Volume 5, Number 2 - Winter 1973-74


From the Ozark County Times, Feb. 1, 1972, Mrs. Ruby M. Robins, editor, and former President of the WRVHS.

The large frame dwelling known as the Harlin House, now standing empty on a hillslope above the Gainesville square, is one of several homes built here more than three generations ago.

Among these museum pieces of the past, perhaps the Harlin House stirs the imagination and arouses the curiosity of those who pause to look at it more than the other old homes in town because of its architectural individuality, its commanding location and its air of decay.

The third building episode at the site, the Harlin House was constructed in 1912 by John C. (Johnnie) and Clara Layton Harlin. Incorporated in the structure is an earlier home, remodeled from a log dwelling, where Johnnie Harlin was born in 1873, the seventh son of John W. and Mary Conkin Harlin, who came to Gainesville from Tompkinsville, Ky., after the Civil War and acquired the log home built sometime after Gainesville was laid out as a town in 1860.

The log structure was remodeled and enlarged and a porch added in 1873. Later John W. and Mary Harlin moved to what is now known as the Mary Bushong House. There their eighth son was born and shortly thereafter the father died of blood poisoning at the age of 38. Before his death he had served as sheriff and county collector.

During this time, the Harlins’ first home in Gainesville had been purchased by Charles W. and Sallie Layton, who moved here from Springfield in 1892 with their sons, Hugh and Moss, and their daughter, Clara.

Four years later Johnnie Harlin and Clara Layton were married. Later when Clara’s mother became an invalid, she and her husband moved


back to the home where Johnnie was born so that they could help care for Mrs. Layton whose gentle and uncomplaining nature won for her the name, Grandma Sunshine.

Five of Johnnie and Clara Harlin’s six children were born in this house before the home now standing was built in 1912. It was during these years that Johnnie Harlin was employed as school teacher and operated a mercantile business. He joined the Bank of Gainesville as managing officer, 1908. The bank had been founded in 1894 by two of his brothers, James P. (Jim) and W.T. (Tan) and John R. Reed.

Later Johnnie Harlin became president of the bank, a position he held until 1955 when he died. He was succeeded by his son, Hugh Tan, who in 1969 became chairman of the board and was in turn succeeded by his son, John Layton.

While the present Harlin House was being built, the family lived in the house now owned by Mrs. Madge Parker.

Native lumber was used for the new home, a two-story frame structure with modified mansard roof having four dormers with double windows commanding a view from the attic on all four sides. Pine was hauled to the site from Rockbridge from the Sid Amyx sawmill and walnut was secured for inside trim from trees on the property.

Besides the dormers the most distinctive feature is the large porch or gallery wrapped around the house like an apron, its protective sloping roof supported by Ionic columns. Later when these columns rotted out at the base, they were cut off and mounted on brick supports. Wide stairways led up to the porch on two sides and lattice work covers the recessed basement foundation.

On the inside an easy stairway located at the right of a big hall leads to the second floor and from there continues to the attic. At the right is the living room and behind this the bath installed in the 1920’s. On the left is a second sitting room and a bedroom and behind the stairway are the dining room and kitchen.

On the second floor are four bedrooms, two on each side of a wide central hall.

Among characteristic designs from the past are the transoms over interior doors, sidelights at the front door with its oval beveled glass and ornate trim and leaded glass of diamond design horizontally placed over the large windows in the living rooms. The ceilings approach 11 feet in height and at one time picture mouldings circled the walls of some rooms.

There was instant warmth and beauty from the walnut wainscoting on the walls of the central hallway and the stairwall. Now painted over, as is the walnut bannister, the effect is still one of charm of design.

The carpenters who worked on the house were Jim Scott, Asa Scott, Mike Burke and others.

Water was supplied from a well on the west porch and there was a cistern on the east porch. Later a deep well was drilled in the yard and a storage tank was built on the Madge Parker


property. Twelve other families were supplied water from this system until Gainesville had its first deep well in 1950.

At first lighting was from gas supplied by a carbide system. Later it became one of the first houses in town to have electric lights when the late Lester Pettit of Ava installed a Delco system in 1917.

The house was heated by stoves and there are two brick chimneys, one for each side of the house. Wood was the fuel used.

Telephone service was available in the early 1920’s when Johnnie Harlin installed a private line to West Plains. Earlier local lines had provided limited in-county service. The line was sold to the Ozark Central Telephone Co. in the 1930’s.

Outbuildings included a big barn, wood shed, buggy shed, an underground fruit cellar, and a chicken house. There were cattle holding pens, pastures, cornfields, an orchard, garden, croquet court and, in the basement, a storage area for huge cakes of ice hauled from Cotter, Ark. by truck.

On the north the land sloped to Lick Creek where swimming and picnicking were enjoyed by the children of the house: Madge (Mrs. E.T.


Brown); Mearle; Max; and Hugh. Two children in the family died at an early age and Max was killed in a car accident in 1943. Mrs. Brown, who retired as vice president of the bank in 1965 and lived in England for several years, is now at work at the bank. Her husband, who had been vice president, died in 1964. Mearly, who married Hope Brown, was a bank examiner in the state of Florida until his recent retirement. He and his wife now are in California.

Mrs. Brown was succeeded as vice president by Billye Key, the wife of H.T. Harlin. Following their marriage, the H.T. Harlins built the Spanish style brown stucco house west of the old home.

When Mr. and Mrs. Brown returned here from Winter Park, Fla., where he had been business manager of Rollins College, they built a two-story Cape Code home next to the hold house on the site of the croquet court.

As time passed and Mr. and Mrs. Harlin were left alone in the big house it became a burden to care for and in 1945 it was sold to Mr. and Mrs. Frank Johnson and they moved up the hill to a small white frame bungalow built on pasture land adjoining the old croquet court by H.T. Harlin shortly after his marriage. Mrs. Clara Harlin died in 1966.

In its heyday, the home was a traffic center, communications depot and boarding house for the town. Stockmen driving their cattle to area markets used the stock lot when over-night stops were necessary, drummers (traveling salesmen) became regular guests during their calls on Gainesville merchants; circuit judges and lawyers boarded there during court week as did teachers who came to take positions at the new high school.

Perhaps the happiest events included the parties for which Clara Harlin was well known. Among these were the May Day celebrations where many "rules" were followed by young women all leading up to disclosure of the man who was to be their future husbands and the Halloween parties with fortune teller and mystery room.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Harlin played the guitar and musical evenings were frequent. Later when they had the first radio in town in the late 1920’s friends gathered to hear the "voices out of the air," as they had done earlier to examine and ride in one of the first automobiles to arrive in town when Johnnie Harlin acquired a Model T Ford in the early 1920’s.

The history of the house has many chapters, each a charming story in itself and each a mirror of the life and times of Gainesville as it grew from a remote village to a modern county seat, a banking, marketing and judicial center for Ozark county.


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