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Celebrating 175 years of the Highland House

Lead Summary
Steve Roush-
Ladies and gentlemen, when we chatted last time, the topic of conversation focused on two of the landmarks in Hillsboro have reached their 175th anniversary this year – the Scott House and the Highland House.

Let’s continue this week with a closer look at the Highland House. Much of the following comes from research from Jean Wallis and Bob Hodson, members of the Highland County Historical Society.

Peter Ayres, who built the Highland House, lived only four years after completion of his new home. He died in December 1849. His sons Robert H. and James S. were the executors of his estate. He was also survived by his wife, Clarissa, and several other children.

On Feb. 14, 1852, the executors sold the east half of the lot 10 to James and Mary Rosa. Less than a year later, the Rosas conveyed the property to John and Sallie Johnson. It is thought that it was John Johnson who built the upstairs and downstairs porches.

On May 2, 1866, John and Sallie Johnson sold the property to William Scott (who built the Scott House) and Robert Lilley in trust for the purpose of using the premise as a boarding house for the young ladies enrolled at The Highland Institute. That apparently didn’t work out as planned, and the property was sold on April 11, 1870 to Jeremiah and Sallie Black.

On March 10, 1880, the Blacks conveyed the property to Fred and Emma Steinman. Two years later, on May 3, 1882, the east half of lot 10 was sold to Joseph Gaskill. During the years Gaskill owned the property, many changes occurred. He added more rooms to the building, enclosing the two porches and making it a first-class hotel. That may have been the time when The Highland House was named. Advertisements following the renovations read, “Newly remodeled and first class in every respect.”

On Feb. 13, 1889 Samuel Parsons Scott, and his sister, Jane (children of William Scott), purchased the property as an investment. At the time, Cary T. Pope, former sheriff of Highland County, took over the management of the Highland House.

In 1905, the property was purchased by Eugene Zimmerman, and for many years it was operated by his daughter, Kate Doorley, as a resident hotel. Later, her daughter, June Doorley, operated the hotel. Under her management, the Highland House became an East Main Street tradition. It became famous for its food and on Sundays attracted the townspeople, county residents and those traveling through Hillsboro. Clubs and organizations used the facility for luncheons and dinner meetings.

On March 28, 1964, Helen Boyd purchased the Highland House from June Doorley. The Historical Society, chartered in 1965, was looking for a location and felt the Highland House would be perfect.

A problem was that the Pure Oil Co. also wanted to purchase the site for their new service station. With encouragement, insistence and a sizable donation from Virginia Bell Thompson, coupled with a bank mortgage, The Highland House was purchased by the society in 1966.

Today, the Highland House, with its long history, is now the home to the Historical Society. Its 14 rooms and four hallways are filled with Highland County history preserved for future generations.

Let’s pause for now, and we’ll continue next time.

Steve Roush is vice chairman of the Highland County Historical Society Board of Trustees, a vice president of an international media company and a columnist and contributing writer for The Highland County Press. He can be reached by email at

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