Ownership, Stewardship and Love at 400 Wilmington Street

 

By Wendy Pollitzer

Featured in The Island News

Apr. 22, 2010

John Joyner Smith-McLeod House

If the walls of a house could talk, then those of the John Joyner Smith-McLeod House would speak of Ownership, Stewardship and Love by the McLeod family.

The house, situated on the corner of Bay and Wilmington Streets and overlooking the Bluff above Beaufort River, has been occupied by four generations of the McLeod family.  On April 18, 1910 Claude Eugene McLeod purchased the home from the Reverend C.C. Brown from Sumter. The elegant home has remained in the family for 100 years now.

The home’s current owner, Marjorie Fordham Trask, affectionately known by her grandchildren as “Marj,” hosted a family reception over the weekend to toast the Anniversary. Many McLeod cousins, as well as several local Fordham cousins were present for the celebration with great food, family fun and toasts to the occasion.

Mrs. Trask’s grandparents, Claude and Hope McLeod wanted a house in town (they lived on the farm at Seabrook). Two were for sale in the Town of Beaufort. One was this home on the Bluff and the other was Tidalholm. They were torn between the beauty of the high bluff and the impressive yard at Tidalholm.  But, ultimately, they chose the home on Bay Street, built around 1811 by John Joyner Smith.

Smith, who owned a plantation at Old Fort (where the Naval Hospital now stands), wanted a home in town. He built the structure high off the ground with a southern exposure so the sea breeze would flow generously through the house. The breeze not only cooled the home, but also helped defend homeowners from those pesky spring and summer gnats.  The McLeod’s were certainly thankful for his design!

Mrs. Trask showed me a copy of the check from The Peoples Bank, signed by her grandfather, for the purchase of the home in 1910. It’s selling price? $6,750. Wow! The town of Beaufort has been blessed ever since. The McLeod family has been an asset to the community, and in particular, to the Carteret Street Methodist Church.  A stained-glass window hangs in the church sanctuary in memory of Claude McLeod, Sr., who devoted his life to the Methodist faith. And also, the Hope McLeod Foster Circle is well-attended today by women members at the Carteret Street Church, including Marjorie Trask, Brenda McLeod, Hope Cappleman and Sally Fordham, all relatives of Hope McLeod.

The McLeod’s have hosted countless weddings, funerals, birthday parties, graduation parties, etc. in the home on Bay Street.  And many more will potentially follow. There are 6 surviving grandchildren of Claude and Hope McLeod, 19 great-grandchildren, and get this, 38 great-great grands! And most of them are still in Beaufort.

The house is simply beautiful and tastefully decorated with Southern antiques. It has been well cared for through the years, and as Mrs. Trask describes, “well loved,” even when it was occupied by Union Troops and used as Federal Headquarters during the Civil War. Gen. Isaac Stevens, who was a wonderful steward of history and Beaufort architecture, took great pride in the home and maintained its character throughout the aggressive Northern occupation.

One particular detail of the house has confused many throughout the years. The front porch facing the Bluff has no stairs, nor does the fence have a gate opening to Bay Street. Why, you ask? The front door is not real. It’s designed to look like the entrance, when in fact, it’s just a replica. The windows on either side function as doors, and were designed to allow the breeze to come in the main rooms of the second floor. The entrance is actually on Wilmington Street. Mrs. Trask laughs when FedEx or UPS hires a new driver. They are quite baffled!

Mrs. Trask’s parents, Marjorie McLeod and Angus Fordham moved into the home in the 1940’s.  Mr. Fordham, as most of you know, owned Fordham Hardware on Bay Street. He was also Superintendent of Schools and Mayor of Beaufort for 17 years. A well-liked gentleman in town, Mr. Fordham took great pride in his community, his family and his home.

Marjorie Trask and her husband Paul moved into the home in 1986 after the death of Mr. Fordham. Mrs. Fordham lived in the cottage behind the home and ate meals with the family. She’d tell stories about her wonderful parents, who were avid travelers. They’d take their automobile, called “the Northern” to destinations and camp for days at a time. In fact, Mr. McLeod was the first to take an automobile trip from Beaufort to Savannah in “the Northern.” And, Mrs. Trask has many old photos of family outings-often for weeks at a time on Pritchard’s, Fripp and Bay Point Islands when her mother and her brothers were growing up.

How special is the fact that Marjorie Trask and her brother, Duncan Fordham, who grew up in this home, can tell their grandchildren stories of their grandparents and parents living in the same home.  It is a testament of a loyal, affectionate family committed to traditional values.

The McLeod family, who have been such integral members of the community, continue to call this home, and that certainly deserves a toast!

About Wendy

Wendy Pollitzer is a versatile writer living in the Lowcountry of South Carolina.

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