The Hite House: Blood, Decay, and Jesse James

Charlotte Brindley
FLK 445G: American Architectural History
Dr. Evans
18 November 2015
Brindley 2

“What tales of blood and daring have been lived again in that peaceful-looking old farm

house over there in the sunlight…”1 was written about a structure now little more than a specter.

The foreboding shell of a building haunts the empty countryside with its weathered clapboard,

naked timber frame and shattered windows that scream of a distant and inaccessible past. Time

has been cruel to the homestead with its wide paneled doors and the beauty that reveals itself in

the uniformity of its design. To most casual onlookers exploring the countryside around

Adairville, Kentucky, the decaying house is one of many: just another old farmhouse that has

been neglected by its owners, sooner or later to be bulldozed for farmland. But this particular

vernacular home, called the Hite House (fig. 1) by local Adairvillians, hosts a history unknown

to most, a history closely connected with one of America’s most notorious outlaws: Jesse James.

With the obvious neglect in the Hite House’s features, it may be a surprise to some why this

location remains relatively unknown to Jesse James enthusiasts and historians alike. This paper

examines the history of the Hite House in its relation to Jesse James, its architecture and

transitional details, and how its history and architecture is prominent to the historical makeup

and pride of Adairville, Kentucky.

Adairville is a fading village nestled in the midst of fertile farmland dotted with rotting

barns and farmhouses. Boasting a population of around nine hundred people, most residents

have lived in the town their entire lives and do not desire change. Despite its mellow appearance

now, Adairville actually bears a two hundred year history of outlaws, bandits, duels, religious

zeal and a booming local economy no longer existent. But if a visitor mingles with the locals at

the local BP gas station or city museum, one will eventually hear talk of what some call the

1D. E. O. “Royal Robbers: A Hunt Among the Haunts of the James Boys in Logan County.”

The Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY), April 10, 1882.

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“Jesse James” house. People will talk of how Jesse James’s blood still stains the floor or wall—

depending on whom you ask—inside the structure, and every person has his or her own version

of the story of Jesse James’s presence in Logan County. If one delves a little deeper into the

local talk, the structure of conversation is in truth called the Hite House, built by Mr. George B.

Hite, one of the wealthiest residents of Logan County in the 1870s, and the uncle of Jesse James.

Hite was a merchant and farmer by trade, and his first wife, Nancy Gardner James, was

Jesse James’s aunt by blood. According to Hite’s obituary from The Russellville Ledger in 1891,

Hite made his fortune in speculating, but suffered immense losses in 1878 and almost lost all his

properties. The obituary reads, “He was a man of remarkable energy and remarkable health, and

was never confined to his bed with sickness during his life, until the attack of pneumonia which

ended his earthly career.”2

The Courier-Journal wrote a defaming article about the Hite family’s connection with

Jesse James on April 10, 1882. The article discusses details about the Hite family and its

members. The article reads about the person of George B. Hite and his estate:

He (Hite) owned a good home, 600 acres of the best land in Logan county, and
was said to be worth $100,000. He conducted a dry-goods store at Adairville and
was prosperous…‘He was honest and honorable and his word was his bond,’ said
an acquaintance to me yesterday…he is fully six feet in height, spare made and
angular. His face is sharp and thin, without being inquisitive, and, in fact, without
any expressive quality to mark him from the most ordinary farmer…he dresses
plainly. Courage and determination are apart of his make-up…The residence of
the Hites…two miles from Adairville a dirt road leads away from the pike
through the woods to a lane that reaches old man George Hite’s. The lane is
narrow, lined with stumps, and very rough riding in a vehicle. Great oak trees
guard in silent sentinels the whole way, and tilled fields on one side of the woods
and underbrush on the other. A mile and a half of this and the famous hostelry of
the most royal robbers…3

2 “Mr. Hite’s Death,” Russellville Ledger (Russellville, Ky), Dec. 2, 1891.
3 D. E. O. “Royal Robbers,” The Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY), 1882.
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Though the article was condemned by the Hite family, it nevertheless reveals a picture

from the time regarding the character of George B. Hite and his home. Considering this, it

should be considered how this man is related to Jesse James. Born in 1825, Hite married Nancy

James Hite, Jesse James’s aunt on the paternal side of the family, the sister of James’s father,

Robert S. James, a Baptist preacher. Both were from Adairville.4 Their marriage joined the Hite

and James families. Hite built his house around 1850, and it was there he raised his family of at

least twelve children. Two of his children, Robert Woodson and Clarence Browder, eventually

joined with their cousin in the James-Younger Gang.

To the dismay of his family, Hite married Sarah E. Norris Peck two years after the death

of his first wife. His new wife, an attractive twenty year-old widow, was thirty-seven years his

junior, and his children were adamantly opposed to the marriage because of the woman’s

reputation. Sarah Hite and Jesse James would eventually have an affair. In the article from The

Courier-Journal, Sarah Hite is described as follows:

She was…handsome, and the old man gave her, if not his heart, the keys
of the Hite homestead…Of medium height, she got along pleasantly under a head
covered with a goodly quantity of nut-brown hair, and a face whose beauties were
shadowed by a lively pair of pretty blue eyes. Her mouth was tempting, and the
mellow vigor of her form was in consonance with the picture…she was a fine-
looking woman and she led the old man a dance that was rapid. She is credited by
those in position to know with being the author of many of the James gang woe.
The entire family protested against the marriage, and most of them left the house
when she entered it. 5

The article from The Courier-Journal, which discusses the reported affair, was the reason

for a lawsuit of George and Sarah Hite against the newspaper. The couple argued that the story

4
“Jesse James in Kentucky: Kentucky Life: KET,” YouTube video, 7:45, posted by “KET:
Kentucky Educational Television,” August 29, 2013.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UX7SP8kmMus
5
D. E. O. “Royal Robbers,” The Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY), 1882.
Brindley 5

was harmful to Sarah Hite’s character. But she already had a wanton reputation, which is why

they lost the case.

The Hite House was the place for James to retreat from detectives and investigations over

the course of his “career”. The home was also a haven where James and his fellow gang

members would plan and scheme their robberies and divide their loot.6 In 1875, James and his

wife moved to Nashville to escape from the geographical area of Missouri where most

investigations took place, and since Nashville was a large city, it was easy for James to blend

into the multitude and create an alias. James’s move to Nashville was also strategic, because it

was only forty miles from Adairville and his uncle Hite’s home. Therefore, if James ever felt

hunted by detectives or needed to hide, it was not a long journey to the small town of Adairville

and its relative isolation. The Hite House was even more remote because it was a farmhouse in

the countryside, a few miles from the town center.7

In 1868, Jesse’s cohorts robbed what was then the Russellville Southern Deposit Bank.

But according to an interview with the The Courier-Journal in 1882 with George B. Hite Jr.,

Jesse James was not directly involved with the robbery. Hite said, “He was sick at the time at

our house,” and it is assumed James was still healing from an old wound. But there is

speculation whether James was recovering at the Hite House prior to or during the robbery, so it

cannot be stated for certain.8

Not only was the Hite House a regular sanctuary for the members of the James-Younger

Gang, but also a place where feuds and potential shootouts occurred. Brother and fellow gang

6
William Preston Mangum II, “The James-Younger Gang and their Circle of Friends,” Wild
West, February 2009, 24.
7
Ted P. Yeatman, Frank and Jesse James: The Story Behind the Legend (Nashville: Cumberland
House Publishing, Inc., 2000), 150.
8
Yeatman, Frank and Jesse James, 404.
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member of Jesse James, Frank James, was tried for robbery and murder in Gallatin, Missouri in

1883. For this particular case, Frank James was found innocent, but in his testimony he

described he and Jesse’s time at the Hite House leading up to the case. At some point during this

trial, Jesse was assassinated. Frank and Jesse were staying at the Hite House when detectives

were looking for them, and he described the experience as follows:

That Sunday morning three men were noticed coming toward the house…Some
one saw them coming from the distance and said: Yonder come three men. My
brother (Jesse), being a somewhat excitable man, said: No doubt those are the
men that were in Adairsville. I said, I reckoned not; that I could not see what
anybody was following us for. Oh, yes, Dick says, you know Jesse and I
borrowed a couple of horses, and I expect these men are from back down in
Nashville…We went down stairs, and I said, Don’t shoot anybody; for heaven’s
sake, don’t kill anybody! I went into the parlor and looked out the window to see
if they came up the lane directly in front of the house…Thought perhaps it was
some one going to church…so I went back up-stairs. However, the men went on
by, and Wood Hite followed them on a mule, and reported that they had gone in a
round about way to Adairsville, and they were the same men we suspected of
being detectives. Remained at Mrs. Hite’s ten days or two weeks.9

Considering that this must have been one of many incidents at the Hite House, there must

have been plenty of drama, violence and commotions at the farm. The gang’s association with

their enemies even put the Hite family in danger on a couple of occasions. The Courier-Journal

reads:

“Old-man George Hite prayed hard and long one night last November, when
various Louisville, Cincinnati and Bowling Green amateurs were planning an
attack on the Hite house. They were surrounded by the James crowd and could
have, and would have, been slaughtered if old George hadn’t implored the bandits
not to do it…A party of eighteen men from Nashville visited the Hite
neighborhood last spring. They went a short distance, held a hurried consultation
near the bridge over the Red River, and went back. It was well Jesse James and
six men were entrenched not 100 yards away…”10

9
“The Trial of Frank James for Train Robbery and Murder. Gallatin, Missouri, 1883,” In
American State Trials, ed. John Davidson Lawson (St Louis: F. H. Thomas Law Book Co.,
1919), 713.
10
D. E. O. “Royal Robbers,” The Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY), 1882.

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The affair between Jesse James and Sarah Hite may have been the reason for a duel on

the property in October 1881, and it was a subject that caused great tension, hatred and unrest

between the James and Hite families and members of the gang. It is possible that gang member

Dick Liddel brought up the subject to Wood Hite, and since it was his stepmother, the subject

would have been sensitive to him. The men eventually decided to “shoot it out,”11 and went into

a “great bulky, shapeless barn”12 to duel near the house. Wood Hite and Dick Liddel exchanged

several shots and chased one another throughout the property, and the Hite household stopped

the fight before anyone was hurt. A few weeks later, Wood Hite shot to death a man named John

Tabor, a worker on the Hite farm. Tabor had been exchanging letters between Sarah Hite and

James and may have let word of the affair slip through conversation. Regardless of the context

of the duel and the murder of Tabor, Sarah Hite requested a warrant for Wood Hite’s arrest. He

was stopped at a store on the Adairville town square, but he eventually escaped from the

authorities.13 Dick Liddel, in conjunction with Robert Ford, killed Wood Hite that December.14

Another occurrence involved a rumored report that the James-Younger Gang planned to

rob a train in Louisville. The authorities wanted to catch the criminals before they could make a

move, and dispatched to the Hite House. The police surrounded the house on all sides, but they

only found Wood Hite, but he was released because he was not wanted at the time. Clarence

succeeded in hiding, and Jesse and the others had somehow heard a warning, so they were also

able to hide in the local area before the police came.15 Rumor said that Sarah Hite wrote a letter

to governor Luke P. Blackburn to alert him of the potential robbery. Even though she denied it,

11
Yeatman, Frank and Jesse James, 261.
12
D. E. O. “Royal Robbers,” The Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY), 1882.
13
Yeatman, Frank and Jesse James, 261.
14
William Preston Mangum II, “Liddil Rode Beside the James Brothers,” Wild West 19, no. 6
(2007): 21.
15
Yeatman, Frank and Jesse James 261.
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she may have overheard the gang members planning the robbery within her home. It may have

been out of spite for Wood Hite, since her father said that James had the deepest friendship with

Sarah.16 From the evidence, the relationship was obviously more than a friendship.

Jesse James had suffered injuries during his time as a Confederate bushwhacker, and as

previously noted, James would retreat to the Hite House when his bodily pain came back to

haunt him. It was also at the Hite House where James attempted suicide in 1870. The pain was

so overbearing and traumatizing that he took sixteen grains of morphine; the overdose was an

obvious indicator he wanted to end his life. Local Adairville physician Dr. D. J. Simmons

restored James’s health, and James recovered in the solitude of his uncle’s house. Later on,

James was ashamed of his attempted suicide.17

Dr. D. J. Simmons republished his account of revitalizing Jesse James from The Courier-

Journal in the Adairville Banner in 1901, a leaflet where was published articles about local

events, history, and advertisements for businesses. The doctor gives his personal description of

the incidence and wrote: “He (Jesse) has a number of relatives yet in this vicinity.”18 Simmons

went on to write:

At the time from which I wrote, Jesse was suffering from the effects of a gunshot
wound in his right breast, and from the long continued discharge was rather thin
and in feeble health, and was spending some time with his uncle, Maj. George B.
Hite, who lived within two or three miles of Adairville. Jesse determined to
commit suicide…for this purpose he rode to town (Adairville) and procured
sixteen grains of morphine, which he took at once immediately on his arrival at
his uncle’s, which was late in the afternoon of an earlier January day…About 4
o’clock a.m. all efforts to keep him awake proved futile; his pulse had reduced in
volume to a mere thread, his breathing was feeble and very slow, and it seemed
the death angel was hovering over him, ready in a few minutes to seize his

16
D. E. O. “Royal Robbers,” The Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY), 1882.
17
Philip W. Steele, Jesse and Frank James: The Family History (Gretna: Pelican Publishing
Company, 2003), 52-53.
18
R. H. McKinney, “The Adairville Banner: Farmers and Merchants,” (commercial
banner, Adairville, Kentucky, 1901), 2.
Brindley 9

prey…that in all probability he would die, but possibly just now rest might be an
advantage to him…When consciousness was thoroughly aroused he expressed
considerable joy that he had failed in his efforts of self destruction, and was
profuse in his thanks to Mrs. Hite and all parties for their strenuous efforts to
restore him. He evinced both shame and contrition for the act…There was little
resemblance between the brothers. Jesse was taller and more slender, with dark
hair and eyebrows, and rather hazel eyes…eminently handsome, and of easy,
pleasant, polished and agreeable bearing, as different in appearance from
caricatures with which some of biographers illuminate.”19

It is of note that Simmons described James in a sympathetic light. Knowing that James

was a criminal, Simmons did not express contempt but instead empathy, even remarking on

James’s physical appearance in light of media depictions. It is also of note that this account and

the knowledge of James’s presence in Adairville brought fame—for better or worse—to the

community, and in 1901 it may have been a subject of pride for locals, that an infamous criminal

walked amongst them. Even in the 21st century, the local townspeople take great esteem in their

association with Jesse James, talk of his time at the Hite House, and some even take group

excursions to what remains of the property. The dignified senators and governors who may have

visited the community within the past two centuries have been cast into obscurity, but a murderer

and robber has continued to seize people’s imaginations. Part of the fascination with Jesse James

may be related to his heroic portrayal in films over the last century, films that project him as a

Robin Hood-like figure, and “an innocent victim of circumstance.”20 Even during the time of

this incidence with Dr. Simmons, James was had been romanticized in dime novels, and an

Adairville citizen said James was “elegantly dressed, and fitted his clothes. His manner was easy

19
Ibid., 3.
20
Daniel Eisenberg, “Shooting cinematic outlaws: Ned Kelly and Jesse James as viewed
through film,” Studies of Australasian Cinema 5, no. 2 (2011): 146.
Brindley 10

and very gentlemanly.”21 Contemporaries even seemed to be fascinated with the mystic of Jesse

James.

Most local Adairvillians are relatively aware of the Hite property and its Jesse James

connection, but they may not be aware of the structure’s architectural uniqueness. The Hite

House is on the brink of collapse, and it is unfortunate that no effort has yet been made to restore

it, despite its associations with one of America’s most notorious outlaws. A vernacular home,

the I-house is transitional in its subtle Federal and Greek Revival details. In a photograph of the

property from the 1980s (fig. 2)22, the home is in relatively good condition. The chimneys are

still completely erect from what can be inferred, none of the windows are broken, and the

sidelights around the front door are in perfect condition. In this photo, all the clapboard is

covered in white asbestos siding.23 Even today, there are remnants of this siding, and it may

have been put on in the 1950s. Now, segments of the original clapboard are still in place, but it

is extremely weathered and brittle, and where even that is not existent one can see through the

walls into the decaying rooms.

After discussing some of the incidents that occurred at the Hite House in relation to the

James-Younger Gang, it is a paradox that this location of fervent human activity is now little

more than a shell. The stairway is almost collapsed, the plaster is gone from the walls to reveal

the naked timbers, and the life has been weathered from every inch of the structure to leave only

grey, worn wood. But it is a paradox that always occurs everywhere, especially in the rural back

roads of Logan county. Bustling farms and their grand manors, once thriving places, are left to

time, rot, and are usually plowed over for more farmland. No one would have known of the

21
D. E. O. “Royal Robbers,” The Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY), 1882.
22
Steele, Jesse and Frank James, 52.
23
Ibid., 52.
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structure and all the life it contained ever existed. A similar fate may be in store for the Hite

House.

The physical structure itself is the hallmark of this history, and its details speak of the

incidents that occurred within its walls. The Courier-Journal wrote:

The sun had swam out of the rain-clothed clouds long enough to bathe the whole
landscape in beauty. A bird sang amid the apple blossoms in the garden, the rain
glinted and glistened everywhere and the scene was indeed a very pretty one…It
was historic mud the buggy-wheels hid themselves in; it was historic grass the
horses nibbled in the fence corner. How many bandit’s horses’ hoofs had
clattered along here! Everything was historic. And the fact that is was so made
the blood tingle. Perhaps it was very soul-satisfying, after all, that Mr. Hite, the
ghost of Jesse, or the flesh of Frank James were not any closer.24

If the Hite House was historic then, no one would ever know today. In the forthcoming

discussion of the architecture of this “historic” structure, it should be pondered that perhaps its

history and physical existence are ultimately intertwined, and is a material reminder of the

presence of Jesse James in Adairville.

The basic structure of the Hite House is mortise and tenon construction with a side gabled

roof. The timber frame, despite the weathering on the house, is the only aspect keeping the

structure together, and the square timbers are hewn and pegged. The bottom of the west side of

the house is stripped of its clapboard, and so the timber frame is revealed (fig. 3). The frame

would have been built flat on the ground and then raised and positioned on the stone foundation,

and the clapboard would have been produced at a local sawmill.25 One can see the hewn timbers

and wood pins, but the round nails that attach the clapboard are from the late 19th century,

perhaps added later for new clapboard. The interior nails, hammered into every corner of the

24
D. E. O. “Royal Robbers,” The Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY), 1882.
25
Clay Lancaster, Antebellum Architecture of Kentucky (Lexington:The University Press
of Kentucky, 1991), 29-30.
Brindley 12

house, are mid 19th century cut square nails with machine pressed heads, thus validating that the

house was built in the 1850s, otherwise many of the hand-hewn timbers may make one think the

house is earlier.

Even The Courier-Journal describes the Hite House as follows: “It nestles in a clump of

cedars on a grass-browed knoll 100 yards from the lane. It is a modern, two-story frame house,

painted white and looking neat and well kept, with its broad porch on the L and green, open

window shutters…”26 It is of note that there was originally a porch on the Hite House, the

original of which no longer exists. Also interesting is that this home was considered modern at

the time, even with its Federal features.

The house is two rooms wide and one room deep with a central hallway. Even though

the home is an I-house, the architectural details cannot be placed into a particular category

because the home’s details are transitional. Though it dates to the 1850s, there are elements

leftover from the Federal era on the exterior and interior, but there are even some Greek Revival

elements throughout. The home is a curious specimen because at first it was difficult to

particularize its style. The reasoning for this could possibly be that the architectural details, as

was evident in Kentucky at the time, were dictated by the taste of local artisans and craftsmen.

The Federal style thrived in Kentucky in particular until the 1840s, even though Greek Revival

had already become popular.27 The duration of the Federal style could be attributed to the lack

of rapid economic growth in Kentucky, whereas the Deep South had a more thriving economy

due to cotton production. In Kentucky, there was more diversity in crops and the economy was

26
D. E. O. “Royal Robbers,” The Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY), 1882.
27
Lancaster, Antebellum Architecture of Kentucky, 108, 118.
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relatively stable up to the Civil War, so the Federal style may have been slower to leave.28

Additionally, a small town like Adaiville in the mid 19th century would not have been a center of

fast changing fashions in architecture considering its relative distance from a larger city like

Nashville.

It can be assumed that George B. Hite used a book such as Asher Benjamin’s The

American Builder’s Companion to design and construct his house. Though the work initially

inspired builders in New England, his work had a profound influence in other geographic

locations throughout the United States even until the Civil War era. In The American Builder’s

Companion, builders without formal training were informed of “basic designs and practical

instruction on the construction of elementary structural and geometric forms.”29 The Hite House

is fluid in its geometry and beautiful simplicity, and would not have been designed by a

professional architect because of its vernacular nature and location. The book would have been

an invaluable source of instruction to carpenter-builders.

Considering this, the Federal elements of the Hite House should be discussed. Firstly, the

front entrance of the house has sidelights, characteristic of the Federal style, but an omitted light

on the top. At one point, according to the 1980s photograph (fig. 2)30, there was a rectangular,

decorative overhang above the door, but one can see that today, it has been completely removed

and the beams are exposed as a result. The sidelights, once, had ten panes of glass each, with

four panes at the top and two vertical panes in the middle (fig. 4). The surviving windows with

double-hung sashes have fifteen panes of glass each.

28
J. Frazer Smith, White Pillars: The Architecture of the South (New York: Bramhall House,
1941), 53.
29
William Morgan, introduction to The American Builder’s Companion (New York: Dover
Publications, Inc. [1827], 1969), vii.
30
Steele, Jesse and Frank James, 52
Brindley 14

One of best examples of Federal details on the Hite House is the front door (fig. 4).

Characteristic of the Federal style, two columns of three vertical panels, the top one the shortest,

are joined by mortise, tenon and peg construction, as is apparent along the sides of the door. The

same applies to all of the interior doors of the house. The interior doors are shorter and wider,

but also have two columns of panels. For the case of the interior doors on both floors (fig. 5), the

top three panels in each column are short, and are separated from the longer panels by a

generous, wide rail. On all the doors, each and every panel is detailed with impressive, delicate

and fine molding, and the craftsmanship is apparent. The doors are so sturdy and graceful even

though they are covered in peeling paint, and the quality almost makes them a work of art.

Similar examples of these doors are found in The American Builder’s Companion. The

geometry of the doors, as is apparent throughout the rest of the structure, is described as: “To

proportion the frieze panel, divide its width into four parts; give three of them to the height of the

panel.”31 In the companion, two doors (fig. 6) are illustrated by Benjamin, A, an inside door, and

B, an outside door. Though there are some variations from the inside doors on the second floor

as is illustrated in the book, the upstairs doors are an exact match to the examples illustrated by

Benjamin. In addition, the image of the outside door is the same outside door of the Hite House.

This is evidence that the Hite family may have used this book as reference in building their

house.

In mention of the doors, as Federal as they are in aesthetics, they also contain very subtle

Greek Revival characteristics. Whereas Federal doorways were more tall and slender, the

entryways inside the lower level of the Hite House are stout and wide. Basically, Federal doors

are housed in Greek Revival casing, further illustrating the transitional nature of the home’s

31Asher Benjamin, The American Builder’s Companion (New York: Dover Publications Inc.,

[1827] 1969) 78.
Brindley 15

details.32 Upstairs, the molding around the doors is Greek Revival (fig. 7). The molding is flat

and consists of three narrow vertical columns. The upstairs molding is simple and mimics the

verticality of columns and their fluting.

Another aspect that makes the Hite House transitional is the surviving Greek Revival

mantel. Considering the structure was built in the 1850s, it can be inferred the surviving mantle

is original and would have been modern at the time. Generously wide and elegantly simple, the

pilastered columns on each side are separated by a wide entablature (fig. 8). Whereas Federal

mantels were donned with more subtle and delicate molding, this Greek Revival mantel is more

basic, modest, and the simple grace and strength of the pilastered columns mimics the sturdiness

of Doric pillars. Unfortunately, it is the only surviving mantle on the first floor, as the house has

been vandalized over the years. On the second floor there may be more original mantles, but the

landing of the stairway is rotted, making access upstairs extremely dangerous.

Despite the fact the Hite House has not made it to the National Register of Historic

Places, the home has surfaced in popular culture. In the film The Assassination of Jesse James

by the Coward Robert Ford, the Hite House makes a gracious entry towards the middle of the

film (fig. 9). The film fuses the architecture of the home and its associated history in a very

curious way. The director desired the film to be a more realistic depiction of James, his gang,

and his final days compared to more romantic screen adaptations.33 Notwithstanding the film’s

desire for historical accuracy, the film did not bother to document the correct architecture of the

Hite House, regardless that a portion of the film occurred at the Hite House and that the structure

is still in existence. Instead of an I-house with an overwhelming austere persona, the home

depicted in the film is a small Second Empire home with a prominent mansard roof. The camera

32 Lancaster, Antebellum Architecture of Kentucky, 182.
33 Daniel Eisenberg, “Shooting cinematic outlaws,” 147.
Brindley 16

even zooms in on the home’s elaborate details, taking care to showcase the two rows of fine

dental work in the molded cornice, the three dormer windows with fine rectangular pediments,

and even the decorative brackets beneath the eaves.34 The portrayal of the very Victorian Hite

House in the film is very distant from the real and dour Hite House.

George B. Hite and his second wife, Sarah, are even secondary characters in the film.

Neither person is portrayed in a favorable light. Hite is a naïve man that appears to be

manipulated by his young wife, Sarah, whom is obviously licentious and to par with her

reputation on the historical record. Unfortunately, the Hite House in the film is not mentioned to

be in close proximity to Adairville. Instead, the film’s narrator describes James’s uncle’s house

as being in Russellville.35 The inconsistencies are unfortunate because it overlooks James’s

connection to the Adairville community and overshadows the original uniqueness of the

vernacular architecture of the Hite House, all of which are critical to Adairville’s history.

The history of the Hite House is interesting in itself, but the local legends and lore should

also be taken into consideration. Several locals say that groups of people frequently go to see the

Hite House because of the supposed bloodstains of Jesse James. Contingent on who you ask, the

supposed blood stains are smeared on a wall on the upper level or soaked into the floor. There is

no evidence to verify this, or any information relating to what particular incidence. The landing

of the stairway is rotting away, making access upstairs extremely dangerous and impossible

without a ladder. Considering that the roof is intact on one side of the upper level and the

clapboard is not stripped away, it is possible an upstairs room can be in relatively good

condition. And if the upstairs room is in decent shape, then it can be examined for any

34 The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, directed by Andrew Dominik

(2007; Burbank, CA: Warner Home Video, 2008), DVD.
35 Ibid.
Brindley 17

“evidence”. But until access is safe, the bloodstain will have to remain a legend, for now.

Locals also say there are bullet holes inside the house, but there is also no evidence of this.

Before most of the plaster disintegrated from the walls, this may have been true, but now it is

impossible to tell.

The uniqueness and the historical connections of the Hite House are obviously important

not just to Adairville, but also to the broader scope of American history in its relation to a

legendary outlaw. Unfortunately the town, in the past, has lacked the funds to preserve the

structure. The owners have offered the structure to the town as a gift to move to the Adairville

square as long as the town pays for it, but within the past fifty years Adairville has been in a

steady state of decline and deterioration. The buildings on the square are derelict, local

businesses struggle to survive, and structures of architectural integrity continue to disappear

within the confines of the town. Because of this decline, Adairville does not have the allowance

to fund the moving and preservation of the Hite House on the town square, even if there is a

large portion of the community in support of the project. The preservation of the Hite House has

been the subject of talk for many years, but nothing has resulted from the conversing, and the

home continues to endure the effects of the elements. Now the roof is deteriorating, which

means the life span of what survives is very short. Since the structure is in the middle of a

grazing ground, the cows will continue to cause destruction on the sides of the house, the

clapboard will continue to fall, and the rain will continue to pour through the damaged roof and

cause more rot and decay throughout the entire structure. When the rot becomes bad enough,

then the entire house may collapse.

The structure haunted by the memory of Jesse James once reeked of blood and is now in

a state of decomposition. Its timbers, nails, doors and molding tell of its haunted history.
Brindley 18

Though this history still lives in its own twisted way through the rotting structure of what was

once a home, the Hite House itself is a ghost that represents this dark, grim and morbid past.

Jonathan Hale writes, “A great building can give us the same exhilaration we experience in a

natural landscape,”36and this is true for the Hite House; though it is in decay, the stories and

history still speaks to us and fills us with fascination. It fills us with fascination because it boasts

a history more outlandish than the typical homestead. The Hite House was not a place of

average, church-going people but a place where some of America’s most notorious murderers

and criminals plotted their misdeeds and used the farm as a secondary home to escape from

outside pressures. The history and the architecture are one, because the structure itself breathes

with the people that clamored within its walls, and their mark is shown on the physical structure.

As is apparent in the evidence, the home has gone through an evolution over the years and its

landscape has changed, but the history is stagnant. The Hite House, with its macabre tales and

the skeleton of what remains, is an integral part of the history of Adairville,; otherwise, it is a

blight considering that it housed moral deterioration. But regardless of the corruption and its

local context, the Hite House is not only integral to Adairville, but to the broader scope of

American history. If Jesse James is indeed notorious and celebrated, then perhaps the home’s

appreciation should extend beyond the realm of Adairville, Kentucky.

36 Jonathan Hale, The Old Way of Seeing (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994), 5.
Brindley 19

Images

Figure 1: Brindley, Charlotte. The Hite House. September 26, 2015.

Figure 2: Yeatman, Ted. From Jesse and Frank James: The Family History by Philip W. Steele,
1987.

Figure 3: Brindley, Charlotte. The Hite House. September 26, 2015.

Figure 4: Brindley, Charlotte. The Hite House. September 26, 2015.

Figure 5: Brindley, Charlotte. The Hite House. September 26, 2015.

Figure 6: Asher, Benjamin. From The American Builder’s Companion. 1827.

Figure 7: Brindley, Charlotte. The Hite House. September 26, 2015.

Figure 8: Brindley, Charlotte. The Hite House. September 26, 2015.

Figure 9: From The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Directed by
Andrew Dominik. 2007.
Brindley 20

Figure 1. Brindley, Charlotte. The Hite House. September 26, 2015.

Figure 2. Yeatman, Ted. From Jesse and Frank James: The Family History
by Philip W. Steele, 1987.

Brindley 21

Figure 3. Brindley, Charlotte. The Hite House.
September 26, 2015.

Figure 4. Brindley, Charlotte. The Hite House.
September 26, 2015.
Brindley 22

Figure 5. Brindley, Charlotte. The Hite House.
September 26, 2015.

Figure 6. Asher, Benjamin. From The American Builder’s
Companion. 1827.

Brindley 23

Figure 7. Brindley, Charlotte. The Hite House. September
26, 2015.

Figure 8. Brindley, Charlotte. The Hite House. September 26, 2015. With Alexander Brindley.
Brindley 24

Figure 9. From The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Directed by Andrew Dominik.
2007.
Brindley 25

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[1827] 1969.

D. E. O. “Royal Robbers: A Hunt Among the Haunts of the James Boys in Logan County.” The
Louisvile Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY), April 10, 1883.

Eisenberg, Daniel. “Shooting cinematic outlaws: Ned Kelly and Jesse James as viewed
through film.” Studies of Australasian Cinema 5, no. 2 (2011): 145-154.

Hale, Jonathan. The Old Way of Seeing. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994.

“Jesse James in Kentucky: Kentucky Life: KET.” YouTube video, 7:45. Posted by “KET:
Kentucky Educational Television,” August 29, 2013.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UX7SP8kmMus

Lancaster, Clay. Antebellum Architecture of Kentucky. Lexington: The University Press
of Kentucky, 1991.

Mangum, William Preston II. “The James-Younger Gang and their Circle of Friends.” Wild
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—. “Liddil Rode Beside the James Brothers.” Wild West 19, no. 6 (2007): 20-21.

McKinney, R. H. “The Adairville Banner: Farmers and Merchants.” Commercial
banner, Adairville, Kentucky, 1901.

“Mr. Hite’s Death.” Russellville Ledger (Russellville, Ky), Dec. 2, 1891.

Morgan, William. Introduction to The American Builder’s Companion. (New York: Dover
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Brindley 26

Yeatman, Ted P. Frank and Jesse James: The Story Behind the Legend. Nashville: Cumberland
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