On Tuesday, May 15, 1883, in what was probably a small, rural cabin in Helenwood, Tennessee, a young woman named Mary gave birth to a son, Andrew Jackson Harness, who would in turn give life to a legacy in Wheeling.
The Mt. Wood Castle Overlook, located across the street from the Mt. Wood Cemetery in North Park, has long been the subject of a mystery well-loved by many Wheeling natives. Time and again, stories have circulated discussing the tall tales behind the strange structure and the doctor – Andrew Jackson Harness – who built it.
Harness’s early life is not well-recorded, but it is known from The Intelligencer that he found work during his youth as a coal miner, street car conductor, and railroad fireman in Tennessee. From 1903 to 1904, Harness matriculated from the medical schools at both the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga and the Louisville Medical College in Kentucky. At both, he studied general practice medicine.
After graduation in 1904, Dr. Harness married Aubelle “Mabel” Souleyret, a woman of French descent. Dr. Harness and Mabel settled in Boyle County, Kentucky and had a daughter, Myrtle Harness, in 1905. The family then moved once more in 1911, to Mt. Sterling, Montgomery County, Kentucky, where Mabel gave birth to a second daughter, Mary Louise.
A Man of the People
At his clinic in Mt. Sterling, Dr. Harness serviced both the elite and the impoverished. His public spirit would lead him to help anyone, from the owner of a Kentucky Derby winning horse farm, to a rural family who could pay in no more than the family silver. An article from the Mt. Sterling Advocate newspaper cites Dr. Harness as being “highly endorsed as a physician and surgeon and as a gentleman in every respect.” He was considered a classic “country doctor,” traveling by horse and buggy to the residences of his patients through any and all weather conditions.
Occasionally, members of the working class in need of medical help would come to Dr. Harness’s office. They would complain of aches and pains, and knowing that no medication could solve their problems, Dr. Harness would instead sit down and talk to them free of charge. At the end of conversations such as these, the “patients” thanked him profusely and reported that they felt much better. Behavior such as this was a commonplace occurrence throughout Dr. Harness’s career.
Despite his popularity in Kentucky, Dr. Harness desired education in surgery so that he could expand his patient base and ability. To that end, he accepted a position to learn the craft at the Stuyvesant Polyclinic Hospital in New York, known for offering free medical care, in September 1913. The first address recorded for the Harness family was there in New York City, at 409 West 51st Street, an unassuming apartment complex in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood.
The Harness family’s time in New York City was short-lived, and by 1916, they had found a new home in wild and wonderful West Virginia. Dr. Harness transplanted his family to Fairmont and took out a series of advertisements in The Fairmont West Virginian to spread news of his medical services. He opened his medical practice at 323 Jefferson Street, a location nearby the Marion County Courthouse in downtown Fairmont.
The World War and Wheeling
The First World War brought major changes in the livee of Dr. Harness and his dependents, however, as the June 12, 1917 edition of The Charleston Gazette announced that Dr. Harness was “recommended to fill a vacancy in the medical offices of the First regiment.” With the approval of the war department, he was commissioned First Lieutenant by the First Regiment of the National Guard of West Virginia, which was called to service in March 1917. Dr. Harness served on the sanitary detachment and was listed as a resident of Fairmont.
By 1918, the Harness family left Fairmont to make the move that was most important to the story of the Mt. Wood Overlook: the move to Wheeling, West Virginia. The reason for the family’s relocation from Fairmont to Wheeling is unknown, but may have related to a matter of convenience for Mrs. Harness, as her husband was in and out of their home frequently for his military service.
A draft card was registered to Dr. Andrew Jackson Harness in the city of Wheeling on 12 September 1918. The card gives his nearest relative as his wife and her address at 659 Main Street in Wheeling. The same address is provided as his permanent home address. Dr. Harness is described on the draft card as being blue of eyes, gray of hair, and tall, with a large build. From here, Dr. Harness served in the United States Army Medical Corps for just under a year.
On March 21, 1919, an announcement of the Harness family’s permanent settlement in Wheeling following the doctor’s discharge was published in The Fairmont West Virginian. Other information in the article explains that Dr. Harness served with the French army in France and later with the U.S. Army as a First Lieutenant in the 149th Field Hospital at Camp Shelby in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
The Business of Building Dreams
In 1920, the Ohio County census listed thirty-six-year-old Dr. Andrew Jackson Harness, his wife Mabel, and daughters Myrtle and Mary Louise as residing on Main Street in Wheeling. Living with the Harness family was Samuel Basil Souleyret, brother of Mabel and a medical student studying in accordance with Dr. Harness. Sam was the last child born to the Souleyret parents and was orphaned in his late teen-aged years. He moved in with his sister Mabel partly due to the proximity of the Harness family, and partly because of Dr. Harness’s career. Sam became something of a protégé to Dr. Harness, who paid for the younger man’s medical education at his alma mater, the University of Louisville.
The Harness family made their claim to the Charles Landmeyer addition to the city beginning in June 1921. On June 1, lots 5-6, 8-19 and a part of lot 2 were sold by Annie and Robert McQuay to Mabel and Andrew J. Harness. The Landmeyer addition was set forth in December 1895 and encompasses the hillside where the Overlook is today located, as well as the surrounding land and houses. Dr. and Mrs. Harness came to own the majority of lots in the addition, making the purchases throughout the course of 1921.
Another major purchase in 1921 came in the form of the “Family Wash Laundry,” located where the billboards beneath the Overlook stand today. Dr. Harness had executive holdings for the business and was considered the president.
It was the business of purchasing the land at Mt. Wood in 1921 that led the Harness family to begin constructing the grand house and an even grander mystery.
Dr. Harness’s plans for the structure that is today the Overlook are not documented, though it is more than likely that he intended for it to become a live-in clinic. His commitment to his patients was the driving factor for much of his personal life, and certainly for his career. The idea of residing in the place where he cared for his patients was appealing to Dr. Harness, as it meant that he could maximize the attention that he gave to them.
In light of the doctor’s doubtlessly humble beginnings in Tennessee, he probably elected to build the Overlook as a gift to himself and his family in honor of their success in life to that point. By carefully selecting the spot with what is arguably the best view in Wheeling, Dr. Harness would have further established himself as a member of the highest rungs of local society and attracted more clientele.
The time that the Harness family spent in Wheeling is not nearly as well-documented as their time elsewhere, though it is known that in the spring of 1925, the doctor’s eldest daughter, Myrtle, graduated from Wheeling High School. Sickly throughout much of her life, Myrtle had aspirations to become a Christian missionary. She was highly involved in school activities and had a promising future. A small yearbook photograph depicts the girl with a demure smile, soft features, and a pretty face.
Myrtle Harness (Mirlie)
“Myrtle is a lovely fairy.
With Golden hair and blue eyes merry;
A modern Circe with a magic wand,
So boys, beware, if near her you’re found.”
-Wheeling High School Yearbook “The Record,” 1925
In the Wheeling High School yearbook, Myrtle’s address was listed as 15 Mt. Wood Road, the residence the family lived in while awaiting the completion of their future home, the Overlook. Today, the address leads to a conservatively sized home at the base of the hill where the Overlook rests, though it is unlikely that the Harness family lived there. It is more probable that during their time in Wheeling, the houses along the road were numbered differently, and that they actually lived across the street in a location that has since been demolished.
Trouble for the Doctor
Education was among the most valuable tenets of life to Dr. Harness, and with his Myrtle’s graduation, he was glowing with pride. The excitement was to be short-lived, however, as Dr. Harness’s long time charitably in medicine came back with a vengeance.
As established, a theme in the life of Dr. Harness was his emphasis on helping anyone, regardless of their station or ability to compensate him for the help that he gave. His altruistic behavior was always with the best of intentions, though as the doctor learned, what seems right is sometimes wrong.
On June 12, 1925, a man came into the doctor’s clinic at 1510 Market Street in downtown Wheeling. He requested medication to help his ailing mother, and the catch was simply that the man could not afford to obtain the medications by legal paths. Sympathetic to the man’s concern for his mother, Dr. Harness unlawfully sold thirty grains of morphine and four grains of cocaine to the man. Just nine days later on June 21, yet another man came into the clinic seeking medication, for which he also was unable to pay. Dr. Harness agreed, and again sold fifty grains of morphine to the second man.
What Dr. Harness failed to realize in that fateful month was that the two men to whom he had sold narcotics, Daniel A. Weisbrod and Louis C. Rocchicioli, were federal narcotics agents endowed by the Harrison Narcotics Act.
Effective March 1915, the Harrison Narcotics Act regulated the trade of narcotics – specifically coca leaf and opium derivatives – and taxed the production and distribution of the drugs. Though both cocaine and morphine were commonly used methods of medication during this time, this was among the first laws put in place to restrict public use. Dr. Harness’s offense was that he dealt the drugs under the table and avoided the taxation in order to help the two men whom he thought to be in need.
Dr. Harness was arrested on July 9, 1925. An affidavit was filed listing Mrs. Mabel R. Harness as the surety, residing at 15 Mt. Wood Road. A news article from The Charleston Gazette published the day after Dr. Harness’s arrest explains that Weisbrod, Rocchicioli, and the state narcotic inspector, Lloyd M. Graves, seized an amount of narcotics valued at about $800 in his home. The doctor admitted to giving “a quantity of [the] habit forming drug [morphine] to a crippled woman several days ago.”
In the July 9 affidavit, Dr. Harness’s assets were listed at $10,000, comprised mostly of real estate located at the vague area of “Mt. Wood Road and Ohio County.” This refers to the lots from the Landmeyer addition, including the unfinished home that is the Overlook of today. In 1925, $10,000 was approximately equivalent to $136,720 in 2016, further proving that the Harness real estate holdings were significant.
Though unmentioned in the case file for Dr. Harness obtained via the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), an article from The Wheeling Intelligencer published the day after Harness’s sentencing claims that the doctor was revealed to be dealing through another man’s criminal case.
Allegedly, Mr. Lee Dietz came to Dr. Harness seeking treatment for cancer of the stomach through morphine. Dr. Harness agreed to sell the substance to the man untaxed. Shortly thereafter, Dietz’s wife was taken into custody for delivering “dope” – morphine – to inmates at a jail utilizing string and a window. To protect his wife and “secure [her] clemency,” Dietz went to federal agents claiming that Dr. Harness dealt narcotics from his clinic and that he was the source of the drugs that his wife dealt.
Despite an immense outpouring of support from the community, Dr. Harness was shockingly sentenced on November 5, 1925 to eighteen months at the federal penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia.
The Good Doctor
One might assume that what happened to Dr. Harness led to an extreme fall from grace and that he lost his practice, family, and hope for a bright future thereafter. In reality, Dr. Harness was released early on January 16, 1927, for outstanding behavior during his sentence. Upon release, the good doctor immediately restarted his clinic and resumed efforts at model citizenship.
During Dr. Harness’s prison sentence, the Harness family relocated to the small community of Cabin Creek, located in Kanawha County. It was there that his family became whole once more, though while the family’s popularity soared, his daughter Myrtle’s health plummeted.
While Dr. Harness was away at a medical conference in New York, Myrtle’s fragile health deteriorated quickly. As a child, she had suffered from both typhoid and scarlet fever, leaving her heart valves weak. Toward the end of her life, Myrtle struggled to walk or speak due to the difficulty.
Dr. Harness had been made aware of Myrtle’s rapid decline and did his best to return to Cabin Creek in time to help her, or to at least say farewell. Unfortunately, he did not make it. Myrtle Monique Harness breathed her last on June 25, 1927.
For his entire career prior to Myrtle’s death, Dr. Harness had studied and hoped for a new method of surgery that would allow him to operate on Myrtle and save her life. But medical science had not quite evolved to where it was possible. When Myrtle finally passed on, Dr. Harness spent the rest of his life quietly regretful that he could not help the one patient whose recovery meant the most to him.
Rumors in Wheeling that Dr. Harness built the Overlook for his wife who died, forcing him to stop, may have found their origin in the story of Myrtle. Locals at the time would likely have recalled Myrtle and her family, and it is possible that the story grew larger than the truth over time.
Though the loss of Myrtle deeply wounded Dr. Harness, it also lit a fire in him to continue charitable medical practices as frequently as he could. Mabel was likewise wounded following the death of her eldest daughter, yet the life of Mary Louise – called simply Louise – was certainly fair consolation to the great loss.
Farewell to the Mountain State
In the summer of 1929, Dr. Harness took his wife, Mabel, and surviving daughter, Mary Louise, on a grand vacation west. The tour took them from their home in the Chelyan-Cabin Creek region to the Pacific coast. On August 11, The Charleston Gazette ran an article describing the Harness family’s excursion west, wherein it is mentioned that they traveled to several cities across the country.
Dr. Harness visited the hospitals and studied medical technique across the country in this way. In Portland, Oregon, the doctor attended a convention for the American Medical Association and learned of “the treatment of cancer, the feeding and care of children, obstetrics, general surgery, and diseases of women.” This seems to be the origination of Dr. Harness’s interest in obstetrics and gynecology in the later years of his career and life, though his focus was solely on general practice and surgery prior to the trip. The Harness family’s trip took them as far as Tijuana, Mexico, and seems to have been greatly enjoyed despite the loss of Myrtle.
The last years of the Harness family in West Virginia were spent with little consequence. Louise attended and graduated from Charleston High School, and Dr. Harness continued to exist as a forceful presence in the community. He is reported to have spoken in 1932 at a Parent-Teacher Club meeting at the Cabin Creek Mission Elementary School on the subject of “Helping the Unemployed,” among other instances of involvement.
Despite the family’s success in the Cabin Creek area, the family elected to begin anew elsewhere in the mid to late 1940s. The reason for the Harness family’s move does not have one defining explanation. Many factors contributed to the reasoning, such as Dr. Harness’s increasing discomfort with the temperament of West Virginia, to his desire to move someplace where the large cars of the day could easily handle the road.
The final straw that led to the move, however, was Dr. Harness’s introduction to Wilbur Grady Gunnoe. Gunnoe worked for his family’s business, the Gunnoe Farms Sausage & Salad Company, in Charleston. One day, according to family lore, Dr. Harness went to the company to have lunch. He approached a young male employee to ask whether a particular item was in stock. The young man – Gunnoe – informed him that they were out, but to wait at the store for him. Gunnoe promptly ran to another local market, purchased the item that Dr. Harness was seeking, and returned it to Dr. Harness free of charge.
After work that day, Dr. Harness went home and told Mabel and Louise about the young man, and some time later, Louise met and became engaged to W.G. Gunnoe. As education was incredibly important to Dr. Harness, and Gunnoe had not completed high school, he encouraged Gunnoe to return to high school and receive his degree. Gunnoe did and was accepted to college. The college in question, the University of Tampa in Florida, offered him a chance to play on the football team, as well. A large, athletic man, Gunnoe leapt at the opportunity and played for the school. Later, Dr. Harness would serve as the football team physician.
It was in this way that the Harness family made their final, settling move to Miami, Florida.
Welcome to the Sunshine State
In 1938, the Miami, Florida city directory lists Dr. Andrew J. Harness practicing at 1000 Lincoln Road under the physicians and surgeons category. According to family, Dr. Harness’s practice was a Craftsman-style outpatient clinic fitted with six or seven beds. Food was prepared by a hired cook, and the house was cleaned by a hired maid, both of whom were supervised by Mabel. The Dr.’s work in Miami with the outpatient clinic was likewise focused on charitably, as he hoped to help those that he could to the best of his ability.
An outpatient clinic such as this is likely what Dr. Harness had hoped for the Overlook to become. His dream did, finally, come true in Florida, where he and his family lived quietly and prosperously. Dr. and Mrs. Harness became the proprietors of an apartment complex that they rented out to maintain their real estate holdings.
The Wheeling property stayed with the doctor and his wife until April 24, 1941, when they began to sell. The first section went to a local widow, Eliza J. Bole, and consisted of much of the land (lots 8-11, a portion of lot 7, and a portion of the former alley).
Through interpretation and conversation, it is clear that Dr. Harness was a well-regarded physician in Miami, just as he had previously been in Kentucky and West Virginia. Toward the end of his life and career, he received training to become an obstetrician and gynecologist in order that he might deliver children. Rumors that Dr. Harness specialized in “female diseases” while in Wheeling seem to have originated from this source, but he never practiced as an OB/GYN while in West Virginia, nor did he have the education to have done so.
At the Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, Dr. Harness was the attending physician at the birth of his first and only grandchild. For the majority of his last years, Dr. Harness was employed at the aforesaid hospital according to family.
On January 30, 1946, Dr. Harness passed away at home in Florida. For some time, he had been battling throat cancer brought on by his penchant for cigar smoking and likely exacerbated by his exposure to medical chemicals throughout his life. The doctor was a practicing physician up to his death and was interred at the Oak Hill Burial Park in Lakeland, Florida.
In December 1950, Mabel Harness sold lots 12-19 and the remaining parts of lots 2-6 to the Wheeling Quality Laundry Company. The area would have included the Family Wash Laundry, which was opened then under the Wheeling Quality Laundry name.
Mabel passed away peacefully on the same day as her husband thirty-eight years later on January 30, 1984. Today, the surviving descendants of the Harness family remember their ancestors through a tradition borrowed from the Jewish faith, though they themselves are not of Jewish faith. When they visit Oak Hill Burial Park, wherein the storied family is interred, they place one small stone upon each marker, rather than the commonplace action of laying flowers. The symbolism of the stone is debated, though some superstitious folks consider it a way to ‘keep the soul down,’ while others understand the stones as superior to flowers for one fact alone: stones cannot die.
From Castle to Overlook: Tracing the History
In more recent decades, the Overlook has been the subject of much conversation and publicity in Wheeling due to changes and updates to the property.
An undated article from The Wheeling Intelligencer penned by Monroe Worthington and titled “An Unfinished Dream” has been one of the key sources of knowledge regarding the Overlook, despite some minor mistakes. The article, probably published in the 1960s, inaccurately claims that Dr. Harness was arrested first on 24 February 1919. The date was actually that of a congressional amendment called the Revenue Act that pertained to the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act.
Later in the article, Worthington claims that Dr. Harness specialized in “female diseases,” which has no basis in locatable documents, as explained previously. In all records and accounts found, Dr. Harness is described as a surgeon or general practitioner until his time in Miami towards the end of his life. Outside of these slight inexactitudes, Worthington’s article has proved immensely helpful as a guide in research
On 3 November 1974, The Wheeling News-Register published an article titled “Mount Wood – North Park Plan Seen,” written by Jean Coleman. The article described a plan to widen Mt. Wood Road to create a “Northern Parkway link.” The widening of the road did, in fact, take place, and claimed much of the land that was deeded to Dr. Harness from the Landmeyer addition, as well as the location of the Family Wash Laundry.
In this article, the Overlook is referred to as “the old Harden (Harkness, Harness or Harding) clinic foundation” and the author stated that she was unable to uncover more information about “the real history” of the property.
After the widening of the road was discussed, it was proposed that Dr. Harness’s creation be cemented and turned into an overlook for use by the public. As the property had come under the jurisdiction of the City of Wheeling some time before, the decision was agreed upon, and the formal Overlook was created.
There have been more recent attempts to discuss and retell the Harness story, though some errors have become canonical in the retelling. By no means has this story been told in full: many details that have been swallowed up by time are waiting to be uncovered. It is within the capabilities of researchers in the modern day to have greater success in the study of the Mt. Wood Castle Overlook, thanks to tools that were not available in the past. With luck, the mystery will be solved in full soon.
- “Advertisement: Dr. Andrew J. Harness.” The Fairmont West Virginian, February 16, 1916.
- Application for Headstone or Marker. February 6, 1946. Andrew Jackson Harness, Lakeland, FL.
- Case File #5554, U.S. v. Lee ‘Rube’ Dietz, National Archives & Records Administration (United States District Court, Northern District of WV, May 6, 1920).
- Case File #8340, U.S. v. A. H. [sic: A. J.] Harness, National Archives & Records Administration (United States District Court, Northern District of WV, October Term 1925).
- Certificate of Death. June 25, 1927. Myrtle Monique Harness, Cabin Creek, West Virginia.
- Chattanooga City Directory. Chattanooga, TN, 1903, p.355.
- Coleman, Jean. “Mount Wood – North Park Plan Seen.” The Wheeling News-Register, November 3, 1974.
- Draft Registration Card. September 12, 1918. Dr. Andrew Jackson Harness, West Virginia, Wheeling.
- “Dr. A. J. Harness To Leave City.” The Mt. Sterling Advocate, December 10, 1913.
- “Dr. A. J. Harness to Locate in Wheeling.” The Fairmont West Virginian, March 21, 1919.
- “Dr. Harness Sentenced to Serve Eighteen Months.” The Wheeling Intelligencer, November 6, 1925.
- “Dr. Souleyret ‘G.P. of Year.’” Sunday Gazette-Mail, Charleston, WV, March 29, 1964.
- “East Bank Physician Succumbs.” The Charleston Gazette, February 2, 1974.
- “Experiences Told On Western Tour.” The Charleston Gazette, August 11, 1929.
- “For First Regiment.” The Charleston Gazette, June 13, 1917.
- Harris, John T. West Virginia Legislative Hand Book and Manual and Official Register. Charleston, WV: Tribune Printing Company, 1917.
- “Held In Bond For Narcotic Violation.” The Charleston Gazette, October 29, 1925.
- “Klan of Three States Put On A Ceremonial.” The Charleston Daily Mail, June 30, 1922.
- “Mabel R. Harness: Record.” U.S. Find A Grave Index, 1600s – Current. Ancestry, Inc.
- “Mary Louise Gunnoe: Obituary.” The Miami Herald Archives, April 5, 2007.
- McMullen, Margie. Interview by Miranda Heitz. Personal Communication. Florida/West Virginia, July 21, 2016.
- Miami City Directory. Miami, FL, 1938, p. 1919.
- Miami City Directory. Miami, FL, 1953, p. 302.
- “Myrtle Harness.” The Record, Wheeling High School, Wheeling, WV, 1925.
- Neer, Debbi. “Mysterious Harness Castle On Guard After 70 Years.” The Wheeling Intelligencer, April 15, 1991.
- “New Physician.” The Mt. Sterling Advocate, September 13, 1911.
- “Parent-Teacher Clubs.” The Charleston Gazette, February 13, 1932.
- “Physician at Wheeling Held.” The Charleston Gazette, July 10, 1925.
- Roxby, Joe and Steve Novotney. “History & Mystery Of Wheeling Castle Revealed.” Weelunk, February 12, 2016.
- United States. Dept. of Commerce and Labor. Bureau of the Census. Thirteenth Census: Population. Boyle County, KY, 1910.
- United States. Dept. of Commerce and Labor. Bureau of the Census. New York State Census. New York City, NY, 1915.
- United States. Dept. of Commerce and Labor. Bureau of the Census. Fourteenth Census: Population. Ohio County, WV, 1920.
- United States. Dept of Commerce. Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census: Population. Kanawha County, WV, 1930.
- United States. Dept. of Commerce. Bureau of the Census. Sixteenth Census: Population. Richmond, VA, 1940.
- United States. Dept. of Commerce. Bureau of the Census. Sixteenth Census: Population. Miami, FL, 1940.
- United States. Dept. of Commerce. Bureau of the Census. Florida State Census. Miami, FL, 1945.
- Wheeling City Directory. Wheeling, WV, 1924, p. 478.
- Wheeling City Directory. Wheeling, WV, 1926, p. 482.
- Worthington, Monroe. “An Unfinished Dream.” The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer.