walking from Union County Pennsylvania. It is said that he walked every inch of this North Carolina mountain plateau finding and cataloging new specimens of trees and shrubs. There are several specimens at the University of North Carolina’s Ashe-Herbarium named for him.
Professor Harbison and his two daughters were among a group of ten Highlands’ residents that met and organized the Highlands Museum Association .in 1927. Their first order of business was to add a one-room museum on the side of the Hudson Library to house historical and natural history artifacts. In 1930’s acting on the desire to have a biological laboratory in Highlands for summer research, the museum was incorporated as the Highlands Museum and Biological Laboratory. In 1931, the laboratory overlooking Lake Ravenel was built and still remains today.
Dr. Harbison was also a pioneer in securing national forests for the western part of NC. He turned over much of his own land to the government and by his example and advocacy persuaded many of his neighbors to do the same. He played a big part in securing the cooperation of the mountain people in what resulted in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, and surrounding National Forest in North Carolina and he served for several years as mayor of the Town of Highlands.
Standing on the south side of Satulah Mountain, south of Highlands, N.C., is the home erected in 1921 for Professor. Harbison. His family, wife and four children lived at this homestead until the death of his youngest daughter Dorothea Harbison, in 1999 who served as librarian of the Hudson Library and Museum – now known as The Bascom, for half a century.
In 2000, Dr and Mrs. James Lee of Milledgeville, Georgia purchased the home from Professor. Harrison’s surviving granddaughters. Dr. and Mrs. Lee began the stabilization and restoration of this special home keeping the integrity of the original architecture circa 1920. The Lee’s kept in mind the local architectural significance and reflected the two important features of both the Shingle and Colonial Revival styles.
First, they added bathrooms to the home for the first time; next the Harbison’s rudimentary kitchen was refitted with modern appliances and cabinets in a traditional early design. The dining room used by the Harrison’s has remained as the present dining room. The only change in the room is the addition of a stone fireplace fitted with a 19th century mantel, making this a wonderful “keeping room”.
The main floor chef’s kitchen and dining room along with the original living room and rocking chair porches front and back lead to stone walkways and patios with water features. In the style of the early 1900’s architecture all of the bedrooms are located on. the upper floor of the home including a screened “upstairs sleeping porch” for those cool summer nights.
The property is located approximately three miles south of Highlands North Carolina, on over three acres on the south slope of Satulah Mountain. The gravel covered driveway for the house accentuates the woodland character of the Harbison House grounds, with natural plant, leaf and pine needle cover and no mown grass. The grounds still contain some of the original specimen plants found by Professor Harbison including a group of trees now listed on the Federal Endangers Species List
With the addition of art, furnishings and accessories; all appropriate period pieces make this home a masterpiece of modern conveniences and historic charm. The National Registry for Historical Places has qualified the Thomas Grant Harbison House, holding statewide significance in the areas of education, science and local significance in the area of architecture.
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