understanding of our community, our citizens and how we have a role in building our country. We would love to gain control of the property and see the house rehabilitated for community use."

The house is presently on the market for $95,000 and is listed through the Julie Gamble Group. It is not protected from demolition.

The 1860s-era home has ties to Indiana's Civil War past and one of the town's earliest families. A son of Greenville doctor Reuben Smith, Private Jesse Smith joined the Indiana 17th infantry regiment in 1861 at the age of 19. His older brother Marion served in the 23rd infantry, rising to the level of captain. Jesse Smith eventually rose to the rank of corporal before exiting service in 1864 during the Atlanta campaign. In between, the Indiana 17th saw action at Chickamauga, Chattanooga, Munfordville and other battles in the southeast and Appalachia.

"Chickamauga was the site of the second highest casualties of the Civil War outside of Gettysburg," said Uhl. "Cpl. Smith was lucky to make it back to Greenville unharmed in late 1864. It's amazing to think a man that traveled Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee and parts of Georgia during the Civil War came back and made a life as a general store operator in a small Southern Indiana town, and his house still stands for us to go through."

Smith returned home, marrying his wife Anna shortly after the war's conclusion. Along the way, they purchased the center-passage "T" plan home in 1871 and used its location along U.S. 150 to sell groceries, general merchandise and even jewelry.

"We understand a town of our size may not have the resources larger cities have for preservation," Uhl said, "but that doesn't erase Cpl. Smith's service and impact he contributed to our local history and what his home means as a potential touchstone for future generations."

The HPC has submitted a National Register eligibility assessment to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources' Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology. National Register listing could aid with grant funds should the preservation commission or another local non-profit group be able to purchase the property. Indiana Landmarks has been providing guidance to the group.

"Preservation is about ensuring that our urban landscape reflects more than just profit margins or the whims of developers and real estate speculators," said Andy Lemon, a Greenville Town Council member. "It doesn't make sense to recycle cans and paper but to not recycle buildings."

The interior of the home, looking down the staircase.
Jesse Smith was one of several children born to Dr. Reuben Smith and his wife Sarah. Dr. Smith's family came through Kentucky by way of Pennsylvania before being one of the first families to settle in Greenville in 1826, a short 10 years after it was initially planned out in 1816. Dr. Smith practiced general medicine in the town up into his 70s.

Jesse was one of two sons of the Smiths involved in the Civil War, his older brother Marion having been married before going off to war for the Union. Both Jesse and Marion returned home to Greenville after the war. Jesse took over merchandising, which his father dabbled in somewhat, and he also later sold groceries and other items out of the house. His wife Anna was reported to sell women's hats during parts of the late 1800s, and their son Otto also operated a general store there in the 1920s before his passing in 1928.

The house was then used for a variety of purposes from the 1920's to present; most recently one of the first-floor bedrooms was used as a hair salon for nearly 30 years. One can see the original Indiana hardwood front door, along with decorative trim in the center staircase and rough-hewn floor planks for the two upstairs bedrooms. There is an addition on the rear of the home, probably added in the early 1900s, that currently acts as the kitchen.

The home was in an ideal location during the 1800s, Uhl said, with frequent wagon and horse traffic up and down U.S. 150 as stagecoaches made their way back and forth from New Albany to Paoli and beyond. The home was one of the lucky few that survived the 1908 fire in Greenville.

"We're very fortunate to be able to look through the house at present," he said.

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