The McClure-Highfill Home
The National Register of Historic Places
02000260 LISTED, 3/28/02
701 West Highland
In 1937 Claude and Elizabeth Highfill purchased the Eaker property at the west end of Highland Street where it intersects North Seventh Street. The Highfills did not buy the property for the house or even primarily for its square block of land, but for the home site. Situated seven blocks west of the Greene County Courthouse, the location was no longer "in the country" as it was when the Eakers built there, but was on the fashionable outskirts of town. Claude had the Eakers’ two-story house dismantled, saving much of the lumber for use in the construction of the large home he and Elizabeth built for their family. The Highfills had four children, Betty, John (J. C.), Melvin, and Martin.
The Highfills’ new home was under construction for a year. Preacher Alfred Thomas was the builder, and he and his crew, along with extra workers, including the Highfills' second son, Melvin, worked laboriously with NO power tools to construct the home. Even the concrete in the full basement was hand mixed and transported in a wheelbarrow. The pay was fifty cents a day! The total cost of construction was $15,000.
Each room in the McClure-Highfill Home is a complete wooden box--ceiling, floor, and walls. Inside each "box" the interior surfaces were added. The interior walls have four layers of building materials as each room’s walls consist of solid wood with wallboard on the interior. The exterior walls have five layers: bricks, wood sheeting, insulation, another wooden wall (forming the "box"), and finally wallboard. . The ceilings and floors were also installed over solid wood. Much of the lumber used to build these "boxes" was from the original Eaker house.
Interestingly, for sixty years the handrails of the stairs from the main floor to the basement had two kinds of balusters: the original spindles from the Eaker house plus enough additional square banisters to complete the handrails. The McClures recently had new balusters made so the handrails now match the balustrade on the top floor. The newel posts, also from the Eaker house, are original except for the caps. Another feature preserved from the past is the telephone nook, which is built into the wall of one of the main floor halls. All the original mortise locks with glass doorknobs remain in use. Although carpets are used in some rooms of the home today, all the original wood floors are in excellent condition; the floors on the main floor are oak, and those on the top floor are pine.
During construction, Preacher Thomas hand carved designs on the wallboards and ceilings throughout the house; his only tool was a small carving knife. Most of the wall enhancements are fairly simple, except for one room, the walls of which are carved in nineteen arches. Most of the ceilings are simple; every ceiling, however, is different. The ceilings in the dining room, living room, front entrance hall, and the room with the arched walls are quite elaborate. Three of these unique ceilings and two of the more simple ones remain, as do the arched walls.
The home’s heating system was very unusual in this area at the time. It was Paragould’s first gravity system. The hot air moved throughout the house in an elaborate ductwork system, which consisted of mechanically controlled supply ducts to each room in the house plus very large return air ducts to move heavy cold air from the rooms back to the furnace. Originally there was a large coal-burning furnace; this required a coal bin that is now part of the basement shop. Today the home has forced central gas heat and electric air but still uses the original ductwork.
The house has about 5000 square feet. There are fifty windows and five exterior doors, two of which open on the ground level from the basement. On the two top floors, there are six bedrooms, three baths, living and dining rooms, a kitchen with breakfast room, and one hall so spacious it has a sitting area. In the basement there is a second kitchen, library, family room, office, exercise room, craft room, laundry room, bath, shop, and furnace room. There are also both front and back porches. Through the thirty-two years the Highfills owned the property, they sold approximately nineteen acres of the original homestead. Only about one half acre of land remains with the house.
After the older Highfill sons, who occupied the large bedrooms on the top floor, moved away, Claude and Elizabeth had an exterior entrance added. A room at the front of the house that had been used as a sun room for Elizabeth's houseplants was converted into a kitchen. Then the top floor was rented to John and Jane McKenzie; later, J. C. and Evangeline Cothren lived there. Afterwards for several summers, when the St. Louis Cardinals' farm team was playing in Paragould, four of the players lived in the apartment. It was then home to Ila Farmer for seventeen years.
In the spring of 1969, Gary and Marilyn McClure bought the Highfill home for $17,369.59. Elizabeth Highfill had died six years earlier, and the entire house was rented during most of that time. The McClures had three children, Leianne, Lucinda, and Mike, at the time they purchased the property, and later a fourth child, Tim, was born. Four months were devoted to renovating the home and finishing the basement before the family moved in on August 17.
Among the changes the McClures made were to complete the basement into a spacious living area (where the Highfills had sometimes parked five vehicles), add a laundry chute from the top floors to the basement laundry room, modernize the kitchen (replacing the steel cabinets and slate cabinet tops), build a small hallway between the kitchen and dining room so that one cannot see through the dining room and into the kitchen from the living room, and rearrange the walls in the central portion of the main floor where one bath and four closets had been. The new configuration resulted in two baths and a walk-in closet. They also closed the opening to the stairs from the top floor apartment. Several leaded bevel windows have more recently been added on the main floor.
When the two McClure daughters were teenagers, their parents redecorated the top floor apartment for them. The stairs were reopened on to the main floor, and the apartment kitchen was converted into a sitting room for the girls.
Among the most treasured features of the home are the support pillars in the basement, which have been encased with paneling. Each side of the pillars is marked with the annual growth of a McClure child or grandchild, and, of course, every child and grandchild has a growth chart.
In 1987, Marilyn McClure died. The three older children were all working out-of-state or away in college, so Gary and young son Tim rambled around the large old home alone together. Through the years, however, frequently visiting children and their growing families again filled the home with joy and laughter. In 2003, Gary married Bonnie Ann Leadford.
The McClure-Highfill Home
The National Register of Historic Places
Gary McClure's Home Page
July 31, 2012