Where the Pavement Ends and the West Begins...


 

The PB Harris House

Ken and Diane McNamara
506 Townsend Street

Percy Benjamin ("PB") Harris was born on a ranch in Surprise Valley. As a young contractor working on the new high school building in Cedarville, he met a pretty young Home Economics teacher named Julia. They married on December 27, 1927 and soon began constructing a home next to the lumberyard he owned on High Street. The result, a spacious bungalow with a distinctive log exterior, has been known locally as the "PB Harris House" ever since.

As soon as the basement was finished, the newlyweds left their nearby rental and moved in, completing the upper two floors between 1931- 32. The home has three upstairs bedrooms off a common landing and two, including what was the "master bedroom", on the ground floor. The overly large entryway area was used by PB as an office.

The pre-manufactured logs Harris ordered from out of the area were notched on the ends, and fit together without the use of nails. Their inside surface was smooth, allowing the interior walls to later be stuccoed.

Over the years the Harris family grew as PB and Julia welcomed daughters Joyce, Lucille, Patricia ("Tatsy") and son Ben. In later years, Ben crafted the stained glass insert that still greets visitors at the home's front door. (He also made the stained glass windows in the SV Community Church as a tribute to his parents and to his uncle and aunt, Edgar and Ruby Harris.)

In its early years, the yellow pine logs were simply varnished. Later, Harris painted the house white. Daughter Joyce remembers him adding "awful" blue shutters with star cutouts, and she believes the home may also have had a red roof at one time. However, a photo has surfaced proving that once the logs were painted red and white, substantiating memories of it being the "red, white, and blue house".

During the 40s, Harris bought his first sawmill on Adin Mountain so he could keep his customers and lumberyard supplied despite the deprivations of WWII. The lumberyard later shared the lot with a dealership featuring DeSoto and Chrysler automobiles. Neighbors recall a popular promotion the always entrepreneurial Harris offered his customers: "buy a car and get a new pair of cowboy boots!"

PB and Julia eventually owned three sawmills (adding an operation near Alturas and one close to Montgomery Creek), the lumberyard, car dealership, and a ranch south of Cedarville. Julia stopped teaching after she married, though she is remembered by many as a lovely woman who attended the Surprise Valley Community Church and helped generations of young 4-H students with their sewing and cooking projects.

Today the home is owned by Ken and Diane McNamara who bought it in 2002 when they moved to Cedarville from Middleton, California. Ken owned a trucking business and served as fire chief in Pollack Pines while Diane is an accomplished painter and artist who owned a gift shop and gallery. "About 90%" of the home's artwork and most of the unique embellished furniture pieces and accessories were created by her.

Though they have painted, insulated and extensively renovated the home, the McNamaras have managed to enhance its charms while retaining many original features. When they removed carpeting, they discovered and refinished the original hardwood floors. All of the windows and kitchen cabinets are original. Diane has added tile and in-floor mosaics in both bathrooms and around the original fireplace.

The living room features an antique Morris chair, a collection of yelloware, a unique chess set (look closely!), and a mantle arrangement featuring some of the rocks and fossils the couple have collected during their lifelong love affair with the desert.

Those venturing upstairs will first notice a raised design Diane added to the pitched ceiling of the landing. In the "Sewing Room", one can't miss the antique trunk Diane acquired in New York. It must have seen a lot of miles in its 150+ years! The beadboard and painted wood flooring in this room are original.

The home is remembered by previous occupants for its tiny closets. The two downstairs rooms actually have connecting closets with sliding doors, and a wall of cabinets and three large drawers were also built by PB as places for his children to stow their belongings.

Joyce Harris Grove, who lives in Indiana with her husband Louis, remembers the upstairs was swelteringly hot in the summer and frigid in the winter. "We had no heat upstairs so my sisters and I would sleep under a dozen blankets then rush downstairs to get dressed in front of the fireplace!" One summer it was so hot, "I pulled an old twin bed outdoors and slept there under the trees."

It is still obvious Harris took pride in his outdoor gardens, especially an area to the west of the house. There he planted a variety of evergreens, including a big cedar and a rare sequoia he nursed for years before it succumbed to beetle infestation. "The children all called it "The Garden Forest"", remembers neighbor Mary Bunyard who loved playing in the shady shelter of its trees.

PB died in 1983 at 87 and Julia followed in 1986 at 99 years old. Both are buried in the Cedarville Cemetery.

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Surprise Valley Chamber of Commerce
PO Box 518
Cedarville, California 96104
530-936-7822
contactsvc@surprisevalleychamber.com


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