History of the Smith Plantation
In the 1830s, Roswell founder Roswell King encouraged fellow Presbyterians living along the Georgia coast to follow him inland to establish a mill town along Vickery Creek and the Chattahoochee River. In 1838, the Smiths heeded King’s call and left two struggling plantations along the coast. They gathered approximately 30 of their slaves and made the journey to over 300 acres of land situated north of the town square that would become their new plantation.
Archibald & Anne Smith
Archibald and Anne raised four children in their Roswell home: Elizabeth, William, Helen, and Archibald Jr. Both of their sons fought in the Confederate Army, and Willie, the eldest, enlisted with the Signal Corps at the outbreak of
the war. The family’s letters from the Civil War period were collected into a book in 1988, by Dr. Lister Skinner and Arthur Skinner, entitled "The Death of a Confederate." Willie’s life was lost to disease not a month after the Confederate surrender. The war also had tragic consequences for the mill town of Roswell. Although the homes were not destroyed, Sherman’s Army occupied the town. The Smiths along with the other founding families fled to other points in Georgia, not to return until after the war.
In 1870, Young Archibald Jr. married Gulielma English Riley, whose family met the Smiths as they both sought refuge from the Civil War in Valdosta, Georgia. “Archie” and “Gulie” moved their family to LaGrange, Georgia, after the death of Archibald Sr. and Anne in the 1880s. Subsequently, after the death of Helen in 1896, and Lizzie in 1915 the Smith Home remained unoccupied for twenty-five years.
The youngest of Archie and Gulie’s three children, Arthur William Smith, was the only member of the third generation of Smiths to get married. In 1940, when he was almost sixty years old, Arthur married Mary Norvell, and the couple re-opened the Smith Plantation and added electricity and indoor plumbing to the house. Mary Smith added her own touch to the legacy of the Smith Plantation with her flair for antiques and love of history.
From a Home to a Museum
The Smiths also hired a cook, Mamie Cotton who spent 54 years of her life working for the Smith family. After Arthur’s death in 1960, Mamie Cotton moved into the Smith’s home to take care of an ailing Mary, who became ill in her last years. Mary died on New Year’s Day 1981, and the Smith estate was entrusted to Josephine Skinner, niece of Mary Norvell Smith. In 1985 the Skinner family sold the house and grounds to the City of Roswell in order for the home to become a house museum. The City also used the Smith property to construct a new municipal complex. The sale was completed in the 1985 with the stipulation that Mamie Cotton would be able to live out the rest of her life here. Tours of the home began in 1992, while Mamie was still a resident, until her death in 1994.
Many of the artifacts of the Smith estate are still on the property, including the original furnishings, clothing, and personal items belonging to the Smith family. Others are housed at the Atlanta History Center, and many documents are preserved in the second largest collection at the Georgia State Archives.