News release from the Town of Boone:
In February 2020, at the request of the Town of Boone, the Boone Town Council and the Watauga County Commission held a joint meeting to discuss the Town’s desire to save what is known as the “Oscar and Suma Hardin House” located at 136 North Water Street in downtown Boone, which most recently functioned as the Turner Law Offices. The town’s Historic Preservation Commission had recognized the historic nature of the home due to its unique architectural features and because it was the childhood home of Bobby Hardin, the mayor of Blowing Rock from 1953 to 1971. The structure is included in the town’s planned historic district which has been approved by the North Carolina Historic Preservation Office. At the meeting the Chair of the Historic Preservation Commission, Eric Plaag, Ph.D, explained the building’s significance.
Because Watauga County indicated it had purchased the house to demolish it in order to create more parking for county employees, at that meeting the town and county agreed to work together to explore as an alternative the development of a jointly-owned parking deck at the current town-owned Queen Street surface parking lot. To allay concerns expressed by members of the county commission, representatives of the town agreed that it would extend the county’s demolition permit for the structure so it would not be prejudiced by the delay in studying the feasibility of a parking deck at that location.
In April of 2020, McGill & Associates was hired to develop conceptual plans and to coordinate geo-technical tests on the site. In July of 2020, in separate meetings, Matthew Oetting with McGill & Associates presented two conceptual plans, anticipated parking capacities and cost estimates to both the Boone Town Council and the Watauga County Commission. Once feedback was obtained from both elected bodies, County Manager, Deron Geouque, Town Manager, John Ward, and representatives from McGill met in early October to begin the development of a financial plan for the potential new deck. Information concerning shared use, fees for public use and capacity needs were shared and the process of developing a business model was started. Also, in mid-October, County Manager Geouque shared with Town Manager Ward that there had been questions on the timing of geo-technical tests since construction of a deck involved significant excavation. Two weeks later in November, Manager Ward provided Manager Geouque a recommendation from McGill & Associates concerning the timing of the geo-technical work, and Ward requested input and direction from the County before ordering the work to proceed.
Instead of a response to the question about the timing of the geotechnical exploration, on December 9, 2020 Manager Ward received an email from Manager Geouque that the Watauga County Commission, without further dialogue with the town, had decided in closed session to demolish the Turner House due to cost estimates associated with the potential parking deck, lack of information involving geo-technical tests, and potential future cost escalations. On December 15, 2020 the Watauga County Commission voted unanimously to proceed with demolition of the historic Hardin/Turner House and selected D.H. Griffin to demolish the house at a cost of $21,300 so that a surface parking lot could be constructed on the site.
The Boone Town Council has been committed to protecting and highlighting the history of our town. The Town has shown how protection of our historical resources can work to honor our past and preserve the qualities of the town which have made it special for its residents and as a tourist destination. Beginning in 1983, with the purchase of Jones House and continuing in 2009 with the purchase of the Downtown Boone Historic Post Office, the Town has shown time and again how we can both protect our past and accommodate growth in the future. The development of the Downtown Boone Historic District with the Boone Historic Preservation Commission, financial support of Digital Watauga, which preserves historical images of Boone, the commitment to a joint venture with the county to address long-term parking solutions not requiring demolition of a historic structure, and contracting with McGill & Associates to fund a study of an alternative parking solution that would be beneficial to both Watauga County and the Town of Boone have all been initiated by the Boone Town Council.
Often it is difficult to protect historic resources when they are not owned by the Town or the County. In the case of the Oscar and Suma Hardin House, which is owned by Watauga County, an opportunity existed to save an important structure while working cooperatively to develop parking needed by both the town and county, but unfortunately the County Commission has decided that the best use for the site is to remove the historic structure and build another parking lot. Demolition is pending, it may only be a matter of days, and if you are interested you may want to visit the site sooner than later so that you can see the beauty of the historic structure and the missed opportunity.
Pictures of the “Oscar and Suma Hardin House” taken on Monday afternoon: