James Phillip Smith House

The house at 510 West Sevier Street in Benton (Saline County) was built for the family of businessman James Phillip Smith circa 1885. Like the Gann House on South Market Street, the Smith House was built in the Queen Anne style. However, the Smith house has a two-story symmetrical front façade with a wood-frame structure; ornamental siding elements; double-hung windows; and a gabled, asphalt shingle–clad roof. The Smith family lived in the home until 1943. The Smith House was purchased by Joe Tollet in 2017, who, along with Brandon Sutton, began a complete restoration of the house. The Smith House was added to the Arkansas Register of Historic Places on December 5, 2018.

James Phillip Smith was born in DeKalb County, Georgia, in 1849. His father, J. M. Smith, was a farmer who moved with his wife, Elizabeth Bradley Smith, and family to Saline County in 1859 after purchasing land there in Hurricane Township. James married Mary Rachel “Mollie” Hutcheson, a native of Greene County, Georgia, in February 1884. Mollie was born in 1859, the eldest daughter of Charles R. and Electra Hutcheson. After moving to Saline County in the early 1880s, Mollie taught for at least two years in the Crabtree neighborhood. James P. Smith worked as a clerk for three years before partnering with H. S. Glenn. In 1886, Smith opened his first independent dry goods and grocery store in Benton. He became a prominent businessman, member of the local Methodist church, and Freemason. In 1886, Smith’s store stood along South Market Street where the Royal Theatre sits in the twenty-first century. Later, the store was moved to the corner of West Sevier and Market Street near the Saline County Courthouse.

In the 1880s, in addition to running his store, James P. Smith worked as a traveling salesman for Geyer & Adams Wholesale Grocers of Little Rock (Pulaski County), and in the 1890s he served as city treasurer for the City of Benton. Reportedly, the Smith House was built using wood from trees found on newly purchased lots on West Sevier Street. Mollie Smith’s sister, Anne Hutcheson, lived with the couple until her death in 1923. James and Mollie had no children, but they helped raise Mollie’s niece Mary Williamson, daughter of Mollie’s other sister Julia Hutcheson Williamson. James died in 1920, and Mollie died in 1943. During the last year of Mollie’s life, Mary “Ma” Gilbert, another of Mollie’s nieces, moved into the house with her husband, Kenneth E. Gilbert, to take care of the aging Mollie. This led to the house being known as the “Auntie Smith House.”

In the 1930s, the Smith House was opened to lodgers, with at least four people living there at the time of the 1940 census. During the time the Smith House was owned by Mary and Kenneth Gilbert, it became known as the “Ma” Gilbert House. In 1953, the Gilberts sold the house to Roy and Opal Adams.

In 1985, the house was purchased by Charlie and Alice Smith, who undertook a large restoration and renovation of the house, adding a rear garage and an extended second floor, replacing the front porch, and restoring the nineteenth-century interior spaces. Joe Tollet purchased the Smith House in December 2017 from Joe Felan and, with the help of Brandon Sutton, immediately began another restoration and renovation of the property.

The house features a modern two-car garage with a living space above it. The building has a large wooden staircase from the garage level to a set of double doors leading into the guest house. The garage/guest house was built in the 1980s and is a non-contributing structure to the Arkansas Register listing.

For additional information:
Williams, Callie. “James Phillip Smith House.” Arkansas Register of Historic Places. http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/arkansas-register-listings/james-phillip-smith-house (accessed July 16, 2019).

Cody Lynn Berry
Benton, Arkansas


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