Still lucky in love . . . a two-time tornado survivor meticulously maintained for three generations by the same family still shines
Writer: L. Beth Bonifant | Photographer: August Selckmann | Fall 2021
Thomas Stone graduates and high school sweethearts, Emily and Jason Hendricks, were living and working in Washington, D.C. The couple moved there for career opportunities after attaining degrees from Savannah College of Art and Design. With the pending arrival of their second child, they decided it was time to trade the urban lifestyle and return to their hometown roots where they’d be closer to family.
After discovering the listing for a late nineteenth century house in the Historic District of La Plata, Emily’s mother and Realtor, Ruth Mudd suggested they go see it “just for kicks.” The 2½-story house with Victorian details, including a turret and wrap-around porch, sits on a large picturesque lot along Oak Ave., one of the first residential streets in La Plata. With a Master’s degree in Historic Preservation, Emily was charmed and easily smitten with the original features and fresh renovations. Before long, the Hendricks became new owners of “The Smoot House.”
Built by Mortimore Hawkins in 1893, who later sold his house to the owner of Smoot’s Hotel, David Smoot erected the town’s first hotel in 1892 on the corner of Maple Ave. and Charles Street. Thus, began the family’s long association as three generations called the handsome house “home”.
By 1926, Smoot’s daughter Minnie and her husband, Henry A. Penn, had taken up residence when the first La Plata tornado tore through town that November. The violent cyclone narrowly missed the house before barreling into a nearby elementary school, killing 14 children inside.
Penn’s daughter, Lula “Lou,” later inherited her homeplace. She married Harland R. “Ace” Cravat in 1944. According to Cravat’s memoirs, his wife “always loved the Smoot House and for many years envisioned transforming the drab blue, green and rose calcimine interior into a cheerful home.” The bride and groom found joy bringing new life to the old house, fulfilling young dreams while growing old together. In the late 1980s, they both passed away within a few years of one another.
Nearly a decade later, another devastating tornado hit La Plata in 2002, damaging or destroying 860 homes, almost 200 businesses and killing five people. The Smoot House sustained serious damages following the loss of its entire side, exposing the structure like the back of a dollhouse revealing its interior. After a few false starts, restoration was near complete by the time the Hendricks purchased the house in 2006. All of the smooth, gleaming oak wood floors were new, replaced after the originals were ruined.
“That was probably a good thing” Emily supposed. Astonishingly, all of the other historic features within the house seemed spared.
Most notable are the “camphor glass” window lights surrounding the green vintage front door. Camphor glass was an effect popular from the 1930s. Glass was treated with hydrofluoric acid vapors to produce a swirly white frosted appearance. After crossing the threshold, a beautiful original staircase winds its way up the turret to the second floor’s hall. The Hendricks tucked a dreamy built-in daybed under a window at the top of the stairs. Their daughters, Georgia and Genevive, both in their teens now, often gathered friends for sleepovers. Upstairs are three bedrooms, two full baths and an enclosed back staircase with white beadboard-cladded walls.
Downstairs, a double parlor functions as an office in the front and family room in the back. High ceilings with reproduction gas lights add old-world charm. The Hendricks avoided a stuffy look, though. Artfully blended interiors unite modern-day elements with antiquities of the past against calm neutral colors.
Fifteen years ago, when they came to see the house, a new kitchen wing was recently added on to the back. Fortunately, the seller hadn’t finished the space, enabling them to choose their own cabinetry, finishes and appliances. The Hendricks equipped an existing fireplace in the kitchen with a gas insert. It’s a convenience Emily appreciates on cold mornings when she comes down for coffee; just two clicks start a “fire” to take the chill out of the air.
A white rail fence outlines the property, but pickets around the kitchen patio are a nod to the fence in old photos. Jason elevated the look when building a pergola over the patio as a Mother’s Day gift. Emily planted the wisteria now blanketing its frame. Last spring, they hosted a graduation and prom party on the wide wrap around porch while staging it like a restaurant for Georgia and her classmates. Out back, a workshop in the old carriage house has been converted to a teen hangout for the social sisters.
One of their favorite aspects of living there has been the small-town lifestyle. All of the schools they’ve attended have been within a couple miles. During middle school at Milton Somers, they could mosey just three-tenths of a mile to class. A walkable town was a characteristic the Hendricks searched for after residing in Washington. Living in downtown La Plata affords those simple pleasures of strolling to the Charles Street Bakery or Landon’s Ices & Creams next door, the library after school and Friday night summer concerts on the Town Hall lawn.
Once a whistle stop for passenger service to Washington, freight trains still rumble down tracks behind the backyard. Adding to that quaint Main Street, USA feel, residents are allowed up to six chickens inside town limits. The Hendricks house their hens in a chicken tractor after an initial free-range trial. Neighbors enjoyed the visiting fowl, but Emily worried they might wear out their welcome.
A tidy enclosed garden brimming with tomato plants and herbs is located across the yard. One of the few large old oaks on Oak Ave. to survive the tornado is here. An additional willow oak was planted to recoup lost canopy while patiently waiting for the battered tree to recover.
The old oak tree and Smoot House have both made their comebacks, still standing together after all these years. For now, the Hendricks remain happy here, and their daughters can’t imagine living anywhere else.
But whoever is next
to belong to this house,
will know it’s been loved
with the heart of a spouse! ▪
Fixtures (Lighting and doorknobs) — Rejuvenation rejuvenation.com
• Kitchen – Beach Glass by Benjamin Moore. People continue to ask me for this color all the time even 14 years later.
• The great neutral throughout the house – September Fog by Valspar
Furniture — Favorite local place Vintage Source: thevintagesourcecompton.net. My house ranges from family antiques, Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace finds.
Inspiration — Our best college friends: houseofbrinson.com (Will and Susan Brinson are originally from