Sixth in a series on Flat Rock
Julien Smythe is no stranger to Flat Rock. His ancestors have a longstanding history with the area. Originally from Charleston, Julien grew up spending summers at his family‘s Flat Rock summer home, Many Pines. Julien’s great uncle, Captain Ellison Adger Smyth — no “e” on his name — of Connemara (now the Carl Sandburg house) persuaded his brother and Julien’s great- grand father, Augustine T. Smythe, to purchase Many Pines in 1908. Many Pines remains in the Smythe family today and is owned by Julien’s cousin, Langdon Edmunds Oppermann. Ironically, in the case of Mountain Lodge, you might say history repeated itself. Through Langdon’s encouragement, Julien and his wife, Lori, purchased the home.
When the Smythe’s children began attending summer camp in the Western North Carolina Mountains, they would stay at Many Pines for a week or two. The lure of Flat Rock and childhood memories began to pull on Julien. He and his wife, Lori, started to feel drawn more and more into the community and began looking for a house.
About that time, Mountain Lodge — considered to be the first house built by Charlestonians in the Flat Rock settlement — was being bought out of bankruptcy by Historic Flat Rock, Inc. The house was in extremely poor condition due to its age, lack of maintenance and vandalism. The preservation group submitted an offer from a revolving fund it uses to buy and resell endangered historic properties. Their purpose was to stabilize the house and find a preservation-conscious person to buy it.
Langdon’s husband, Joe Oppermann, a restoration architect in Winston-Salem, was brought in by Historic Flat Rock to do an evaluation of the property. Immediately, Langdon and Joe thought of Julien and Lori as perspective buyers for Mountain Lodge. Lori came up to Flat Rock to see the house and called Julien right away to say they should buy it. “Are you crazy?” was his immediate response. Lori was the driving force behind the purchase; together they knew it would be a huge investment of money and time for their family.
The Smythe’s purchase of Mountain Lodge was finalized in 2014 and restoration on the estate began in 2015. Richard Huss of Charleston served as their general contractor along with a team from the Carolina School of Arts and Trade. Restoration of the house was finished in 2016 and various outbuildings, a dairy and billiard house in 2017. The gardens and grounds continue to be a work in progress.
Mountain Lodge was built around 1827 by Charles and Susan Heyward Baring of Charleston. Charles Baring, a member of the Baring Brothers Bank of London, came to Charleston to arrange a marriage between his cousin, Lord Ashburton, and a wealthy widow, Susan Cole Heyward. Captivated by Mrs. Heyward’s charm, Baring married her himself.
The oppressive heat of the Carolina coast was difficult for Mrs. Baring and her health suffered. Her husband set out to find a climate that would be more agreeable for her. He stumbled upon Flat Rock, where he purchased a 400-acre tract of land and built Mountain Lodge. Charles Baring and Judge Mitchell King were among the first of the Lowcountry planters to acquire land for summer homes in Flat Rock. The two proceeded to acquire additional tracts in Flat Rock eventually totaling some 11,000 acres. In turn, they sold land to other leading Charlestonians, eventually creating some 50 estates. This was the beginning of “The Little Charleston in the Mountains.”
Built in the Greek revival style, Mountain Lodge was constructed of heart of pine with wide hardy planks. Designed as an English country estate with about 4,300 square feet, the Barings developed the estate with formal gardens, a deer park and several out buildings. They also built a private chapel, a custom prevalent among English gentry, on their property. The original wooden structure burned in a wood fire and in 1833, work began on a new chapel built of handmade brick. In August of 1836, The Barings deeded their chapel, St. John in the Wilderness, to the Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina. It is the oldest parish in the diocese.
Through time the house has had eight owners with various renovations and additions almost doubling the size of it. Original to the estate are also the billiard house, diary and well. Some of the other outer buildings no longer exist. In 1936, the house went through a major renovation by Edward and Margaret Jones of Texas. The Jones made significant changes to the house including a new two-story neoclassical porch overlooking the garden and a porte-cochere at the entrance. In 1958, Grace Galloway purchased the estate from the Jones family. Six months later, the Galloways subdivided the acreage and in 1959 sold a 25-acre tract including the main house to Jane and Newton Duke Angier.
When Lori and Julien Smythe bought Mountain Lodge they were pleased to find the bones of the house in good condition. They tried very thoughtfully to make few changes to it. The house has three floors with a fourth floor attic space that once served as a bedroom. There are four bedrooms (two east and two west) with adjoining jack-and-jill bathrooms. Each room features 11-foot ceilings with great windows designed to catch cross breezes. The Smythes had the windows sent back to Charleston for refurbishing, as they felt the windows harkened back to an era they wanted to respect. Consequently, they decided against putting air conditioning in the house.
Susan Baring, the grand dame of early Flat Rock social life, was known for lavishly entertaining in her 20-by-20 dining room at Mountain Lodge. When the Jones did their renovation in the 30s, they added a large kitchen and dining area wing and on the opposite side a solarium. The big renovation for the Smythes was moving the kitchen to the opposite side of the house to capture a fabulous view. They also flipped the original dining and living rooms, so the dining room would be adjacent to the new kitchen.
While the Smythes were looking for a place to buy in Flat Rock, Julien expressed that he really wanted a summer house or cottage. Mountain Lodge is a classic, grand house that drives you to elegance and has a long history of being hospitable — quite the opposite of a summer house or cottage. In an effort to make the house beautiful, but approachable, the Smythes compromised on the refinishing of the old wood floors and decided to leave them as is; creating a balance of comfort and sophistication.
Lori and Julien both agree they feel more at home in Flat Rock than in Houston fighting traffic and crowds. They try to spend as much time as possible at Mountain Lodge in the summer and various other times during the year. They are committed to being there. When Historic Flat Rock asked the Smythes their intentions for the house, Julien replied by saying, “Our family buys houses for at least 100 years. Our family home in downtown Charleston and Many Pines in Flat Rock that have been in our family well over 100 years. I expect Mountain Lodge to be in my family that long, too.”
Missy Craver Izard was born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina. She resides in Flat Rock, North Carolina with her husband, Sandy Schenck, where their family runs a residential summer camp for children.