Linking The Past & Future
The Harper Home
By Amanda Smith • Photography by Brian W. McDonald
For nearly half a century, agriculture was the only economic generator in the sleepy town of Dothan, Alabama. It wasn’t until the 1930s, when industrialization was introduced, that the diminutive city began to feel the tremors of change that were sweeping the country. Tradition fused with progress to create something unique in this little corner of Alabama. It was in this climate of cultural transformation that the Davis-Harper home was first conceived.
Local dentist Dr. John Dupree Davis and his wife, Lottie Lee Holman Davis, dreamed the house into being. Davis happened to have a brother, Charles, who not only taught architecture at Auburn University—then the Alabama Polytechnic Institute, he also designed many of its buildings, including Haley Center. His wife, Helen Sellers Davis, was the first female licensed architect in the state of Alabama. The pair collaborated to design the Davis home.
They chose to merge their fresh ideas with architecture rooted in history. A visit to George Washington’s Mount Vernon was their inspiration. According to John Davis’ granddaughter, Allison Davis Moore, many elements in the Davis-Harper home are loosely based on that Palladian style. Moore remembers visiting Washington’s home and feeling a sense of déjà vu, as if she were walking through the home of her youth. Moore’s great-aunt and great-uncle may have borrowed architectural style from Washington’s historic home, but they accommodated modern features of the 1930s, creating a design that united the beauty of the past with current-day living.
For the location, the Davis family chose to forego tradition. They did not build downtown or on Main Street, which is where most grand houses were constructed during the 1930s. Instead, they built on a plot of farmland purchased by Lottie Lee’s father. At the time, it was surrounded by woods, but was convenient to Davis’ downtown practice. It is easy to imagine that it felt like a country home hidden near the conveniences of town—the best of both worlds, a recurrent theme that was born when this house was first envisioned and has been incorporated throughout ever since. The stately white house rose from the farm field, its construction spurring others to build in the area. Today, the vicinity where it stands has been deemed Dothan’s oldest neighborhood, known locally as The Garden District... [subscribe to read full article and see more photos]