Harper House/Hickory History Center
Hours: Thursday - Saturday, 9 am - 4 pm
Daily Tours on the hour: 10 am, 11 am, 1 pm, 2 pm, 3 pm
For a Harper House Tour, please check in at the Lyerly House (Arts & Crafts style home) first.
Hickory History Center/Lyerly House: free, groups of 10 or more $4.25/person plus tax
Harper House Guided Tour:
Ages 6-17 $5.00
5 & Under Free
School groups call for tour quote (828) 324-7294
Location: 310 N. Center Street, Hickory NC 28601
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Considered 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 Historical Association of Catawba County 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. Exhibits include The Miracle of Hickory and The Three R's of Hyalyn: Relatable, Remarkable, Refined.
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." —Dinny 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, built 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 HACC.
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 family 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 that The 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 boldly 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 HACC, 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.
The Lyerly House
As the Betty Allen Education Center and Margaret Huggins Gallery, the Bonniwell-Lyerly House, in the Craftsman style, offers museum exhibits on Hickory’s rich history, as well as conference space. Josephine Hambrick and her brother Robert T. Hambrick, fulfilling their mother Josephine Lyerly Hambrick’s wish that the structure be saved, graciously arranged for its preservation, and on June 24, 2004, the HACC moved the structure from its original site, two lots away, beside Frye Hospital, to the Harper House lot.
The house has revolved around four generations of the family, beginning with Josephine and Robert Hambrick’s great-grandfather George C. Bonniwell, who designed it along with his son, Gaither. George C. Bonniwell, an architect, engineer, and builder, came to Hickory in 1878 from Philadelphia, where he had served as an engineer for the National Centennial Exposition. In Hickory, he helped found the Piedmont Wagon Company, one of the largest wagon companies in the South.
Bonniwell’s daughter, E. Josephine Bonniwell Lyerly, and her husband, Eubert Lyerly—mayor of Hickory, owner and president of Elliott Knitting Mills, and president of Clay Printing Company, publisher of the Hickory Daily Record at its 1915 inception—hand-picked the lumber and built the house in 1912. Josephine Bonniwell Lyerly was highly interested in art, helping to establish the Hickory Museum of Art and also adding personal touches to the house’s interior, such as the hand-painted border of oak trees in various shades of pale orange, rust, and brown, which bands the dining room.
Harmoniously incorporating Tudor Revival motifs, the Lyerlys remodeled the house in the 1930s. The exterior’s overhanging eaves and exposed rafters, indicative of the Craftsman style, are complemented by the half-timbered and stuccoed Tudor Revival gables. Both styles are found in the interior, as well, Tudor Revival most succinctly declared in the bracketed mantel and coffered ashlar of the living room fireplace. The interior’s Craftsman heritage reveals wrought iron and stained-glass light fixtures with a hammered finish; weighty hardware; built-in cabinetry, including a desk, bookcases, a sideboard, and a dining room inglenook; and a closed string stair whose balusters, forming a screen, extend from floor to ceiling. The living room’s boxed beams add to the many distinguished elements.