The Smith-Trahern House, a Clarksville Legend

There’s nothing I enjoy more than touring a historic home. While visiting Clarksville, Tennessee on a hosted trip, I had a chance to tour the Smith Trahern home and learn about those who lived in this home and how their lives impacted the Clarksville area. While the home is owned by the City, it is the Extension office’s Consumer and Family educators that run it. Debbie Johnson, the current Director was kind enough to take us on a tour of this historic home. “The city owns it, but we pay the utilities and do fund raisers,” Debbie said.

Before our tour, my mother, Lora Disque and Visit Clarksville’s Michelle Dickerson and I met Martha Pile, a former Director of the home. Martha shared that on occasion they still drag her back to assist with the volunteers and the annual Christmas Tree tour. We arrived just in time to see the volunteers decorating the trees. Martha emphasized that they don’t buy anything to do this. As a former life skills teacher she was more than aware of the impact of the cost of the holidays. She said she taught her students, “Christmas holidays, funerals and weddings are areas where people get into trouble financially.”

Being fiscally responsible, the volunteers put up a variety of trees representing a wide array of themes. Part of the volunteer base and assistance comes from people in the National Coalition on
Aging program. This is a win/win program for all, the home gets workers and the workers get trained for jobs.

This tree has pictures of volunteers that have helped decorate over the years.

The Tour of Trees is one opportunity to bring money to support the upkeep of this home that was built back in 1858. The house was expanded in 1859 to add a large dining room in the area that is now the kitchen.

The staircase at the home is awe inspiring.

The home has a fascinating history. Debbie Johnson said, “The house was built by Christopher Smith for his bride Lucy. Together they had two daughters, Nannie and Margaret.”

Smith originally bought four acres from Bryce Stewart. The Smith wealth came from tobacco. “They had 1,000 acres here with a lot of out buildings. There is only the slave quarters left,” Debbie said.

Smith was also had an export and import bus business. He died of yellow fever in New Orleans. When they went to send his boy back on a steam boat, called the Sultana. The ship sank near Memphis in April of 1865. While they say it was quite a common thing for a steam boat to explode, I just can’t imagine!

Lucy Smith lived until 1905 and the Trahern family took over after the home in the 1919 and renovated it, thus the name the Smith-Trahern home. Stories I have read say that Lucy Smith haunts the widow walk waiting for her husband to come home.

The Smith family information Debbie said in part has come from Joseph Trahern Jr. “He retired from the English Department at the University of Knoxville.”

While he didn’t spend too much of his life here, he does have memories and shares those along with items he has located over the years. When the Trahern family lived in the home, they stayed downstairs and made apartments upstairs. The rooms have now been returned to their original shapes, but Debbie said on occasion someone comes through on a tour that lived in one of the apartments and they add light to history of the house.

The Russell Reese family was the last family to live in the house before the city eventually took it over. Reese ran a salvage yard and also renovated the house.

When we were there, volunteers were decorating trees for the big event that opened the Sunday after we returned home.

There were several things about the house that were attention grabbing about the home. First of all is the amazing staircase, which is an architectural wonder, second are the beautiful jib windows. Downstairs, the rooms on either side of the hallway originally mirrored each other. Upstairs, the hall is as wide as a huge room. We were not able to enjoy the beauty of the front of the home when we were there because they are busy restoring the front porch and pillars.

While many of the rooms are empty of furniture, the trees added a beautiful holiday luster! Locals have been generous with donating things. Fred Landis of F&M Bank donated a new rug that fits perfectly in one of the downtown rooms. He and the bank have also donated a nice collection of art and a beautiful mirror as well.

If you enjoy historic homes, keep this one on your radar if in the Clarksville area!