Saturday, September 18, 2010

Sweetwater, Miz Scarletts, & Sprinklers Are More Than Methodists

In less than a week it will officially be autumn, a season that brings football, harvest decor, and the growing business of haunted houses, cornfields, chicken coops, and even once-forsaken mansions. Sweetwater Mansion, once commonly known in the Shoals as the Weeden Home, will again be offering tours of the grounds. Adverts are stating the property belonging to Susan Leigh Smithson of Atlanta will this year also feature tours of the mansion's interior. According to Gary Williamson of the Florence Building Department, inside tours will not be allowed unless the building is brought up to code.

The Sweetwater blog on Blogspot is still advertising such tours in conjunction with G.H.O.S.T. The G.H.O.S.T. site lists the following disclaimers:

Restrictions apply, be aware that there is walking, stepping over and stairs climbing involved, along with outside natural and manmade grounds hazards, note your health conditions added with the heat tolerance to make sure you are fit for this investigation before signing on. G.H.O.S.T organization Members, owners of investigation properties and all those in charge of any and all sites shall be exempt from lawsuits involved due to injuries happening anywhere around inside or outside of properties on our investigation list. A waiver shall be signed by each person and all money shall be paid in full before being allowed to proceed with the investigation. There are no REFUNDS.

So, why will Williamson shut down any inside tours? Sources in his office state the main point of contention is the lack of a sprinkler system. The Sweetwater site doesn't state a specific opening date for the tours, so sprinklers could conceivably be installed before any public tours begin. If this and other code violations are remedied, those running the tours for Smithson will be taking in $25.00 per guest. That would make for a sizable gate each day the house and grounds are open to tours. On October 21st last year a ticket-taker was robbed of an undisclosed amount while manning the gate alone. The robber has never been caught.

That brings us to the next serious issue with Sweetwater Mansion tours. The home is still privately owned and was listed for sale as recently as mid-2009. Reportedly Smithson, a former resident of Tuscumbia, paid 400K for the property some years ago and was asking six million for the estate when it was first listed. After a major hotel chain located adjacent to the home, the asking price was raised to nine million.

We are very glad that the old home is finally being restored, but we still have no assurances the property will not be sold, the home razed, and a McDonald's or other ubiquitous restaurant erected in its place. Smithson has no desire to reside in the once stately mansion--she currently lives in Atlanta where she owns a boutique called Miz Scarletts of Piedmont.

That brings us to Smithson's previous lack of interest in restoring the ante bellum home. After graduation from a local high school, Smithson attended fashion school, did some modeling, and eventually wound up in Atlanta where she opened her own dress shop. One has only to Google the name of the shop in order to find multiple complaints lodged about Smithson's business, some of which have resulted in lawsuits over unpaid bills.

However, the most telling item concerning Susan Leigh Smithson's business practices is featured in a screen shot below.

Unless a legally organized entity takes over the renovation of Sweetwater, we choose not to support it. We'll send our dollars to Deep Fat--we get a better return.


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