Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Harper House: A long goodbye

It looks now as if we're going to lose the wonderful old Stewart-Harper house at 323 North Grand St., perhaps the most architecturally significant --- and deteriorated --- dwelling left from Chariton's glory days.

The property was purchased recently from its most recent occupants by Truth Assembly of God,  neighbor to the north. If current plans are carried forth, some remaining architectural elements will be sold and removed, then the house will be taken down.

I had a chance to visit with the pastor and walk through the building on Tuesday --- a sad experience. No repairs have been made in decades and the previous owners did not depart gracefully. Some room are knee- to hip-deep in the debris of life --- abandoned and broken furniture, clothing, papers, anything else imaginable drift from one once-gracious room into another.

The last remaining fireplace surround in the house was ripped out and taken away, leaving bare brick exposed in what once was Zora Harper's northwest parlor. A lone stained-glass transom was broken. Some stair rail spindles knocked out.

But the old stair still twists gracefully from first-floor entrance hall to high and well-lighted rooms on the third floor. And areas of beautifully inlaid parquet flooring are visible around the edges of shabby and dirty carpets in two of the first-floor rooms (other rooms are fully carpeted). Although much of the old and relatively simple woodwork still is there, it is buried under many layers of paint.

The house was built most likely during the late 1870s by George J. and Amanda Stewart. The service wing to the west apparently incorporates an earlier dwelling on the property.

As it stands now, there are 16 rooms, all generously sized although none especially grand. Six are located within the high Second Empire roofs of both the main house and the service wing. Twelve rooms are stacked four-by-four on three levels of the main block; four, to the rear divided by the back stairway.

The house remained in the family until 1955, when the Stewarts' daughter, Zora (Stewart) Harper, died. But many have lived in the house during the Stewarts' tenure and since. There are indications that the builders took in boarders --- 14 apparently were living here when the 1880 census was taken. And Zora certainly shared her home with paying guests. 

The Stan Connell family restored the house extensively in the 1970s and occupied it fully. Many other families have occupied apartments carved from in over the years, too.

The poor old house offers an example of what can happen when a fine old building is acquired by those who may admire it, but lack the resources, skills and/or inclination to maintain it. The roof, more than a century old with original slates still in place, is badly deteriorated. Gaping holes have rotted through the fascia and in some cases elaborate brackets have fallen.

The single-brick veneer of the service wing has fallen away, leaving its board base --- held together with square-headed nails --- exposed. Daylight is visible here and there through cracks that have developed. 

Hundreds of thousands of dollars would be required to restore it. Truth Assembly doesn't have that kind of money, nor is it likely anyone else willing to invest will turn up. So if you are an admirer of this wonderful old building, now's the time to start saying your goodbyes.

You'll find earlier Lucas Countyan posts about the Harper house here and here.


Brenda said...

It's so sad to lose these grand old homes.

Angela Pollard said...

This is heartbreaking. Why can't the people building those godawful mcmansions out in the country put their money in to a structure that has quality and craftmanship instead of a house that is shoddily built and not intended to be around for more than 30 years? What a waste of resources.