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History of the Larimore Home

From the Florence-Lauderdale Public Digital Library


On July 19, 2018, the historic T.B. Larimore home at Mars Hill (on the campus of the modern Mars Hill Bible School) was destroyed by fire. The beautiful old home and historic landmark was built in 1870 by Elder Theophilus Brown "TB" Larimore (1843-1929) and his first wife, Julia Esther Gresham (1846-1907) on some 27 acres of land inherited by Esther from her late father, Philemon Gresham.


The two-story, 12 room Larimore Home was built utilizing virgin oak, elm, beech and hickory, with Larimore himself personally supervising the construction and exasperating the workmen with his exacting standards. Regarding the construction of the house Larimore stated several decades later that “I insisted that the sills should be very heavy, of the very best material and securely fastened together, so as to successfully resist time, as well as tornadoes, should tornadoes ever pass that way. . . . The house we were building is still as good as it was when it was new, and, with proper care, should last a thousand years, and be a good home even after then.” The home contained relatively late examples of high quality, mortise hand-hewn timber framing and a transitional design which would’ve been contemporary in the 1840s. The partially-raised basement had solid brick walls and heavy, hand-hewn beams supported the house. There were two-story verandas running almost the entire length of the house at front and back. Hand-carved mantels and antiques were found throughout the house. Among the priceless family heirlooms, antiques and historical artifacts at the home was a communion set presented to Elder Larimore in 1878 by Mrs. Selina Campbell, Alexander Campbell’s second wife and widow.


TB Larimore was born in Jefferson County, Tennessee and raised in nearby Sequatchie County. Larimore’s mother’s name was Nancy Larimore (Larimore and perhaps some or all of his siblings were illegitimate, with the name of his father being uncertain, though we have two or three likely candidates). His mother named him “Theophilus Brown” because the poverty-stricken Larimores were nevertheless somehow related to the Brown family of Tennessee governors and because she liked the sound of the two names together.


After graduating from Mossey Creek Baptist College (now Carson Newman) and serving in the Civil War (briefly in the 6th TN Cav, CSA, for the rest of the war in the 35 TN Inf, CSA; a brother CP Larimore died in a Union Army camp in Texas in 1865), TB Larimore taught briefly at the Hopkinsville, Kentucky Female Institute. In the meantime his mother Nancy and sister Mary, or Mollie as she was known, had “professed religion” and joined the Christian Church. Larimore himself was baptized into Christ and joined the Christian Church while at Hopkinsville. He soon preached his first sermon, entitled “Christian Union.”


TB Larimore married his first wife, Miss Julia Esther Gresham (1846-1907) of Lauderdale County, on August 30, 1868; they had six children, four boys and two girls. Esther was the daughter of Philemon and Delilah Files Gresham of Lauderdale County. Esther died in 1907 and was buried in the Larimore-Gresham Cemetery at Mars Hill. On New Years’ Day, 1911 TB married Miss Emma Page, who often took notes or otherwise transcribed his sermons. Larimore died on March 18, 1929 in Santa Ana, California, where he was the minister of a church, and is buried in the Fair Haven Cemetery there. Emma died in 1948 and is buried next to Larimore.


In 1867 Larimore had taught briefly at the Mountain Home Academy, near Moulton, in Lawrence County, Alabama, a school founded by Christian Church minister Elder J. M. Pickens (1836-1881). Earlier Larimore had taught briefly at former Lauderdale County, AL resident Elder Tolbert Fanning’s (1810-1874) Franklin Academy, in Franklin, TN (in 1866 Larimore had been a student there). Teaching at Mountain Home gave Larimore the idea to start his own school in Lauderdale County. As Larimore had no money he was assisted in that effort by Esther’s brother-in-law, Irish immigrant and Lauderdale County Circuit Court Clerk John Andrew Thompson, Esq. (1831-1873), who was married to Esther’s sister, Mary Jane Gresham (1833-1880). In legal terms Thompson served as the “next friend” of the school.


Originally classes may have been held in the Larimore home itself but soon an academy building was built next door. Commencement exercises were held in the old Wright & Rice Foundry and Machine Shop, located next door. The school was originally called Mars Hill Academy but later changed to Mars Hill College. The co-ed school gradually evolved primarily into a seminary for training ministers in the Christian Church/Church of Christ and was in operation from 1871 until 1887, at which time Larimore, always in demand as a preacher, closed it to preach full time.


The Christian Church which a young TB Larimore joined was the fellowship of churches created when Barton W. Stone’s (1772-1844) Christians united with Thomas (1763-1854) and Alexander Campbell’s (1787-1866) Disciples of Christ in 1832. Often called “the Restoration Movement” today Stone and the Campbells referred to it as the “Reformation” or “the current Reformation.” Modern scholars refer to this Christian unity and reform movement as “the Stone-Campbell Movement.” Typically referred to as “the Christian Church,” in the south especially it was often referred to as “the Church of Christ.” Modern Disciples of Christ, Independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ all trace their origins back to the Stone-Campbell Reformation.


Larimore’s legacy as a minister in the Stone-Campbell Reformation was his reputation as a uniter who attempted to tear down walls and look for common ground, avoiding the often complicated doctrinal issues that plagued the movement in the late 19th century; while having his own views on these topics yet believing most of these issues were never addressed in Scripture, Larimore refused to take sides or draw lines of fellowship, believing it was possible for sincere Christians to disagree on such matters yet remain in fellowship (this occasionally got him into trouble with both conservative and progressive factions in the brotherhood who accused him of fence-straddling). Yet so popular was he that thousands, possibly tens of thousands of people professed their faith in Christ and were baptized at his protracted meetings, which often ran for several weeks at a time. Elder Larimore was also much respected in his adopted home. Pastors of local churches of all stripes highly respected him, as did the community at large (especially touching was his warm relationship with a Florence Jewish family named Coplan) and Larimore did everything in his power to promote Florence and Lauderdale County. .


By 1914 Larimore and his second wife were living in Henderson, Tennessee and the house and property at Mars Hill were advertised for lease. For several decades the home was leased or rented. In 1947 the Lauderdale County Bible School, soon after known as Mars Hill Bible School, was founded and utilized the home for classes. In 1971 the Associated Women’s Organization (AWO) of Mars Hill carefully restored the Larimore Home and acquired it a place on the National Register of Historic Places. For over forty years the AWO has rented the home out for luncheons, showers, teas, etc. The Larimore Home’s loss to fire will be keenly felt by members of Larimore’s brotherhood of churches, as well as by residents of the Shoals in general, and the historical preservation community.

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