The A. K. Harper Memorial Library
by Greg McClain
There is a building in downtown Maryville that is in a class of its own. Not only has this building graced our downtown with its architectural beauty for 89 years, but it has stood those many years to honor the memory of Pandora ‘Dora’ Reagan Harper’s family. Its origin began in the heart of Dora to memorialize the lives of her recently passed husband, Andrew Knott Harper, as well as her two sons that died 12 years earlier.
In May of 1930, Pandora Reagan Harper approached the Maryville Public Library Board to discuss the possibility of combining a new library with her desire to build a memorial to her family. The agreement was reached and a deed of trust to the library building was made to the Maryville City Commission in August of 1930.
Construction began in October and the building was dedicated in February of 1931. At the time of the library’s opening, the A. K. Memorial Library was said to be “one of the most ornate library buildings in the state, made of brick, marble trim and gumwood stained walnut.” The building stands today as a memorial to the Harper family.
Andrew Knott Harper was born in 1853 and raised in Knox County, Tennessee. In 1875 at the age of 22, Andrew married Jennie F. Walker and moved to Maryville to “conducted a general mercantile trade for H. L. Bradley & Company.” The Harper’s welcomed their son Edward Fleming Harper on March 18, 1878 but very sadly Jennie would not live to see her son’s first birthday. Jennie died 5 ½ months later, at the age of 25, on September 5, 1878. Andrew continued his worked for H. L. Bradley for three years and then purchased the stock of goods and started his own business. Andrew built his first building on the corner of Main Street (now Broadway) and Cusick Street where Bill Cox Furniture now stands. The business had a wide variety of general merchandise and it flourished in this location.
Andrew met Pandora ‘Dora’ Reagan and they married on January 15, 1882. Dora was a native of Monroe County and the daughter of Erasmus and Nancy Mize Reagan. The couple’s first child James was born in 1883 but only lived to be three years old. He died on December 2, 1886 from diphtheria-croup. Second son Milton was born December 16, 1886 just 14 days after James died. Their third child, Fred Knott Harper, was born five years later on April 11, 1891.
Tragedy would once again strike
the Harper family on the evening of July 28, 1906 when during a thunderstorm lightning hits the A. K. Harper building. The fire not only destroyed the Harper building, but it spread to the courthouse which sat across Cusick Street and burned it completely to the ground. Andrew would eventually recover and rebuild his business stronger than ever. In 1907, Andrew is elected as Mayor and served two separate terms. His first term was from 1907 to 1909 and then again from 1911 to 1913.
Andrew and Dora’s second child, Milton Lee Harper, grew up in Maryville but moved to Westville, Ohio to work in the automobile industry. He married Ms. Jeane Cosette Broyles on June 28, 1910 in Champaign County, Ohio. Life for Milton and Jeane was good until it was interrupted by World War I. The war would change the course of their lives forever. Milton was drafted into military service in August of 1917 and assigned to the 117th Infantry of the 59th Infantry Brigade, 30th Division. On May 11, 1918, the 117th Infantry boarded
ships bound for Europe and they fought in various campaigns in Belgium and France. It was on October 8, 1918 that Milton was killed in action near Premont, France at the age of 31.
The third child of Andrew and Dora was Fred Knott Harper. He was born on April 11, 1891 and by a very sad turn of events died three days earlier than his brother Milton. Fred suffered and died from diabetes on October 5, 1918 at the young age of 27. I can not imagine how Andrew and Dora dealt with the loss their first child at the age of three and now losing both grown boys so close together.
News of 1st Lt. Milton Lee Harper’s battlefield death shook the community
Friends and family were already consoling the Harper’s over Fred’s death but now the news of Milton doubled their grief. To honor the military service and sacrifice of Milton, the Maryville City Commissioned renamed Jail Street to Harper Street (now Harper Avenue) on May 17, 1919. The street continues to honor his memory to this day.
Andrew’s son from his first marriage, Edward Fleming Harper, became a very successful businessman in Maryville and operated the Ed F. Harper Furniture and Undertaking business for many years on Main Street. Edward did his best to help his father and stepmother through this time of grief. It is seen by Edward accompanying his stepmother Pandora to Belgium and France in October of 1919 to visit the battlefield where Milton was killed.
Andrew ultimately retired as one of the wealthiest citizens of Maryville and was vacationing at his second home in Saint Petersburg, Florida when he died on December 24, 1929. Andrew’s body was returned to Maryville and buried in Magnolia Cemetery. Edward and his wife Mary Belle Gill Harper lived and served the Maryville community for 57 years until he died from pneumonia on April 28, 1935.
Dora lived to the age of 77 and died on June 30, 1936. She had outlived her beloved husband, three children, one stepchild, and most of her siblings. The family that she had loved so dearly were all gone but she made sure that they would not be forgotten. Their memories live on thanks to her generous gift to the community that bears her husband’s name.
For fifteen years
this building has been the home of Dandy Lions Gifts where “you will find the most unique gifts.” Next time you visit, notice the engraved name inscribed above the white columns that encircle the front porch. When you step inside be sure to look up and read the names on the brass plaque that memorializes the Harper family.
(Correction – my apologies to Harold Smiddy for failing to credit him as Co-owner of the Federal Post Office in the last article. Also, condolences to the Jack Bowman family. Jack passed away very shortly after the article was written.)