Relative of B.W. Harrison, others worry about future of historic Cape home

Friday, November 19, 2010
A local landmark, the B.W. Harrison house across from the River Campus, is showing signs of deterioration.

Lynn Hoffman sees the historic Huhn-Harrison house in Cape Girardeau as a cherished family heirloom. That makes her prediction for the 105-year-old local landmark at 340 S. Lorimier St. all the more unsettling.

"I think the home will eventually come down," Hoffman said from her Denison, Iowa, home. "And I just hate that. I wish the house could be saved, but I just don't see that happening."

Hoffman, 64, is a cousin of the late B.W. Harrison's wife, Hazel. B.W. Harrison was the well-known local philanthropist who donated the home to Southeast Missouri State University as well as $800,000 to launch the River Campus project.

But the two-story house, built in 1905 and now across the street from a completed River Campus, has sat largely untouched and empty since it became the privately held property of the university's foundation. Now there are reports of water damage, Hoffman said, and the eight-foot porch is being held up by wooden planks, suggesting structural damage.

"I'm very disappointed," said Hoffman, who was born and raised in Cape Girardeau before she moved to Iowa. "That River Campus would never have happened if it wasn't for B.W. and Hazel, and I just think they've been forgotten. It's terrible."

University foundation officials said there are no plans to tear down the home that sits on the National Register of Historic Places and has been designated a local landmark by the Cape Girardeau City Council. In fact, Bill Holland, the university foundation's executive director, said the foundation currently has no plans for the house at all.

"We're taking a look, as we take a look at the overall master plan for the River Campus' ongoing assessment, how that house might be included," Holland said. "I would be remiss to say that we're going to tear it down, open it as a boarding house or whatever, because we just don't know."

Holland said the foundation's policy prevents him from discussing the house's condition or when the last time remodeling work took place.

But it's the foundation's silence and lack of action that has Hoffman and others worried. Hoffman said she thinks the house will continue to deteriorate until it is condemned. That will make it easier for the foundation to tear down the home if it wishes, she said.

Loretta Schneider, a member of the city council and former chairwoman of its Historic Preservation Commission, was a friend of B.W. Harrison's. She remembers Harrison telling her he was going to donate the house -- built by Harrison's father-in-law, Rudolph Huhn -- to the university and that it had agreed to set aside a room in the house to commemorate the Harrison-Huhn family.

"None of that's happened," Schneider said. "They hardly even have a picture of them there. B.W. did so much for that university. He wanted to be sure all of this was preserved."

Schneider said she was disappointed.

"It's really, really sad," Schneider said. "Every time I go past there, I just can't believe that all the other money was spent on the River Campus and that they didn't do something with that house right away."

Those who work in the historic preservation field have been paying attention, too. Steven Hoffman is Southeast's coordinator of the Historic Preservation Program and a volunteer adviser for the city's Historic Preservation Commission. Questions arose two years ago about using the house as a place for visiting artists, but nothing serious materialized.

"There's no real concrete idea of what to do with it," Steven Hoffman said.

The best thing, as with most historic homes, would be to find a practical use for the home. The listing on the National Register doesn't really protect the home and the local landmark designation is only used to maintain historical integrity if changes are made.

"If you get people in there, they notice things," Steven Hoffman said. "They maintain it."

The building shouldn't be allowed to deteriorate, he said.

"It would be very embarrassing for the university if something went wrong with that house since Mr. Harrison was the one who gave the money for the River Campus," Steven Hoffman said.

In the meantime, Lynn Hoffman will continue to worry from 450 miles away.

"If the house comes down someday, I will be really disappointed," she said. "B.W. and Hazel were very giving people and they gave so much, especially to that university. They really wanted that home to be a special place. It would be a shame if it just was torn down."


Pertinent address:

340 S. Lorimier St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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