From The Archives
Open To The Public
1887 Victorian: Queen Anne
Harper House/Hickory History Center
Admission to Lyerly is free, Harper House tours $5
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From the websiteConsidered by the North Carolina Department of Archives and History to possess "the finest Queen Anne interior styling in the entire state,” the Harper House, at 310 N. Center Street, and the accompanying Bonniwell-Lyerly House in the Craftsman style, another of Hickory’s finest structures, are poised to serve the broad spectrum of Catawbans and visitors from near and far as the Harper House & Hickory History Center.
A momentous preservation project, with the Catawba County Historical Association raising $2,000,000 for restorations, the Harper House welcomes visitors as a house museum, interpreting both Hickory history, through the numerous significant families who lived in the house, and Victorian life in the South, circa 1887, the date of the house’s construction. On the same lot, the Lyerly House, rescued and moved for preservation on June 24, 2004, is devoted to the further interpretation of Hickory’s rich past, serving as the Betty Allen Education Center and Margaret Huggins Gallery, as well as a conference facility. Current exhibits include Elegantly Crafted and Through the Lens: Hickory's Photographic Journey. Please visit us in the Lyerly House bookstore for CCHA publications.
If you would like to plan a visit or inquire about private events, such as weddings, simply call or email: 828.324.7294 / email@example.com. A few naming opportunities also remain, and every contributor will be permanently recognized on the site.
The Harper House
Our parents and grandparents saw themselves as stewards of the property and spoke to us often about the unique history of the home. They taught us to appreciate the beauty of the architectural details, both interior and exterior, as well as the manner in which the house relates to the land. It was important to our parents that we have a choice in deciding the ultimate use and disposition of the property. As a family, we discussed our options at length. In the end, our family—from the youngest to the oldest—concluded that the property should be acquired by an organization which would be dedicated to the preservation of the house and property as a museum and cultural center for the benefit of the general public. With that objective in mind, we approached the Catawba County Historical Association. —Denny Harper Addison, daughter of F. Gwyn Harper, Jr.
The Harper Family was the last of seven families to occupy the Harper House, as some locals still refer to it, Daniel Webster Shuler, originally from Michigan and who founded Hickory’s first bank, building the house in 1887. The Harper Family’s stay was by far the longest—from 1923, when Finley Gwyn Harper, Sr. (1880-1951), who operated Harper Motor Company, purchased it from Mrs. Minnie C. Taylor, to December 21, 2000, when Anne McPherson Harper Bernhardt, Lee Corinne Harper Vason, Mary Gwyn Harper Addison, and Betty Banks Harper Shelander—the daughters of Finley Gwyn Harper, Jr., and his wife Mary Banks McPherson Harper—generously arranged its acquisition by the CCHA.
The Harpers’ long stay was also providential, for each of the three generations appreciated the house’s architectural significance, preserving the foyer’s carved, coffered ceiling and intricate stained-glass window; the parquet floors of the dining room and grand parlor; the ornate brass-work of the heavy doorknobs, sashes, keyplates, and many sets of pocket doors; the piano-grade cherry of the staircase with two landings and the dining room’s carved wainscoting, as well as the numerous silhouettes of family friends on the walls of the attic, where Mr. and Mrs. Harper, Sr., entertained during Prohibition.
The Thornton Family, who owned the house from 1892 to 1916, may be its most colorful occupants. The dandified spendthrift Marcellus E. Thornton was a former lawyer, an entrepreneur with the Thornton Light & Power Company, a newspaper editor, and a novelist, who could write in 1901 to his potential publisher thatThe Lady of New Orleans: a Novel of the Present “will yet hit literature a very substantial whack.” The Colonel’s surety was accompanied by a Vandyke beard and, rumor has it, a coach pulled by two white stallions. Hickory’s delightful architectural history From Tavern to Town, Revisited baldly states that Colonel Thornton married the wealthy widow Elizabeth (Camp) Thornton “for her money,” and she in turn is reported to have said of him, “I married the first time for love, the second for money, and the third time for the hell of it.”
The CCHA, with overwhelming community support, consulted some of the nation’s leading experts on the house’s restoration, including Professor Robert Schweitzer for the exterior paint scheme; Victorian Interiors for the period wall-paper (the entry parlor flourishing fifteen different kinds); and Chip Calloway for the landscape design. Jack Pope, contractor, waved his wand over the entire site, the restored porch—with recreated balustrades, brackets, strings of spindles, and Cranford Woodcarving’s custom-turned columns—one of his greatest touches.
A hipped roof with lower cross gables, the Harper House’s exterior is composed of classic Queen Anne features: irregular massing, half-timbered gables, differing wall textures, including pebbledash and scalloped wooden shingles, a full-width porch extending along two sides, as well as a second-story porch, and a tower with stained-glass windows.
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