PRESERVING HUNTINGTON'S HERITAGE:
The Harvey House
James E. Casto
March 30, 2003
Argentine architect Carlos Bozzoli, a visiting professor at Marshall University's Drinko Academy, says much about Huntington's appearance impresses him, especially its beautiful array of churches and its broad avenues. But he says he's fascinated by one particular structure - the " Coin " Harvey house.
Built in 1874 by Huntington attorney William Hope Harvey , better known as " Coin " Harvey , the distinctive house at 1305 3rd Ave. is, says Bozzoli, a "very rare and interesting example of American architecture."
One of the oldest surviving dwellings in the Huntington area, the Harvey house is in serious disrepair. And that has Bozzoli worried. In a recent letter to The Herald-Dispatch, he lamented the "progressive deterioration" of the old stucco house and urged action to preserve and restore it.
Huntington attorney James W. St. Clair hopes he can mobilize the community to do exactly that.
St. Clair reports that, at his urging, the late Lenore Kaiser left the historic house to a private foundation with the goal of restoring and preserving it for future generations to enjoy.
"The community," St. Clair says, "owes Mrs. Kaiser a tremendous debt of gratitude for her generous gift. But now it's going to take a substantial, broad-based effort to follow through on her gift."
At present, St. Clair says he's seeking a tax-exempt designation for the foundation, a necessary first step before going after private and/or public funding for the house's restoration. And he's negotiating with Cabell County Assessor Ottie Adkins and state tax officials to keep the old house from being sold for taxes.
The house has been put to a number of uses over the years. At one time, it housed a doctor's office and until recently was home to a motorcycle club.
A report by Huntington architect Robert J. Summerfeldt, hired by St. Clair to evaluate the old house, concludes: "The unique character, design, location and history of this structure and its creator unquestionably qualify it for extraordinary efforts to restore and maintain its distinctive presence and history in the city of Huntington."
William Harvey 's nickname of " Coin " came from his publication in 1894 of a book, " Coin 's Financial School," that was widely read - and quoted - by "free silver" advocates of the day, including the famed Williams Jennings Bryan. But that was two decades after Harvey left Huntington and his handsome new house.
Indeed, it may be that Harvey never lived in the house that carries his name. Certainly, he couldn't have lived in it for long. The house has carved into its facade the date of its construction, 1874, and it was the very next year that the restless young attorney left Huntington.
In any event, when Harvey determined to build his house, he picked a choice 3rd Avenue lot where the best families of the day were building, and he personally designed a structure that was heavily influenced by the classic design of houses he had seen during a trip to New Orleans.
The house, still handsome despite the ravages of the years, is much altered from its original appearance. Originally, its front entrance was reached by a spiral wrought iron stairway, and a balcony, also of wrought iron, ran along its west side. Over the years, two additions housing apartments were built at the rear of the original house.
The first floor, about three feet below ground level, housed the original dining room and kitchen, along with a library or study. The second floor, roughly eight feet above ground level, had a parlor, a bedroom and a long hallway along the west side, with floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out onto the balcony.
The construction of the house was every bit as unusual as its design. Instead of a typical wood frame, the house was built much like a log cabin, but with thick stacks of wood planks substituting for the logs. The planks are fastened together with long spikes.
"The resulting wall," Summerfeldt writes in his report, "is extremely strong, stable, highly self-insulating, well sealed from drafts and resistant to settlement. It is not known if this construction was imported from New Orleans along with the design or if it was the result of Mr. Harvey 's original thinking."
Local legend says that the stucco applied to the outside of the Harvey house was made from the first concrete mixed in Huntington.
Summerfeldt's report recommends demolishing the newest of the two additions and a portion of the other. The result, once renovations are completed, would be a structure large enough, he says, to accommodate, on its upper floor, "a small museum and/or gallery" and, on the lower level, office space for an attorney, accountant or other tenant, whose rent would help pay the cost of maintaining the property.
St. Clair - who with his wife, Mickey, helped spearhead the development of Huntington's Heritage Village - says he's optimistic the old house can be saved.
Bozzoli notes that in his native Argentina he has witnessed "the demolition and neglect of many of our buildings," the result of that country's economic problems. "With all due respect, this is not tolerable in such an affluent country as the United States. I have no doubt that the Huntington community will provide the resources to preserve the Harvey house."
Who was " Coin " Harvey ?
William Hope Harvey (1851-1936), better known as " Coin " Harvey , was a teacher, lawyer, silver miner, resort owner, presidential candidate and author. Most of his ventures were unsuccessful, except for his writing. Although mostly forgotten today, his " Coin 's Financial School," published in 1894, sold more than a million copies.
Born at Buffalo in Putnam County, Harvey was the fifth of Robert and Anna Harvey 's six children. At age 16, he tried his hand at teaching school but, dissatisfied, went on to read for the law and was admitted to the bar at 19. He practiced briefly in Barboursville, then moved to Huntington and went into practice with an older brother, Thomas.
The entire Harvey clan was now living in Huntington. Another brother, Harry, had bought a store in Huntington and, impressed by the growing town, had persuaded his father to move the family off the farm.
In 1874, seemingly intending to settle down in Huntington, William Harvey built on 3rd Avenue a handsome house of his own design. He was restless, however, and the very next year moved to Gallipolis, Ohio, where he met and, in 1876, married Anna Halliday. The couple soon moved to Cleveland. In 1883, when Harvey went to Colorado on behalf of a client, he became interested in silver mining. The next year he moved his family there and started working silver claims. In Colorado, Harvey was introduced to the "free silver" political movement. Increased production and a decision by Congress to stop minting silver coins had combined to send the price of silver plunging. Harvey and other silver miners were the first to demand "free" - that is, unrestricted - silver coinage. But poor farmers in the South and West quickly took up the cause.
Returning to Chicago, Harvey began printing and selling by mail a series of pamphlets promoting "free silver." The first two pamphlets sold poorly, but the third - " Coin 's Financial School" - was a phenomenal success. It purported to be an account of a school where a boy called only "Professor Coin " - the source, of course, of Harvey 's nickname - painstakingly explains the superiority of silver coinage, as opposed to gold. Harvey gave his little paperback such an air of authenticity that many readers were convinced the school and "Professor Coin " were real.
In 1896, William Jennings Bryan captured the Democratic nomination for president by stampeding the party's Chicago convention with his oratory. "You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold!" he thundered. William McKinley, of course, defeated Bryan in 1896 and although Bryan tried for the White House again in 1900 and 1908, "free silver" was a dead issue.
By then an embittered Harvey had abandoned Chicago for Arkansas, where he opened a mountain resort. Initially successful, the Mount Ne resort soon fell on hard times. Harvey , convinced that civilization was on the verge of collapse, embarked on building a giant pyramid intended to house the history of mankind's rise and fall. Only the amphitheater planned for the pyramid's base was built. In 1932, Liberty Party delegates from 26 states met in the amphitheater and nominated the 80-year-old Harvey for president. He did no campaigning but received more than 50,000 votes.
In 1936, Coin Harvey died, proud but penniless. The resort had to be sold to pay his debts.