Like a snarling monster looming over the kill, a thick overgrowth of needle vines and tangled tree branches is slowly swallowing the more than 100-year-old structure known as the Hardy house.
But today, with careful maneuvering and by keeping an eye on its barely visible chimney, the Harlem home believed to be connected to comedian Oliver Hardy can still be found.
''This would be the last hoorah," said Charles Lord, a local historian, picking his way through several tree branches up to the front door. ''This is the only physical remembrance left."
Oliver Hardy was born in Harlem in 1892 in a downtown Harlem residence that has since been replaced by a laundromat. A sign on the business states it is the site of the slapstick comedian's birth.
However, according to Lord, the only local remaining structure with ties to Hardy is the home where his father, Oliver Hardy Sr., once lived.
The home, built in the late 1800s, is located off Freeman and Harris Road in Harlem - a dirt path not far from the intersection of Wrightsboro and Louisville roads. It is currently unoccupied but owned by Matthew Johnson, whose family has had the house since at least the 1940s, according to county records.
Lord said the home was occupied by Hardy Sr. before he married Hardy Jr.'s mother, but Lord doesn't believe the comedian ever visited the home. Johnson said that through the years, he has receivedmany offers for the house simply because of the Hardy connection.
''The Hardy people used to come down here," he said. ''They wanted to buy it before."
The upstairs fireplace and wood-beam ceiling are original to the Hardy house, built in the late 1800s. The house is cluttered by old furniture and rotting floor boards, Matthew Johnson says.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Johnson said the mayor of Harlem also has asked him about the site. The problem is the structure's condition.
''The mayor told me to clean it up and they'll come and have a look," he said.
Today, the home is in a state of dilapidation. Inside, a flashlight is needed to see. Every few feet, the creak of a broken floor board sounds. Some boards have holes in them.
Then there's the upstairs loft, which has two bedrooms and a large fireplace. The fireplace and the original wood beam ceiling are still intact, but a littering of old furniture has begun to deteriorate in both bedrooms.
Still, Lord said that the home should serve as an important reminder of a former community leader and famous father.
Hardy Sr. was a ''jovial, rotund Confederate veteran and tax collector" for Columbia County, Lord said. And judging by Hardy Sr.'s looks, he could have passed for his movie star son.
''They had all of the same characteristics," Lord said.
To Johnson, the home also has significance.
''I was born and raised here," he said. ''I don't want to have it torn down."
While looking to a pecan tree that Johnson estimated ''has been around here probably 200 years," he remembered the former function of the property surrounding the house.
''There used to be a big farm out here," he said. He added, ''Yeah, I don't come out here much anymore. But it is a special place to me."
Should the home not be repaired or purchased by someone else, Johnson has a plan.
''It's in the will," he said. ''It will be passed on in the family."
In the meantime, the structure will remain hidden by the overgrowth.
''It is the last remaining visible vestige of the legacy of Oliver Hardy Sr.," Lord said.
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