A MANSION IN THE MOUNTAINS
Smith-McDowell House was originally called “Buck House,” presumably after James McConnell Smith’s lucrative downtown venture, the Buck Hotel. The house was built in the 1840s at the height of Smith’s success. For its time and place it was a mansion, an architectural statement of power and prestige. The family’s main dwelling remained in downtown Asheville, near the hotel and his other businesses. This was considered his country house or summer place, a luxury only the wealthiest could afford. It also may have been intended to be lived in by one of his children.
Brick homes were costly to build compared to wooden structures and were rarely found on the frontier. Buck House stood out quite prominently on the hilltop in what was at that time a mostly rural landscape. The home consisted of eight major rooms, ten fireplaces and a double level porch on the front of the house, as often seen in the South. It was built in the then-popular Federal style, with an emphasis on symmetry in room layout and decoration combined with classical elements such as Greek columns. Like most homes of its time, it contained no bathrooms or closets. A large summer kitchen was in a separate structure behind the house, while a winter kitchen was in the basement.
The rural estate was also a working farm, with many outbuildings including slave housing, barns, and workshops. The grand house served both as a showpiece and as a headquarters to supervise Smith’s agricultural enterprises.