Landmark 'Barrett house' near former airport is taken down
A house that stood on Highway 181 at the corner adjoining Gainesville’s former airport for at least 75 years was demolished over the weekend after falling into disrepair in recent times.
Known by many longtime residents as “the Barrett house” or “the yellow house at the airport,” the structure and its tree-shaded corner lot was purchased by the Gainesville School District last year around the same time the district acquired the neighboring land that had served as Gainesville’s municipal airport since the 1950s.
The city of Gainesville traded most of the airport land to the school in exchange for school-owned land that has been used by the city for many years as Gainesville’s Hoerman Memorial Park, which adjoins school property along Highway 160 east of the Gainesville square. The former airport is being converted into a softball and baseball field complex.
Around the same time the trade was being completed, the school bought the former airport hangar that had been converted into a worship center used by Real Life Church. That sale also included the corner lot where the Barrett house stood, along with a smaller, newer red house nearby.
Gainesville School superintendent Justin Gilmore told the Times in an email that the Barrett house was demolished because it was found to be “irreparable.” Gilmore said the district hasn’t decided yet how the newly cleared land or the nearby red house will be used. But in response to a question about the lot’s landmark trees, which are widely appreciated for their brilliant fall colors, Gilmore said any future plans “will incorporate the trees, because they are beautiful!”
The Times was unable to determine when the house was built or who built it, but 90-year-old Gainesville-area resident Bobby Grisham said Sunday that the house was standing when he graduated from Gainesville High School in 1951. He remembers that when a dentist, Dr. Barrett, and his wife moved to the area and bought the house, they hired Bobby’s dad, the late Christy Grisham, to install extra braces on the roof’s rafters.
Barbara Rackley Luna, who now lives in the house where she grew up across the road and one house away from the Barrett house, said she “always loved how that house looked, set at an angle with the screened-in porch and maple trees.”
During her growing-up years, the pale yellow house sat at the busy intersection of N Highway and U.S. Highway 160, before 160 was improved and relocated. In the Barretts’ yard along the highway was a conservation department sign suspended between heavy posts, probably advertising what is now the Caney Mountain Conservation area. Barbara remembers that Dr. Barrett had a pet black bear. “One day while playing outside, I looked over to see that he had the black bear chained to the signpost. He was there too, but there wasn’t any invitation to come pet the bear,” she said.
Her other memory of Dr. Barrett, unrelated to his house, was of a Saturday night in the mid-1950s. “We had one of the first black-and-white TVs in the neighborhood, so on Saturday nights neighbors would drop in to watch,” she said. She remembers Dr. Barrett coming to one of the Saturday night TV sessions.
Barrett maintained a dental office in Gainesville, and Bobby Grisham remembers him as quite a colorful character, perhaps with a bit of a temper. It isn’t known when the Barretts sold the house and moved away, and there wasn’t time before the Times’ press deadline to examine property records at the courthouse to determine who has owned the house in the decades since then. But after standing in the highly visible spot at the airport for so long, it seemed appropriate to mark its passing.
When the school’s purchase of the corner lot and houses was being completed last year, Gilmore told the Times the area under the trees might be developed as an outdoor classroom dedicated to the late Elvis Barrett, a teacher who taught at Gainesville High School for many years. Barrett died in 2020 at age 86. It’s not known if he was related to the Barretts who owned the house on that site in the mid-1900s.