The "Olde Pine Tower"

"Olde Pine Tower"
William Alexander Smith House from "Historic Pewee Valley"

Home of the O’Neals During the Little Colonel Era 
Friends and Neighbors of Annie Fellows Johnston 
Emmet O’Neal was Albert Conrad Dick’s Best Man When He Married Real-Life Little Colonel Hattie Cochran

This photo of Olde Pine Tower from the “Little Colonel” era shows the house
when it was owned by the J.T. O’Neal family from the late 1880s until about 1917. 
From Mary O’Neal’s private collection.

This National Historic Register property was built in 1860 by William Alexander Smith, the son of Henry S. Smith, for whom Pewee Valley was originally named when it was called Smith’s Depot. (For more on how Pewee Valley ended up with it unusual name, visit “Tuliphurst, Home of Noble Butler.”)  “History & Families of Oldham, Kentucky: The First Century 1824-1924,” pages 240 and 242-243, talks about the role the Smith family played in both Pewee’s early history and in shaping the way the town looks today: 

…(Among) the …settlers of the late 18th century came Michael and Rosanna (Yager) Smith, who brought their young children to Kentucky in 1807…The Smiths moved from Madison County, Virginia, to Jefferson County, Kentucky, and in 1810 bought land for a farm in Rollington, at that time a stopping point between Louisville and Brownsboro.

They had a total of 11 children, eight of whom were born after they made the trip from Virginia to Kentucky….

The seventh son of Michael and Rosanna, Henry Smith (1802-1883) married Susan Wilson from New York and the couple settled in Rollington…

A civic leader from the start, Henry conducted land surveys for the county. His first assignment appears to have been a road out of LaGrange commissioned in 1830.

…Henry was then commissioned in 1835 “to survey the Rollington to Floydsburg Road. When the county was divided into road districts in 1836, Henry was commissioned to survey District 52, which is now part of the Town of Pewee Valley.” Indeed, the road Henry surveyed followed the path now taken by Central Avenue. 

Apparently impressed by the property he laid out, Henry began buying land one-half mile from Rollington late in the year of 1835. He acquired five acres from Jacob Schrader, 22.5 acres from John Barbee, and a lot in Floydsburg from L.F. Bradshaw. 

By spring of the next year, Henry and Rosanna had divided and sold their Rollington property. They moved to a farm on land that now runs from Pewee’s Central Avenue to Houston Lane (note that “Delachoosha” is located on a portion of this land) and raised a family of three children: Charles Franklin, William Alexander and Sarah Emma. 

The Pewee area began to grow as a community around 1849 when service trains began to operate between LaGrange and Louisville… 

By 1851, the railroad through Oldham County was complete. A commuter train, possibly the first in the country, began in 1854, providing daily service between Louisville and LaGrange on the Louisville & Frankfort line (later the Louisville & Nashville)

As a result of this momentum, Henry Smith’s real estate investments of 20 years earlier became hot properties. In 1856, he sold one acre of land for a depot to the Louisville & Frankfort Railroad. The depot was named Smith’s Station, and the area became known as Smith’s Depot. 

…In addition to selling land to the railroad, his family and other early Pewee residents such as the “Louisville Times” newspaper founder, Walter N. Haldeman, Henry bought property during the 1860s. He purchased 27 acres from Joseph Clore in 1860, and 220 acres from Daniel Fields in 1866, the latter of which Henry meant to make a town… 

…Immediately following the (Civil) war, Henry Smith began to plan the town of Pewee Valley. He ‘envisioned a town of quiet avenues, shaded by majestic trees’… and he set about laying four main streets, each distinguished by and named for the species of tree Henry planted en masse. Ashwood (now Ash), Tulip, Maple, and Elm….

“Historic Pewee Valley,” pg. 6, notes that William Alexander Smith originally built his home on eight acres he bought from his father, Henry. He raised eight children there and around 1888 or 1889, sold it to attorney Joseph Thomas or “J. T.” O’Neal, who bought it as a summer residence.  

“Judge” J.T. O’Neal and his wife, Lydia. Photo from Mary O’Neal’s private collection.

J. T. O’Neal was born February 7, 1849 in Woodford County, Kentucky.  He was an 1873 graduate of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, from which he received a Bachelor of Law. In February 6, 1879, he married Lydia Elizabeth Wright. They had four children, all born in Louisville: Merit Doup William O’Neal (November 29, 1879-December 21, 1963); Joseph Thomas O’Neal (August 13, 1881 -: September 4, 1944); Goodloe O’Neal (December 6, 1883- December 30, 1929); and Emmet O’Neal (August 14, 1887-July 18, 1967).  (For more complete genealogical information, see Descendents of George O’Neal)

J. T. was a well-known Louisville lawyer. His granddaughter, Mary Hamilton O’Neal (Emmet O’Neal’s daughter), says famous New York attorney and historian Preston Davie was familiar with her father’s practice and once publicly remarked that “the finest man before a jury was Joseph T. O’Neal in Louisville.”

Caron City Directories show that J. T. and his wife lived at what is now 1127 S. Third Street in Louisville starting in 1905, where they remained until their deaths: J. T.’s in 1909 and Lydia’s in 1917. Mary Hamilton O’Neal believes that the family sold their Pewee Valley summer home after Lydia died.

Jefferson County, Kentucky. Federal officials inspecting Louisville Airport on November 4, 1937. Far left is Congressman Emmett O'Neal, second from left is Louisville Mayor Joe D. Scholtz, third from left (front row) is George H. Goodman, fourth from left (front row) is Corrington Gill, third from left (back row) Judge Ben F. Ewing, fifth from left (front row) is Major A. B. McMullen, far right (back row) is W. Sumpter Smith, far right (front row) is Neville Miller. 10x8 silver print
 Kentucky Digital Library Goodman-Paxton Photographic Collection, 1934-1942


All four O’Neal boys became lawyers, and three also enjoyed distinguished careers in public service.Thomas Joseph O’Neal, Jr., served as Mayor of Louisville in 1927.  Merit Doup William O’Neal served as a Commonwealth Attorney. The most famous, however, was Emmet O’Neal, who was a member of the United States House of Representatives from 1934-1946, when he was defeated by Republican candidate Thruston Ballard Morton. He also served as Ambassador to the Philippines from June 20, 1947, to January 20, 1949. A brief biographical sketch of his career is available from the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. The Congressional Club’s 1948 cookbook also contains the following recipe for Kentucky Corn Cakes submitted by “Mrs. Emmet O’Neal, Kentucky, wife of ambassador to the Philippines.”

Kentucky Corn Cakes

White cornmeal
1/2 pint buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 egg
Yield: 4 servings

Put soda in buttermilk and stir until foaming. Put in mixing bowl, add cornmeal slowly to make a light batter (no amount suggested). Add egg and stir well. Add salt as desired.

Mix well and drop from a dessert spoon (for lace edge) onto a hot, well-greased griddle. Turn quickly and serve hot with lots of butter.

Emmet was a 1907 graduate of Centre College in Danville, where he played baseball, basketball and football and was also a championship tennis player. His college room mate at Centre was none other than Albert Conrad Dick who married real-life Little Colonel Hattie Cochran. Emmet, in fact was Albert Dick’s best man at their wedding, as well as a childhood friend of Hattie Cochran, according to his daughter.  In 1992, Emmet O’Neal was posthumously inducted into the Centre College Athletic Hall of Fame.

Football team, 1905. Studio portrait of the 1905 football team. Members identified as (top) N. Rodes, Johnston (coach), Robinson (mgr.), C. Rodes; (middle) Hager, Gray, Arnold, Harlan, Bass, Crenshaw, O'Neal; (bottom) Glass, Harper, Andrews, Offutt, Watkins.
Kentucky Digital Library, Early Centre College Photograph Collection, 1876-1939

Left to right, George Looms, Emmet O'Neal and Albert Conrad Dick. 
Emmet and Albert were room mates at Centre College in Danville, Ky.
Albert would become the Little Colonel's husband in 1912.
This photo was taken July 12, 1909 in Dawson Springs.
From the private collection of Mary O'Neal.

Before his death in 1967, Emmet O’Neal wrote the following reminiscence of the O’Neal’s summer home in Pewee Valley: 

[Left:  Emmet O'Neal]

The O’Neal home in Pewee Valley was purchased by J. T. O’Neal about 1888. Later he acquired an abandoned lane which adjoined his eastern boundary line and turned west at right angles passing along his northern boundary line. I think this thin strip of land contained about 2-1/2 acres. Two tennis courts were made on the land property, and it was easily distinguishable throughout the years. The home site was bought from a remarkable old man by the name of Smith. I remember him well, but at the moment do not recall his first name. He left quite a few descendents around Pewee Wally. One of them married J. T. E. Stites an attorney, in Louisville, at the present time. Mr. Smith who sold the property to J. T. O’Neal was greatly interested in horticulture and was extremely successful along that line. He wished to beautify his home place, and he successfully grew either sixty seven or forty seven varieties of trees on the land sold to J. T. O’Neal. No doubt many are there to this day. They were greatly admired and discussed because of their beauty and variety. I recall very accurately many of them – Several varieties of pine (the tallest and biggest I ever saw, but several of them in storms broke apart with the brittleness of matches), Cedars, Arbor Vitae, Larch, Mountain Ash, a rare Kentucky Coffee Tree, Mulberry Birch, many varieties of Maple, Beech, Red Haw, Black Haw, Chestnut, Walnut, Horse Chestnut, Damson, Apple, Peach, Cherry, Poplar, Locust and others. In addition the finest grapes were on the place, of six or seven types. Mr. Smith moved next door to the O’Neal home. His daughter married a Mr. Barbee, the son of the founder of the Main Street wholesale house of Barbee and Castleman. 

It is too long a story to tell in this brief statement, but the home had interesting associations with many prominent people. Irvin Cobb lived next door and was a frequent visitor there. The tennis courts were congregating points for every day play, and for local tournaments. Prominent lawyers and business man of Louisville were frequent visitors there, especially on the 4th of July. The regular picnic on that date, brought as many as 125 people each year, from Louisville and elsewhere. Quite a few celebrities visited the old place, including authors such as Annie Fellows Johnston and diplomats, including the late Ambassador to the Court of St. James, Judge Bingham. A wedding even took place on the lawn between a neighborhood girl and her fiancé. The two carved stone dogs (editor’s not: at the stone entrance gate) were a gift to J. T. O’Neal. (I always thought the dogs should be placed to look “out” and not “in”). 

Storms tore down a long row of trees one day, and a viewer sat on the front porch and did not feel even a breeze. (An oddity of a cyclone) A strip of land was given to widen the road at the front of the property. There was always maintained a freshly white washed fence, known everywhere as the Pewee Valley fence, because of its distinctive design. 

The life of the old place was interwoven with the history of Pewee Valley, and Louisville. Time has magnified everything tremendously, and values have changed, but here was never a better hypothesis of living than that maintained in Pewee Valley and in its homes such as the one I just described. 

During a cyclone, the dogs on Olde Pine Tower’s stone gates lost their noses. 
The cyclone also demolished the home William Alexander Smith had built next door and toppled the bell tower at St. James Episcopal Church.

For more photos from the O’Neals’ Pewee Valley family album, click here

While it was still on eight acres (before the added porch)
Photo from "Historic Pewee Valley"

This recent photo shows how Olde Pine Tower has survived the generations.

Thanks to Brad and Pat Palmer for providing the information about the O’Neal family’s years in Pewee Valley and for putting us in touch with Mary O’Neal and to Mary O’Neal for sharing her grandparents’ photo album with the Oldham County Historical Society..

 Page by Donna Russell