Finding a Home in History
It’s One of “Those Houses”—One That Everyone Knows and Loves. And now, Janie and Buz Smith are Adding it to Their Collection of Home Experiences
It could easily be a scene from a postcard. Tucked away in Paducah’s west end, Buz and Janie Smith’s Tudor-style home attracts a lot of attention from passersby once they discover it. It looks as if it was plucked from the rolling hills of the English countryside.
Their abode is a cornerstone of Wallace Park. The residential development, which began in the 1920s, grew slowly, especially during the Great Depression. Then, after the ’37 flood, seventy-one homes were constructed there within a two-year time frame. The Smiths’ home was one of them.
“It was built in 1938,” says Buz, “by Charles Rhodes. That was the Rhodes of Rhodes-Burford’s furniture. You can still see a sign for that business painted on the side of the antique store on the corner of Jefferson and 4th Streets. He had stores all over. This neighborhood was high ground just beyond the floodwaters, so a lot of people were coming out this way.”
Buz believes much of the house has been kept true to its original state. Attorney Mark Whitlow lived in the home for approximately 30 before the Smiths, and they attribute a lot its preservation to people like him. Mark had added one small addition to the back of the house along with a master bath upstairs. “You really can’t tell those aren’t original,” says Buz. “Everything was blended so well. Even the bit of stone that was added on the outside matches perfectly to what was there. And the bathroom matches the tile to the original bathroom that was up there.”
As you traverse the curved walk from the street, you are immediately drawn the front door. Painted a striking red, it is of an arched batten wood design, giving the perfect pop of color and old-world feel in the middle of the stone facade. The door is trimmed by limestone, which Mark Whitlow says came from the original Paducah post office which was torn down after the flood. Upon entry, you’ll notice the wide main hall which features two, carved wood casings. The front room features original wood paneling and exposed wood beams. “The interior walls in the rest of the house are remarkable,” says Buz. “I guess they are plaster-like, but they are not on wood lathe. They are more like concrete. You have to hammer drill to hang anything. Most plaster cracks eventually. This doesn’t budge.”
The interior doorknobs are brass, which require occasional polishings. But the Smiths don’t mind. “They are heavy doorknobs,” says Buz. When working with the door hardware, they found the name “Ray Black” written on the backside of one piece. “We think the hardware store had written that on there to hold those pieces for them. So I assume Ray Black built it.”
Another aspect the Smith’s love is the amount of natural light. “There are so many windows,” says Buz. “Over 30 of them. They are casement windows that swing open with a hand crank. That’s rare.” The windows also have the original screens. And they are retractable to give unimpeded views.
The Smiths have not found a lot of hidden clues to the home’s history, but in one drawer, they found an old itinerary for a cruise. “It was from RCA to Charles Rhodes,” says Buz. “He’d sold a lot of TV sets, so he’d won this free cruise. I’d really love to see what it looked like when he moved in since he owned furniture stores. He could have done whatever he wanted.” Additionally, old newspapers reveal Ethel, Charles’ wife, was active within the Woman’s Society of Christian Service of Broadway Methodist and often hosted meetings and teas at the home.
For the Smiths, this is another cherished addition to their collection of home experiences—and this one suits them perfectly. They love to imagine those who went before—the lives that unfolded within the walls, the ones who stopped to visit, the home that was integral to multiple lives. The Rhodes family had the home for over 50 years. As far as they know, the Smiths are the fourth owners, and they cherish the role of caretakers of a landmark. “We’ve moved about 11 times,” laughs Janie. “We thought the last place we were in was it. It was our empty-nester, ready-to-retire place.” Janie admits, however, that she and Buz always have had a sense of adventure when it comes to making an old home their own. “We were driving home, I was on my phone, and I saw there was a surprise open house. We just wanted to look at it. We did, and the next day, we were looking at one another, saying are you thinking about that house? We were, so we made an offer.”
“You know, my mom always loved this house,” adds Buz. “I think she’d been to a party here. So I’d known about it for a long time. And of course, we love it too. Everyone seems to be familiar with it. They say Oh yeah, we know that one. That’s one of our favorites. We love it. We felt the same way about it as everyone else.” And now, the Smiths are adding another chapter to one of Paducah’s beloved homes.
Info on Wallace Park courtesy of National Register of Historic Places