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By Whitney Keith
The house, which was first built in 1911-1912, underwent extensive renovations and restoration in the past decade to stand as a beacon to sturdy workmanship and the grace of a past era.
The house was originally built by John C. Harlin, according to his grandson, John L. Harlin.
John C. Harlin was born on the property that the house sits on in 1875.
His father was the sheriff of Ozark County in the 1870s, and when the original owner (who received the land through the Homestead Act of 1862) died, he sold the house for the man’s estate, and bought it himself.
The sheriff later sold the property, and it went through some other owners before ending up in the hands of John L.’s grandmother’s family – the Laytons.
“My grandmother’s family had just moved here from Springfield and they bought the property,” Harlin said. “So it ultimately comes into the Harlin name, not through the Harlin family, but through the Layton family.”
John C. Harlin and Clara Layton were married in 1896.
Clara, along with her two brothers, inherited the property in 1900.
Her brothers soon signed over their shares to her, and John C. and Clara moved to the land to live with Clara’s mother, an invalid.
John C. and Clara started building the house in 1911, but it was completed in 1912.
Although they had several children, John L.’s father, Hugh, was the only one born in the house.
The family owned the house until 1945, when it was sold to the Johnson family.
The Johnson family sold it to local attorney Charlie Brown in 1974.
Even though the family didn’t own the house, stories of it fascinated John L.’s son, Chris.
“He had always been totally fascinated with that old house. Dad and I would tell him stories from dad growing up there and what I remembered of being there with my grandparents,” Harlin said. “So when he was 4 or 5 years old he tried to buy it from Charlie Brown, he offered him a dollar for it, and didn’t get a taker.”
When Chris and his wife, Missy, moved back to the Gainesville area in the early 1990s, they would often drive by the home and daydream about owning it.
In 2000, those dreams came true when John L., Chris, their families and other relatives all came together to purchase the house.
“I loved the idea, but it wasn’t my initiative that created it, it was Chris and Missy’s,” Harlin said.
The family didn’t do much with the house for the first few years, but in 2003 they began a restoration project on it.
Harlin said the main structure of the house was solid, but the roof over the porch was sagging and many windows were broken out of the upstairs.
“It was just deteriorating,” he said.
The restoration crew worked on the house in between their other jobs, but was soon at the home full time.
The house was completed and the first event there was held in 2005.
As the family began exploring how they were going to run a restaurant day-to-day, it seemed that a guiding hand began helping them along.
“There somehow seems that there is some divine intervention in this,” Harlin said “It all started coming together in a way that was like it was supposed to happen.”
Missy’s brother, Aaron Workman, was a former chef at Chris McD’s and Blue Cactus restaurants in Columbia, Missouri.
“She called and asked if he was interested in being a chef down here, and he said he was,” Harlin said.
So the historic home and restaurant gained a reputable chef and opened for business.
The restaurant is open during the week for lunch, and also hosts a monthly, reservation-only dinner.
When I visited the house, mellow sunshine warmed the rooms, which each had several dining tables set up nicely with tablecloths, centerpieces and small tins of a snack mix.
The menu offers an array of deli-style and panini or hot sandwiches, along with salads and homemade soup.
Although I didn’t sample the desserts, there were several homemade selections on display. I’ve heard the cheesecake is exceptional.
The upstairs of the home is not open, but we sneaked up for a quick peek.
The upstairs originally had four bedrooms, but the restoration process made two large rooms and two bathrooms out of the space.
John L. and his sister have decorated the rooms with a charming selection of items from their parents’ lives, including paintings made by Hugh and the children’s childhood toys.
The home is a testament to a family that has deep roots in their area.
John C. was a busy man, and could possibly be called a “social butterfly” in today’s terms.
He served in county offices, including clerk, treasurer and collector (which he was for over 30 years).
He was also a schoolteacher, banker, sportsman, minister, auctioneer and public speaker.
He also served in the state senate for four years, and was on the Missouri State Highway Commission for a six-year term.
“He had two things forefront in his mind – schools and roads,” John L. said.
He was largely responsible for getting the “million dollar bridge” built at Theodosia as well as bringing improved roads and schools to Ozark County.
John C. was the seventh of eight brothers.
His two oldest brothers, Jim and Tan, along with John Reed and a few other investors, opened the Bank of Gainesville in 1894.
“My grandmother, Clara, was the first depositor,” Harlin said.
The group was convinced that a railroad was going to come through Gainesville, and when it didn’t materialize, they wanted to try their luck where the railroad was.
Tan, who was running the Gainesville bank, left in 1908 to run the Howell County Bank, leaving John C. in charge.
“In those times, the man who ran the bank was the ‘cashier,’” Harlin related. “The ‘president’ may not have even worked in the bank.”
John C. was given the title of president in 1922, which he held until his death in 1955.
The Bank of Gainesville was called that for 100 years, but became Century Bank of the Ozarks in 1994, about when they acquired their branch in Ava.
The family has a history of serving in many trade organizations.
Next year, Chris Harlin will be the third generation in the family to be elected chairman (previously called ‘president’) of the Missouri Bankers Association, following in the footsteps of Hugh and John L.
“It’s the first time in the history of the association that three generations have served,” John L. said. “We’re really pleased about that.”
The family’s roots all trace back to the bank and the old house which now holds many more happy memories for this generation, and those to come.
Reflections is a weekly column exploring the history of Douglas County. This summer, we will be exploring local wedding destinations, fireworks celebrations and day trips. If you have an idea for an article, please call 417-683-4181 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org