August 18, 2011

Georgia reunion, Family graves, research and a presentation, part 2

The Smith mansion
At the original location
circa 1970s
(Click image to enlarge)

The Smith mansion owned by Soapy's grandparents, Dr. Ira Ellis Smith and Ellen Stimpson Peniston always seemed so distant and mysterious to me as a youngster. I lived in California and it was located in Georgia, so far away. The following excerpts come from my book.

On March 25, 1828, the state of Georgia held a land grant lottery for the sale of land ceded to the state in a treaty with the Creek Indians.

Ira Ellis won the right to purchase land in the Sixth district of Coweta County, named for the large Coweta Indian population in the region. The land Ira purchased was thirty-nine miles southwest of the future city of Atlanta and seven miles beyond the settlement of Newnan. The Smith’s were one of the first families to reside there. Newnan would become a prosperous town for professionals due to its thriving cotton industry. Ira was well-liked and succeeded as a physician and planter. His popularity gained him a seat in the House of Representatives for the Sixth District in the Georgia Legislature; he served from 1832 to 1837 and again in 1851. He was elected a state senator in 1839, 1841-42, 1849, and 1853. According to Edwin Smith, a grandson of Ira, the Smith “family was equal in standing to any in Georgia, … claiming descent from long lines of well-known people.”


Between 1830 and 1835, Ira engaged brothers named Cole to build a plantation mansion that he christened Shoal Creek. It stood seven miles east of Newnan, close to Thomas’ crossroads on the Old Wynn’s Pond Road. From the outside, the house is imposing, appearing larger than it is on the inside. A large center hall is flanked by two spacious rooms, a small kitchen, and a sitting room. Upstairs are two large bedrooms, each with fireplace. Some of the original furnishings and family heirlooms are on permanent display in Newnan at the Male Academy Museum.


Edwin Bobo Smith, another cousin of Jeff’s (Soapy’s), who also came to live with Jeff and his parents for a time, stated that “Their wealth consisted largely of slaves.” The 1860 census shows that Ira accounted for fifty-seven slaves living in sixteen houses on his land. During a fact-finding visit to the house in the 1960s, Joseph Jefferson Smith, a grandson of Jeff’s (Soapy’s), found a black family living in the house. The head of this family, Joseph Jefferson reports, was a man calling himself Ira Ellis Smith. The connection this family may have had with the Smith family is yet to be determined.

The home as it looks today

Jefferson Randolph and Emily moved in with Ira at Shoal Creek to help care for Ira’s ailing wife, Ellen. Another Ellen, the daughter of Columbus Darwin Smith and the granddaughter of Ira, named Ellen Smith Faver, also moved to Shoal Creek. She came after her mother, Nancy Edmundson, died on October 21, 1860. Two days later Ira’s wife Ellen also died. In a letter, Ellen Faver Smith writes that ten days later, on November 2, 1860, Jefferson Randolph Smith II was born.

Dan Dietz gave me this print of the house
taken in the late 1960s showing the house
on it's original land and in need of repair.
Squatters had taken possession of the empty old house.

In the late 1980s I recall hearing rumors that the old Smith plantation was in eminent danger of being torn down for new development. The rumor was that it was for a parking lot. As I stated in part 1 of this story I could near get any response from Georgia. Information was coming in second-hand. Then I heard that the old house had been torn down. That piece of news turned out to be false but it was just the kick-start I needed. Upon learning that the house remained standing I decided I had to take the trip to visit it. One thing led to another and I was invited to speak at the Newnan-Coweta Historical Society. It was at that time that I learned that the old house was saved when the new owner, Rev. Jan Davis and his wife dismantled and moved the house to one of his properties. What a great relief that was.

The move

In 1994 deveolpers were preparing to tear down the house. A deal was reached and in 1996 Rev. Davis and his wife began the process and completion of moving the house to the new location. On Saturday, March 24, 2007 myself, and family members, Geri Murphy, Jeanie Schaffner, and Ellen Rafeedie had a 2 pm appointment for a tour of the Shoal Creek home where Soapy Smith was born. When Rev. Davis learned of our interest in the home he graciously opened his home for a private tour. I had seen photographs of the outside of the mansion but never of the inside.

The inside tour

Not knowing much about early homes I was surprised to see the exposed wooden wall planks and floors. After our tour Dan took us to another exact copy of the house built in the same decade by the same builder. of Shoal Creek. This second house was completely restored by the owner. It is a good representation of how the Smith home looked in the early days, however, I learn from the book, History of Coweta County Georgia, by the historical society, that the homes built in the 1820-1845 were not painted.

Rev. Jan Davis and his wife
The front door of Shoal Creek

Restored version of the exact same model

The 1-1/2 day trip was a blur of activity. I accomplished what I had set out to see and do but at a price. Information was thrown at me so fast and often that I barely had time to record enough of it. For instance, In the last two years I have been trying to locate a contact address for Rev. Davis and his wife, as well as a physical address of the homes new location. Thus far no one in Georgia has been able to help me and I have not heard from the historical society since 2007 although I have emailed them many times.

August 16, 2011, September 10, 2009

Shoal Creek mansion: pp 20-22.

1889: Texas Jack Vermillion of Wyatt Earp fame is arrested as a steerer in one of Soapy Smith’s auction houses along with Soapy, his brother Bascomb, J. Allen, and “Fatty Gray” Morris.

Jeff Smith


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