By Joan Elliott
Missourian Feature Writer
The Harney Mansion is one of Sullivan's "crown jewels," a reminder of days gone by and the people who figured prominently in the history of the area, especially during Civil War days.
Maj. Gen. William Selby Harney had been one of the best-known military figures in America between the War of 1812 and the Civil War. He was regarded by all as the country's most effective Indian negotiator and was the key figure in the Indian Peace Commission that negotiated treaties with all the Plains Indian tribes in the late 1800s.
He pleaded with the government for reservations for the Indians and was referred to by the Sioux as "man-who-always-kept-his-word."
When he was living in Sullivan, Gen. Harney's home was the center of lavish entertainment of the military with lots of music, dancing and opportunities for camaraderie.
History of the
The mansion, located at 332 S. Mansion Ave., was originally an eight-room, two-story home, built of native sandstone and white pine in 1856 by Dr. Alansen W. Leffingwell of St. Louis.
Following the Civil War, Gen. Harney was passing through the area on his way from St. Louis to Springfield and took note of Sullivan.
At some point the east wing was eliminated, but the building still has approximately 3,000 square feet on each of its two floors.
The mansion, one of the most imposing in the area, had a graceful portico in front, white marble fireplaces and 100 mullioned windows, meaning there was a vertical dividing bar in the middle.
Extensive stables were built and more than 85 species of trees were planted on the property, especially walnut and oak trees which, today, are huge. One ancient buckeye tree sits close to the front door.
The mansion was Gen. Harney's summer residence from 1872 to 1884, when he moved to Florida. It is believed to be the only one of his mansions still standing.
Maintaining the Structure
The home remained in the Harney family until 1896, after which it changed hands several times. It was occupied until the 1960s. The majority of the property was sold off and the estate now includes just 2 1/2 acres.
In 1979, the mansion was given to the William S. Harney Historical Society, a group of Sullivan residents who were interested in preserving and restoring the city's oldest home.
They cleaned up the building and grounds and, in 1981, held the first Harney Mansion Days Celebration, a two-day event that attracted hundreds of people. It included a parade, Civil War re-enactments and displays, mountain men encampments, arts and crafts demonstrations, tours of the mansion, fiddling contests, country western music and more.
The annual event continued for quite a few years and the group planned other fund-raising activities as well. In 1984, the historical society achieved its goal of getting the Harney Mansion named to the National Register of Historic Places.
In 1996, when the historical society could no longer care for the mansion, they deeded it to the city of Sullivan and the society disbanded.
When the city talked about tearing the mansion down, Mary Jane Matthews, a 1972 graduate of Sullivan High School, petitioned the city council to preserve it. Matthews had studied historic preservation and was living and working in Puget Sound, Wash.
Foundation Takes Over
Matthews helped establish Harney Mansion Friends in 1998, now called the Harney Mansion Foundation, whose long-term goal is "to rehabilitate the site for an adaptive reuse that would be an asset to the city of Sullivan and our community."
The city turned the mansion over to this group with the understanding that they would make "significant progress" on the home's restoration over a five-year period.
The foundation is made up of more than 200 members, including local, concerned citizens with some corporate sponsorships, Sullivan High School graduates, both local and out-of-state. It has an active board of 11 members that meets once a month, planning fund-raising activities and applying for grants to make it possible for the home to be restored to its former grandeur.
"Our goal is to preserve and renovate," said Board President Ruth Dace, who has been active in recording the history of Sullivan. "We hope to have a large section of the mansion as a community center with meeting areas and a museum in the older part."
The board members are constantly on the lookout for pieces either that are originally from the home or that are from that period in history. "We have quite a bit of memorabilia - pictures and furniture - that we'll put on display," said board member Gary Wyatt. "Some people have said they have pieces that they'll donate at the time of their death."
Sadly, when the foundation inherited the Harney Mansion, it was empty and in a dilapidated state. Painted graffiti covered the walls, the fireplaces were crumbling and the grounds had been damaged by vehicles.
So far the group has put a temporary (10-year) tin roof on the building and has had it retuckpointed.
They added faux windows - plywood painted to look like glass - which gives the mansion a nicer appearance on the outside and makes it less a target for vandals.
"Eventually glass windows will be put back in," Dace said.
Help Is on the Way
Several weeks ago the foundation learned it will receive $250,000 in neighborhood assistance tax credits, made possible by the state's Neighborhood Assistance Program (NAP) to help community-based organizations raise funds for various projects and programs.
The program enables donors to redirect their Missouri tax dollars to local projects. Businesses can donate cash, materials, supplies, equipment, technical assistance, professional services, labor real estate, stocks or bonds and, in return, receive tax credits that can equal up to 50 percent of the total amount contributed.
The award will enable the foundation to raise $500,000 in contributions and all those who donate can use their donations as tax write-offs. The foundation was the only Franklin County project to receive the tax credits.
Wyatt added that they have received other federal, state and local grants. "We're always looking for other avenues for revenue," he said.
The foundation plans to preserve the Harney Mansion such that it becomes an asset and provides a service to the community. It will include a community center, museum and meeting rooms.
The first step is to put in a subfloor in the 1856 portion of the mansion and place period items in it. "As we get funds we'll continue on to other areas," Dace said.
"The mansion needs to be self-supporting," said Alan Mastin, vice president of the foundation. "A community center would generate money."
The group is working with Kimble A. Cohn & Associates, a St. Louis architectural firm, in planning the restoration.
"When we first contacted Cohn he said he wasn't interested," Mastin said. "Then he came by and saw it. Now he's ready to do it all."
The foundation has held many community fund-raising events to help pay for the restoration.
The Festival of the Trees is a pre-holiday celebration with Christmas trees and decorations, hors d'oeuvres, music and an auction, held at the Eagles Hall. This year's event will be held Saturday, Nov. 19.
The Heritage Day Celebration used to be held in August but was moved to October because of the heat. It's held on the grounds of the mansion with food, music, speakers and folks in period attire. This year's event, set for Saturday, Oct. 1, will be the sixth annual event.
For last year's celebration, one room of the original section was open for viewing and was outfitted with pieces of period furniture with framed wall art, rug and curtains at the windows. A silver tea set once owned by the late Lucy Riggan (the mansion's last occupant) graced an antique library table, along with her portrait.
"That drew immense interest," said Dace, who noted that the next big project on which they'll focus is the sale of the tax credits.
"This is an important part of Sullivan's history," Dace said. "Once it's gone, it's gone. We can't let that happen. This is our treasure."
Persons who would like more information regarding contributions or tax credits can call the foundation's treasurer, Myrl Bledsoe, at 573-468-6847.
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