Bob Hart, founder and creator of Hart Square passes

By: 
Cindy Hull
Staff Writer

As I heard the news of Bob Hart’s passing, I reflected on the day I spent several hours strolling through Hart Square side by side with him. For each log structure we went to, he had a story to tell. His love for his family, friends, and the log buildings he had placed on the property was evident.

In 1967 Dr. Robert (Bob) Hart purchased a small tract of land for establishing a wildlife refuge and a retreat from his busy family practice. He was always interested in wildlife so he built ponds, put in wood duck boxes, and fenced in 200 acres.

He brought in a herd of deer, ducks and four Canadian geese. Bob did what he could to preserve the wildlife. In 1983, he received the North Carolina Governor’s Award for Wildlife Conservation.

In the early 1970s, Bob’s neighbor, Paul Hedrick, from Conover said: “Doc, I got an old log cabin over here just falling down and it would really look good on your upper pond”.

From there it “Kinda mushroomed” into over 104 log structures. Bob said, “I didn’t plan on it”.

When Bob first started moving structures, he learned from Terry Thrift how to build the chimneys. The first three where crooked. He would tell people “it’s over 150 years old, it’s going to sag and settle a little in that time.”

After that, he was on site most everyday, working to keep the property clean, even on Sundays. He would go to the 8:00 am service at church and back on the property by 9:30. This is where he spent most of his days. He explained: “There is always work to be done.”

All of the log structures have come from the Catawba Valley area within 15 to 20 miles of Hart Square. They were built from 1763 to 1880. Most of them have been donated to preserve their history.

Many days Bob would go to the flea market early in the morning before dawn with his flashlight, trying to find items that fit in the same era as the log structures. He was always looking for hidden treasures that were authentic to the period. After Bob bought the items, his wife Becky would step in with her incredible decorating skills.

At Hart Square, they had envisioned an education center that would be easily assessable, heated with running water and bathrooms. After looking into a new facility they found the cost to be over 4 million dollars. Bob Hart spoke to a friend who was willing to donate a million dollars to get the project going.

When Bob told his wife Becky what they were doing, she did not believe him. A week later he came home with the check. Powell and Virginia Sigmon believe the learning center will help get the next generation interested in how things were done long ago. Powell says that “technology is not where they will learn it.”

The Sigmon Family Education Center will be the gateway to the past, with seating for hundreds of people. It will be used for field trips and after school programs, so that children can be a part of the center everyday.

Once open, some of the things they will be teaching are: Native American storytelling to teach about the rich history of diversity in the area, weaving to teach about textile history, woodworking for the history of furniture, blacksmithing, poetry, canning and much more.

Bob enjoyed the annual festival he started on the site which includes the largest display of early American crafts in the country. Each year there are only 4000 tickets available to enter the festival. Once the tickets go on sale, they are always sold out the first day. It takes over 400 people to work the festival.

Hart Square published a book that took two years to make and in six months, it sold out. It is one of the best coffee table books in North Carolina. It was submitted to an Independent Publisher in New York with over 5,200 total entries, from 44 states and 10 countries. Hart Square won first place in 2012.

Here are a few stories that Bob shared with me as he showed me around.

Once he had fallen ten feet and landed on his head while roofing a small building. Fortunately, the ground was soft from a two day rain. The only damage was a stiff neck and a six inch dent in the ground.

Another time, a two story building collapsed with Bob inside. The only thing that prevented him from being injured was that he happened to be standing in the open stairwell.

There was another occasion when Bob and Horald Starnes were moving a small building intact and needed only three or four more inches between the trees to get into the village.

Harold, being the quick thinker, said: “Why don’t we just take the tin off instead of dismantling the whole building?” As we both reached the top of the roof while removing the nails from the tin, I unknowingly pulled the last nail out of the piece of tin I was sitting on and I took sudden flight! I cleared the road, missed two big oak trees and landed in the leaves on a sloped ridge, not even knowing I had hit the ground. Harold immediately said, “Doc, how did you get there so fast?”

Bob said, “None of this would have been possible, without my precious wife, Becky.”

Bob called what is now Hart Square, a passion, and his wife Becky calls it is an obsession. He has turned it over to a non-profit organization, Hart Square Foundation. The executive Director is Rebecca Hart. Bob says that he couldn’t take it with him, so he knew he needed to do something with it.

He told his wife, that when he passes on, he wants to be cremated.

“I want my ashes spread over the village”. “Hopefully upstairs, they have some log cabins”.

Once arrangements have been made for his celebration of life, we will share them with our readers.

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