Harg’s History

Amid progress, residents will always remember their roots
Monday, May 2, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:40 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

It is only a vacant aging house on the south side of developer Billy Sapp’s property, but traces of a small community’s rich history are embedded in the land that surrounds it.

In front of the red-brick bungalow once owned by her family, Columbia resident Laura Crane sits on a stone fence built by her father, Paul Lindell Pace. She recalls memories of the farm and stories about a place called Harg. Her father lived in the house on 193 acres called Walnut Home Dairy Farm until it sold in 1928.

“Out here, I can still feel him,” she says.

Long before clashes between residents and Sapp over his plans to develop nearly 1,000 acres, Harg was a tiny settlement of mostly dairy farmers who built their lives around a crossroads seven miles east of Columbia.

When Route WW was part of the shortest route from New York to Los Angeles around 1874, a small community formed where land was sold for about $4 per acre, local historian Sue Gerard says. The first home was a blacksmith’s log cabin.

A post office in 1894 gave the community a dot on the map and a name that honored a local family, the McHargs.

William McHarg was born in Northern Ireland and came to America when he was 2 with his father, Archibald, Gerard says. McHarg and his wife, Cynthia, owned the only store in the area and lived in a small white house that stands on the southeast corner of Route WW and South Olivet Road.

Gerard, 90, grew up on a farm near Harg and remembers the McHargs’ store as the center of the community. Because he had three phone lines at the store, William McHarg, known by the locals as “Mr. William,” relayed messages from neighbors who didn’t have connecting phone lines. The store was a favorite place for men to play cards and the only place to buy groceries and get mail.

“Around the store, there was a grapevine that shaded the porch,” Gerard says. “Everybody ate Concord grapes at that store in late summer. I don’t think the McHargs ever got to eat any. They were wonderful, generous people.”

William McHarg was famous for the jokes he played on his customers. Gerard describes his antics as good-natured Irish humor.

“He would sell somebody a batch of groceries. Then he would wear false, Halloween-like teeth and follow them down the road at night, trying to scare them,” she says.

The dirt road that stretched through the community was beaten by hoof prints and wagon trails. It was called Fulton Road, then Fulton Gravel Road and finally Route WW. Two men owned the road. Farmers hauling wagons of hay found a chain across it at the main intersection in Harg and had to pay a toll of 10 cents to pass, Gerard says.

Neighbors of various faiths began worshiping together at the local Carlisle School or under boughs of trees during the summer months. R.S. Estes contributed a plot of land for a church, and a congregation of 36 people formed the Olivet Christian Church in 1874. Men sawed lumber and hauled trees on sleds through the mud to build the base of a church. A Columbia contractor finished the job. The total cost was $2,000, Cynthia McHarg wrote in “A History of Olivet Christian Church.”

Gerard’s mother was the only person in town who could play piano and learned to play organ for the congregation. At age 4, Gerard sat under the organ and pumped the pedals while her mother practiced on Saturdays.

Farming was a struggle for members of the church before and during the Great Depression.

“The depression affected farmers before 1929, and during this time great changes took place in the neighborhood,” Cynthia McHarg wrote. “Many lost their farms, and most of those who did were far from prosperous. In addition, several members of Olivet moved away from the community.”

The church integrated its summer Bible school in 1956. Board members of the church called a meeting and decided to invite the African-American children in the community to join the summer activities.

“Ever since that time, our vacation school has been integrated,” Cynthia McHarg wrote. “We feel proud of this move implementing our recognition of the principle of brotherhood in our community.”

The original Olivet Christian Church still stands, although the congregation uses a new, larger building for services.

As Columbia expands east, Crane’s father’s old farm south of Route WW might soon be replaced by a residential community. Sapp plans to develop a golf course and hundreds of homes on both sides of the highway. His proposal to have Columbia annex about 1,000 acres is the largest in the city’s history.

Crane is optimistic when considering the eventual development of the farmland. She only asks that Sapp save a decorative part of the house’s original door so it can stay in her family.

“We aren’t against progress. Growth is essential,” she said. “We feel that Glenda and Billy Sapp are going to do the development right.”

Today, the historic settlement of Harg lives on in the memories of the first families. Every June, members of the existing and past community gather at the church for a mutton-and-chicken barbecue. The event is a homecoming for many who have moved.

Dorothy Grant says her husband and son are now the only full-time farmers near the church and many of the adults she knew as a child in Harg are gone. The community has expanded to include many professionals.

At a cemetery behind the old church, a large headstone reads McHarg, with the names Archibald and Annie underneath. Five other McHargs are buried there.

“Harg is just a space, but it is a very dear space to many people,” Gerard says. “Until the rest of us are gone, there will be Harg.”

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