By Nathan Ham
After two years of uncertainty, the Watauga County Board of Commissioners voted on Tuesday to demolish the Turner House property in downtown Boone with the intention of adding more downtown parking on the property.
The Turner House property (also known as the Oscar and Suma Hardin House), located at 136 North Water Street, was purchased by the county in November of 2018. After discussions with the Town of Boone, it was believed that the building would remain standing on the property and parking expansion would take place elsewhere in downtown Boone. However, after this week’s vote, it appears that is no longer the case.
Eric Plaag, founder of the Digital Watauga Project and treasurer of the Watauga County Historical Society, was dismayed with the decision made by the commissioners. He shared a public comment with the commissioners and sent the High Country Press a letter to the editor highlighting some of the historical significance of the property and the lack of transparency from the county in how they came to this decision.
“As I have repeatedly informed you over the past two years, the Oscar and Suma Hardin House is historically significant both for its architecture and for its relationship to individuals of historical significance to Watauga County. The house was built in 1926 for Oscar (1883-1927) and Suma Bogle Little Hardin (1888-1931), both of whom contributed significantly to the business and social fabric of Boone during the 1920s. The house is also the boyhood home of Robert Bogle “Bobby” Hardin (1910-1977), the longtime mayor of Blowing Rock from 1953 to 1971,” Plaag said. “The house features several examples of architectural flourishes that are rare in Colonial Revival architecture of the period in Watauga County, including a steeply pitched gable over the main entrance; four Tuscan columns supporting a semi-circular balcony over the entrance porch; an ornate, second-floor, Palladian window; stunted, scrolled brackets beneath the eaves; and a front entrance with a webbed transom and sidelights with ornate tracery. With minor, restorative changes (removal of the vinyl/aluminum siding and restoration of the side porches), the house would be eligible for Local Historic Landmark designation and likely eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.”
The Boone Town Council and the Watauga County Board of Commissioners had previously agreed in February of this year to consider a partnership that would include building a parking deck on Queen Street to alleviate some of the parking problems in downtown. However, that abruptly changed on December 15. Plaag believes the vote was in violation of the North Carolina Open Meetings Law and will be requesting N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein to investigate the matter.
“The Board’s sudden decision to demolish the property is not only an egregious and flagrant violation of the agreement between the Town and the County but also represents a gross disregard for the interests and expectations of the citizens of Watauga County,” Plaag said. “The Oscar and Suma Hardin House is the property of the citizens of Watauga County, and as such, they deserve to have a voice in decisions about its future. Instead, the County Commissioners have chosen to proceed with demolition of the House behind closed doors, without legal authority, and without the statutorily required public notice.”
The commissioners voted unanimously to approve the demolition of the building by D.H. Griffin Companies at the cost of $21,300.