Monday, December 05, 2011

The Harper House

I'm not exactly comfortable taking photographs of other people's houses without asking, but did so anyway last week when out wandering around with the camera, passing the Harper house on two occasions,  focused on other buildings.

Although it's hit a rough patch, this wonderful old brick Second Empire structure on North Grand Street, a block and a half north of the square, once was one of Chariton's grandest home --- and remains the best example of its style in town. What its future is, who knows? Location as well as size and condition all are problems now.

The Elijah Copeland house.

Until the 1950s, this house shared a half block with the only slightly less grand Elijah Copeland house on the corner to the south and the former United Presbyterian, now Assembly of God, church on the corner to the north.

During the 1950s, Keith Gartin acquired the quarter block to the south, the Copeland house was demolished and one of Chariton's first modern grocery stores, surrounded by a concrete parking lot, was built there, changing the character of the neighborhood. A dollar store currently occupies that building. As the years passed, the property to the north was acquired by the church and turned into a another parking lot, sandwiching the Harper house between concrete and asphalt.

I've never been able to locate the story of how this house came to be, but the Second Empire styling dates it probably from the 1870s, the same decade during which the Ilion, Italianate manson of the Mallory family,  the Storie house, also Second Empire and still standing, and the Elijah Copeland house were built. Nor do I know who built it.

There apparently is an older house embedded in it, perhaps the west kitchen wing, now encased in brick and topped by a Second Empire roofline lower than that on the main house.

Mary (Dungan) Smith, who died in 1946, arrived in Chariton with her parents, the George Dungans, during the1860s. Her obituary, most likely composed by her cousin, Myra Dungan, a daughter of the Warren Dungans who also lived in this block but on the east side of the street, states that when the George Dungans arrived in Chariton they "lived in a home which formed the original part of the Harper residence on North Grand Street."

By 1880, the current house had either been built or acquired by George Judson Stewart and his wife Amanda, who arrived in Chariton during 1865 as a dry goods merchants. During the early 1870s, however, George went into partnership with Daniel Eikenberry and made a good deal of money as a livestock, lumber and grain dealer and land speculator. Personally, I think the Stewarts created what we see now at that time, soon after 1870.

In 1880, George and Amanda were operating a boarding house in the building, occupying it with their two children, Zora and Harry, as well as 14 boarders and four servants.

During 1889, Zora Stewart married Philander L. Harper, also a native southern Iowan, and they moved to Lincoln County in western Nebraska, where they lived for at least 30 years. Zora seems to have been as astute a businessperson as her husband and they made a good deal of money there as bankers and in real estate. They also had two daughters, Eloise and Helen.

Back in Chariton most likely during the 1890s, the Stewart house underwent a makeover that included addition of porches that wrapped around its south and east fronts and a porte cochere that allowed family and friends to step from their carriages under shelter directly onto the porch. This postcard view shows how the house looked ca. 1900.

Old age caught up with both George and Amanda Stewart during the mid-1920s and prior to their deaths, both of which occurred during 1927, Philander and Zora Harper "retired" in Nebraska and returned to Chariton to live with and care for them. Their daughters, both of whom had married and had families of their own by now, remained in Nebraska.

After the deaths of the Stewarts, the Harpers continued to live in the house and it came to be known by their surname. Philander Haper died during 1933, but Zora lived in the house for more than 20 more years, until her own death during 1955. Still an astute businessperson, she was involved during those years in everything from newspaper work to real estate, living in the house with companion/housekeepers and entertaining often.

It was Zora, most likely, who had porches across the front of the house removed and a smaller entrance porch, probably similar in scale to what was there originally, built. The south porches and porte cochere remain.

Upon her death, however, her Nebraska family had no particular interest in either Chariton or the Stewart-Harper house and so it was sold along with most of the contents.

After that, the old house had its ups and downs. It was restored extensively at one point and fully occupied by one family from top to bottom.

For many years now, however, the house although occupied has been in decline and its future, like those of other older buildings in Chariton, is in doubt.


Anonymous said...

It is nice to learn some of the history of this house. It is one of the most beautiful homes in Chariton... I hope to see it fully restored one day.

lgold said...

I'm a relative of the Stewart family. My grandmother Was George and Amanda's daughter Zora. Thanks much for sharing this information - along with the pics of the home place.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting. I am a direct descendent of George Judson Stewart and his wife Amanda Cramer. It is great to find out that my 4th great-grandparents had such a positive influence on Chariton and built a lasting legacy.