Last week I had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Calvin Davis about the Harper home.
As usual, when talking with Davis, I got a new appreciation for a part of Decatur County history.
The James S. Harper home on State Road 3 at Sardinia catches the eye of most of us when we pass it. Descriptions of the home and the man who had it built abound in Decatur County books. The 1882 Atlas of Decatur County has an engraving of the home when it still had the tower on it and one of the inside and outside of the Harper store at Sardinia.
The 19-room brick home was built in 1875 for $18,000 and was, at the time, the largest house in Decatur County. The style of architecture is Italianate. The 1999 Decatur County Interim Report states “The James S. Harper house was rated outstanding in spite of the loss of its tower.” Outstanding indicates that the building has enough historic or architectural significance that it is already listed, or should be considered for individual listing, in the National Register of Historic Places. The Interim Report states that the decorative window hoods and the intricate cornice make it the most impressive structure in town.
Sardinia was laid out in 1865 by prominent local merchant James S. Harper and 15 others. The Interim Report tells the story that the name Sardinia came from a merchant Frank Gaston who gave away sardines as a business promotion. A more detailed story is in the book “From Needmore to Prosperity,” by Ronald L. Baker. In it Baker states that a post office called Sardinia was established May 11, 1850 but there was a community there at one time called Big Creek.
George Cann wrote in his History of Westport that that the store was one of the largest in the state and that he is said to have even sold Threshing machines there. Cann wrote that Harper also opened a branch store about 2 and a quarter miles from Sardinia. The neighborhood came to be known as Harper and the intersection is still known as Sardinia Crossing.