When they were living at 625 Green St. in Gainesville, the late Isabelle and Sidney O. Smith Sr. had 12 grandchildren who spent a lot of time at that iconic house, referred to as the Charters-Smith house for the families that built it and lived in it for so many years.
The house, now used for offices, overflows with memories for those grandchildren. Their grandfather entertained them with stories, which they listened to with delight.
Grandsons Sterling and Whit Embry recall especially during summers most if not all 12 grandchildren were in and out of the house. Most slept on a sleeping porch above the Smiths’ bedroom. Because of all the commotion created by his grandkids, Mr. Smith chose to spend the night at the Dixie-Hunt Hotel while they were there, returning home only for lunch and dinner.
One such incident, granddaughter Sidney Woodruff recalls, was when her brother Preston, 11 at the time, had a Daily Times paper route. His leftover rolled papers accumulated in the garage, and the grandchildren used them for ammunition in what they called the Daily Times War. During the battle, Preston fell out of a tree and broke his leg, his grandmother seemingly more concerned about the foul language he let loose.
One of the more popular stories Sidney Smith Sr. related to his grandchildren was when a dog bit the tip of the nose off his brother Howard when they were children. Their father managed to find the piece of nose and put it under his tongue until the doctor arrived. The doctor taped the tip back onto Howard’s nose — it stuck — and only a scar remained as evidence of the dog-bite incident.
The Woodruff grandchildren and their mother lived in the Green Street home growing up and felt fortunate for the experience. A routine in the house was for everybody to gather in the front dining room in late afternoon to read both Atlanta daily newspapers as well as the local papers. “It was where and how we eventually learned to discuss Southern politics, and we learned to do that without bigotry,” Sidney Woodruff said.
Whit Embry recalls Grandpapa, or Papa, as he was called, telling stories while smoking a cigarette, which he rarely inhaled, letting the ash grow long until it fell on his suit. “He especially enjoyed sitting on the front porch in a big rocker watching Green Street traffic meander by,” Whit said. When Mrs. Smith would be returning home in her car, he would tell the grandchildren to watch to see if she hit the brick wall at the driveway entrance, which she often did.
A big sports fan, Sidney Smith Sr. followed the Atlanta Crackers baseball team religiously. His routine was to sit by an old radio to listen to games, his hand poised on the volume knob to turn it down if Mrs. Smith complained. University of Georgia football fans, daughter Charters attended the first game played in Sanford Stadium, and the ticket stub from that game remains in the family.
Often, the grandchildren recall, they would set up a lemonade stand in front of the house. In those days of less traffic, cars could stop at the curb on Green Street to make a purchase. The young entrepreneurs also would buy candy bars at Partain’s Grocery on nearby Ridgewood, then resell them for a profit.
Two Green Street houses
Sidney O. Smith Sr. once said people all over North Georgia wanted to come see the Charters-Smith house, 625 Green St., that cost $6,000 to build, a princely sum in the early 1900s.
The Charters-Smith family is connected to another Green Street treasure, 446 Green St., the Victorian home commonly called “the gingerbread house.” It was built in 1886 by James Whitfield Smith, father of Sidney O. Smith Sr. and one of the founders of the old First National Bank, which was acquired by Regions Bank.
The “O” in Sidney O. Smith comes from Oslin, Dr. John W. Oslin, whose daughter married James Whitfield Smith. Dr. Oslin delivered a daughter of President Woodrow Wilson in Gainesville. That daughter became dean of admissions at Holton Arms School in Washington, D.C. When Charters Smith was registering for classes, the dean asked her who she was. She replied, “I’m just the granddaughter of the guy who brought you into this world.”
Judge Sidney O. Smith Jr., as did his father, followed sports, especially the Georgia Bulldogs, although he played football at Harvard University. His son, Sid III, also a lawyer in New Orleans, said his father told him when Harvard was playing William and Mary, a Virginia college, the opponents kept shouting, “Let’s get them Yankees!” Smith countered that he was a Southerner, but the William and Mary players continued their taunts the entire game.
His father, Sid III said, worked his hardest as a superior court judge though he had one of the largest caseloads as a federal district judge. Sid Jr. respected the local judges in county court systems and told his son that was where the focal point of justice was. He was a strong believer in the jury system.
Judge Smith nominated the first woman, Orinda Evans, for the North Georgia District federal judgeship. There was some talk during the Richard Nixon presidency that he was being considered for the U.S. Supreme Court.
Back in Gainesville Saturday mornings after a week hearing federal cases or practicing law in Atlanta, Judge Smith favored a chair at Jerry Nix’s Chevron station on E.E. Butler Parkway. He knew nothing about cars, Sid III said, but he enjoyed just chatting with people in and out of the station.
That’s just a glimpse at a few of the accomplishments, memories and stories of the Charters-Smith families. You run out of space and time when you try mine a few noteworthy nuggets from the lives of seven generations of the Sidney O. Smith family and what they have meant to this community and elsewhere.
Watch for more local history in this column next Sunday.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville, Ga. 30501; 770-532-2326; email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.