Friday, August 04, 2006

This Fine Ol' House

This Fine Ol' House
It Echoes Nut Tree Nostalgia
By Erin Pursell/Staff Writer

Shawn Lum, executive director of the Vacaville Museum, peers out the window of the master bedroom of the Harbison House. Renovations for the Harbison family home are in full swing. When completed, it will be the centerpiece of the Nut Tree Family Park. (Joel Rosenbaum/The Reporter)

The Harbison House still is boarded up. Long wires curl out of its peeling walls and bees swarm out of one of its hollow redwood columns.
But not for much longer.

"It's the only architectural structure left from the original Nut Tree," said Vacaville Museum Director Shawn Lum.

Major fundraising efforts are finally under way toward the estimated $1.5 million price tag for the makeover of the 1907 colonial style ranch house that will be the heart of the new Nut Tree Family Park development.

Since its kickoff just two weeks ago, the Harbison House Capital Campaign already has secured $142,000 in pledges toward the restoration.

With photo and artifact galleries and hands-on interpretive exhibits like butter making and fruit drying, the historic landmark will become a living and interactive museum, showcasing the rich history of both the Nut Tree and Vacaville.

"This is not just about the Nut Tree," said Mayor Len Augustine, who is also a member of the museum's board of directors. "It's a definite link to Vacaville's past and the history of Solano County."

"It's a phenomenal opportunity for people to be able to go to the new Nut Tree and find elements of the old (Nut Tree)," Lum added.

Built by renowned homebuilder George Sharpe for Luther and Hester Harbison, the structure currently is owned by the Vacaville Museum after being donated by the Power and Fairchild families, who ran the Nut Tree for more than 70 years.

Last October, the house was moved about 1,000 feet across the Nut Tree property to its current location, where a historical architect is helping plan its rebirth.

"It represents something that's really family oriented," Augustine said. "That's why it was put in the middle of the family park."

While the house won't be open to the public until sometime around September 2009, interim repairs are set to begin immediately.

Installing the repaired original stained glass windows, as well as a new door and fresh paint job at least will make its presentation more pleasant in time for the Nut Tree opening, Lum said.

After years of shuttered isolation, once the musty smell and dust of construction have lifted, the fully restored home will be accessible not only to the local community but also the estimated 3 million annual Nut Tree visitors, according to Lum.

"The legacy of Nut Tree is a prominent one," she said. "Nut tree had a draw that was statewide and in some cases even greater than that."

While the new Nut Tree may or may not have that same draw, Lum hopes that the Harbison House will help maintain some of the nostalgia about the historic site.

"I think of it as more of a visitor center than a museum," she said. "It adds to this park a sense of place that would have been missing."

Erin Pursell can be reached at

A mural that hangs in the dining room of the Harbison family home is seen Wednesday at the home's new site. (Joel Rosenbaum/The Reporter)

Landscape work continues this week adjacent to the Harbison House on the grounds of the Nut Tree Family Park. (Joel Rosenbaum/The Reporter)

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