Harper House

Written By Nathan Moehlmann

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 of Hickory also has a restored landscape, including period gardens.  The Catawba County Historical Association (CCHA) raised $2,000,000 for restorations to start the house museum to interpret not only the histories of Hickory and the families who lived in the house but also the history of the Victorian South.

Several notable families have occupied the Harper House.  The Harper Family was the last of seven families to occupy the Shuler-Harper House, as some locals still refer to it.  Daniel Webster Shuler, originally from Michigan and founder of Hickory’s first bank, built the house in 1887.  In 1923, Finley Gwyn Harper, Sr. (1880-1951), owner of Harper Motor Company, purchased the house from Mrs. Minnie C. Taylor.  The Harper family resided there until 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 Harper family understood the house’s architectural significance.  They preserved 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.  However, founding partner of the Hickory law firm Patrick, Harper, and Dixon, Gwyn Harper, Jr. considered the interior too extravagant.  So he dismounted portions of the two elaborately carved wooden mantles—cynosures among cynosures—yet carefully stored them in the basement for almost fifty years.

The mantles have now been returned to their original places, and the CCHA with the assistance of nationally renown consultants have transformed the house back to its original paint scheme and redecorated the house with Victorian wall-paper.  A restored porch—with recreated balustrades, brackets, strings of spindles, and Cranford Woodcarving’s custom-turned columns—is the latest restoration.  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.