Monday, February 08, 2010

SECRET HOUSE HIDDEN SINCE 1977



The Red Cross in the stone left of the front door of the house. Photos courtesy of Doug and Janet Crouch. Above is an interior shot of the large home.

A good friend and writing buddy, Lois Kleinsasser, suggested that I write about some of my traipses into the woods, and this one is not only interesting, but it uncovered a secret kept from the public since 1972. I've been asked not to reveal where this house is located, but I can tell the story, told to me by the son of the owner.

It began when some Arkansas natives, now living in Texas, called and asked me to meet them at the local Craft Outlet. They had some stories to tell and pictures to show me. I'm always happy when readers of my weekly column in the White River Valley News get in touch. I met them and they told me some good stories and shared some photos, some of which appear in my new book, The Boston Mountains: Lost in the Ozarks.

However, one of the stories they shared with me did not appear in the book. A few weeks before our meeting I had written an article about a mysterious house in the Middle Fork Valley of the White River here in Arkansas. I couldn't find it, but a reader had told me about it. Known as the "Red Cross House," the abandoned place had long ago disappeared in the jungle like growth typical here in our Ozarks. It's always been said that if you left your home in the Ozarks country for one year without a caretaker, when you returned it would be completely overgrown by vines, brambles and persimmon sprouts.

Well, I wrote to my readers asking if any of them knew about this mysterious Red Cross House. Some calls told me stories I could write, but still did not pinpoint the house so that I could actually find it. My Texas readers went in search of that house while they were here. He remembered it from childhood. When they found it, they sent me several photos. I now know it's exact location but will not to reveal it because of the problems the family might have with vandalism. Here is the final, true story of this mysterious house.

Kavin Harris is the son of Dean Harris, grandson of Homer Harris and great-grandson of Josie Harris. After reading my column, he spoke to his father Dean and this is the story he related. He shot down some of the stories told to me. That a famous general in the Civil War was killed at the house; that it was built as a school or hospital, thus the Red Cross formed in the rock structure; that another family once lived there. Kavin said that a general didn’t get killed at the house and that it was built for a home for the Harris family and non other had ever resided there. He went on to explain how the cross in the style of today’s red cross came to be on the front of the rock house.

But let’s begin at the beginning of Kavin’s story. He wrote that when Josie and Britton Harris returned from New Mexico, they bought the land where the house stands. Once they purchased the land they had the house built. The person laying the rock mentioned to Britton that he was thinking about putting a red cross on the house.

Britton replied, “You’re laying the rock so you do whatever you want.”

It seems that Josie and Britton Harris had twin sons, Homer and Harold. Some time later Josie and Britton split up and he returned to New Mexico, while Josie remained in the house. When their son Homer married Ella Shumate they were given some land up on the hill behind the Harris place by her mother Cora Shumate. There was a cabin on the place and that’s where Dean was born. When he was somewhere between 8-10 years old Josie’s health began to fail and she went to live with her son Harold and his wife Marie until her death.

At that time Homer and Ella and their children moved into the red cross house where they lived until their deaths. Ella passed away in 1972 and Homer in 1977. The house has been vacant since that time. They are buried along with Josie at Whitehouse Cemetery. Dale Lewis and Wayne Lewis were half-brothers to his father, Dean.

The red cross is fashioned of rock on one side of the front door. There is another rock of the same size on the opposite side of the front door with the house builder’s name and date the house was built. Kavin did not know that date, but we had an earlier report earlier that it was built in the early 1900s. He wants to check it out as soon as the weather permits, and will let me know the date on that other stone.

I was reasonably sure that the house wasn't built during the Civil War with the red cross emblem, since use of the red cross symbol in this country did not come about until the founding of that organization by Clara Barton in 1881 here in the United States. It was, however, used overseas during World War I to identify medical vehicles, personnel and field hospitals.

I have since driven to the location and from the road there is no sign of a house, though it's not but maybe 25-feet off the pavement.

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