In proclaiming the month of May as National Historic Preservation month to be celebrated by the citizens of Mount Airy, Mayor David Rowe read the Proclamation and City Commissioner Shirley Brinkley participated in the celebration at the Historic Moore House on April 27.
The out of town guests of honor who came for the celebration included Ken Howard, executive director of the North Carolina Museum of History; Sandy Webber, archivist from the NC Department of Cultural Resources and Phil Archer.
Others attending included Betsy Main Babcock, director of program and interpretation at Reynolda House, the house designed and built by Mount Airy native Katharine Smith Reynolds, wife of R J Reynolds; Chip Calloway, a Mount Airy native who is an internationally renowned landscape architect; and Thomas Reisinger, a Charlotte realtor with an interest in historic properties because of his background in Capetown, South Africa and London, England.
Spearheading the event was Elizabeth (Bettsee) Smith McPhail who is the granddaughter of Jefferson Davis and Gertrude Gilmer Smith. Bettsee grew up spending time in her grandmother’s house until she graduated from Mount Airy High School in 1966. After graduating from the University of Florida, she had an active career as a designer and antique dealer. Upon returning home to Mount Airy in 1990, she took an active interest in the Gertrude Smith House as a tour guide for the many visitors and volunteer program assistant for the many programs held at the house.
When attending the Feb. 21 Lecture Series at the NC Museum of History in Raleigh which featured philanthropic families, The R J. Reynolds and his wife, Katharine Smith, McPhai represented the Smith family of Mount Airy.
Realizing the interest in the homeplace of Katharine Smith because of the book written by Michele Gillespie, “Katharine and R J Reynolds, Partners of Fortune in the Making of the New South,” McPhai seized the opportunity to invite the speakers to personally visit the home of Katharine Smith’s uncle and aunt, Jefferson Davis and Gertrude Gilmer Smith. Katharine Smith’s home was left to the city of Mount Airy. It was sold to developers who demolished the home to put up the shopping center on Rentro Street where Ollies is now located.
Not wishing that to happen to the Jefferson Davis and Gertrude Gilmer Smith Home, Gertrude Smith protected the Gertrude Smith House with a foundation and a board of directors to oversee the property and programs at the house. Bettsee stated her objective in working with preservation leaders is to reinstate programming at her grandmother’s home. This can be accomplished by expanding the gilmer smith foundation board of four members to an eleven member unpaid board of directors. She and other family members are working to accomplish that.