vernacular design

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Tour of Historic Houses

Published January 29, 2012 by oddacity designs


While the village has lost many buildings over the years, there are still some wonderful examples of 19th century architecture, and each building has a rich history of its own.

 Dr. Lovett House:  This home was built in 1896 for Dr. Lewis Johnstone  Lovett (1867-1942). The home was designed in New York City, and was the wedding present to Dr. Lovett and his bride, Josephine Troop Marshall, from her father, Alpheus Marshall Esq., a leading merchant of the village. Dr. Lovett was well known  politically ,being a staunch supporter of the Liberal Party, and serving as a member of parliament from 1920 to 1925. He served as a president of the Bear River Board of Trade and did much to develop the community as a summer resort. This is a second empire home that was strategically built upon a hill. The mansard roof is equipped with dormers throughout. The entrance is an enclosed verandah/sunporch. The positioning on the hill gives it an extra storey.

In recent history, the house was used as a Bed and Breakfast called Lovett Lodge, from the early 1980’s to the late 1990’s, operated by Adrian Potter. At present it is uninhabited.

Green Lantern:This building is dated from about 1882, originally built as a warehouse by Edward E. Rice who was one of Bear River’s wealthiest men. In 1888 Edward had sold the Green Lantern Building to Thomas Bales Coombs. Thomas Bales Coombs was the first commissioner of Canada for the Salvation Army. He arrived in Canada in 1884 from England and bought this  building in  1888, when the Salvation Army was just five years old. From 1924 to 1944  Robert Yorke turned the building into a theatre: the main entertainment center in Bear River at this time. Mr. Yorke showed silent films here . Mr. Yorke should be a man commemorated as bringing enlightenment and entertainment to this village. Movies shown through the second world war must have given some relief to the bereaved and worried residents. This property has truly had a colorful and eventful past and should be proudly looked upon. The architecture is a rare vernacular design with few windows.

From the time it ceased being the location for weekly movies in the late 1950’s, the building sat empty. In the 1970’s, Donna and Michael Susnick operated the Bear River Farmer’s Museum there.  It was renovated to some extent in the 1980’s and used by the Board of Trade for meetings.  It was also used by a kayak and canoe maker for three years as a workshop. This historic property is now owned by the Bear River Board of Trade and unfortunately is in need of many repairs. Until recently it was the home of the Bear River Historical Society’s Museum.

STEWART DARRES’ POOL HALL. This building is believed to have been built circa 1900   and was once owned by Alpheus Marshall. It served as the home of the Dr. Dinsmore’s dentist office prior to 1924. when J. Arthur Rice, probate clerk for Bear River obtained the building for his office. In 1924 Stewart Darres owned the store/restaurant next to this building ) and built an addition on to his restaurant which unknowingly encroached on this property in question, owned then by J. Arthur Rice. Mr. Rice allowed Mr. Darres to keep this addition provided Mr. Darres pay him a yearly sum of money. In 1936 Stewart bought this building.and  joined it with his store/restaurant so that he had a restaurant with a pool room attached in one structure ( the link has since been torn away). Stewart kept hens and exotic birds under the lower part of this building.  In the restaurant that once adjoined this building he sold homemade ice cream.

The building is now a private residence, having served as a retail space for local crafters  for several years. in the 1980’s there was a small pottery shop and residence in the building.

Captain Anthony Building:  This was built in 1893 and remains the only waterfront commercial building in Bear River, Digby County. It has very direct links to the “golden age of sail”, 1870-1915. Once encircled by a wharf, it served the needs of the ship-building community.The encircling wharf and storage building at the rear, were removed before the 1920s. The third floor was lost to a fire in the late teen’s. However, the remainder of the building  has remained virtually unchanged.

Original gingerbread carvings, lintels, doors. windows etc. remain virtually intact. The interior, with its tongue-in-grove walls and ceiling and its 25 foot long oak store display counter, also are original. Both floors are in keeping with the end of the last century, with the look of an old sea captain’s home. Capt. Anthony retired from the sea in 1893. It is a fine example of a rare second Empire architecture.

In the 1920’s local boys were paid 3 cents an hour to unload from a ship and 2 cents an hour to unload from the land.  The 25 foot counter is original to the building which served the community for many years as a wonderful general store and meat market operated by Ali Harris.

Ali Harris’s store was a delight and will be the subject of another post.

Following Ali’s Meat Market, the Rice family took over the grocery business for a brief time, followed by a  tailor shop, and an antique store and art gallery.  The building now stands vacant.

William Riordan Building 1852.  This  building was originally built on the opposite side of the street and moved to the present location in 1903.  It was used as a store by a variety of merchants, including the Clarke  (1902-1919) when it was sold to Louis V. Harris who operated a drugstore there until 1962, and it continued as a drugstore until the 1990’s.  This is a one and a half storey Greek Revival with a decorative false front.  it is one of the few remaining buildings built on pilings over the water.

The building was purchased in the mid 1990’s and turned into a cafe.  Various cooks tried operating a restaurant in the premises, and then the building was sold and sat empty for several years.  Sold once again,it once again is used as a cafe, in spite of the fact there is no water to the building.

Andrew Harris building, 1845.  This building has a long history of commercial use; originally built by Andrew H Harris, master mariner and shopkeeper, near his wharf on the east side of the river. He purchased the lot from Robert Jefferson in 1845 for five pounds.  The store was sold to John Troop in 1881 and it was used as a customs house until 1903.  in early deed it was described as the wharf lot with wharf and store.  Later a Bandstand was built in the lot between the store and river. The Clarke Bros. owned and operated a store here from 1903 to 1924, and it continued as a store in various capacities, purchased by Flight of Fancy Crafts co-operative in 1982.  The building is built on stilts to allow for the flow of the river under it at high tide, as the lands behind the store are a man made landfill project.

Unfortunately the stilts and sills under this building are in serious disrepair, causing the right rear corner to sag dangerously.

The building was the home of Bear River Home Furnishings until sold to a group of local artists/craftspeople in the early 1980’s who formed the Flight of Fancy Crafts Co-operative.  Unfortunately, they found the co-operating part difficult and one member, Rob Buckland Nicks bought it and made it a single proprietorship. He runs the shop from May through October, and has established a reputation as one of the finest craft shops in the province.

The Masonic Hall 1828. The building and land were originally owned by Robert Jefferson, and sold to Isaac Willet in 1835, and used for commercial purposes by 3 other owners until 1967 when it was purchased by the Keith Lodge #1628.  The Masonic Lodge of  Bear River was established in 1851, and granted it’s full charter in 1954, making it one of the oldest lodges in Nova Scotia. Since purchasing the building, the Lodge has enlarged and improved it, with a major renovation in 1911.  The Lodge meetings were held upstairs and the main floor rented out.  It can be remembered as Lilly Hubley’s tea shop, Chester Kaulback’s barber shop and Samuel Parker’s watch repair shop. It is a version of Greek revival.

It is now used exclusively by the Masons of Keith Hall, Branch 16.

Clarke Brothers 1902: Now the Bear River Legion branch #22.  In 1903, a store that was located on this land was purchased from C.C. Rice and moved to the other side of the street, and the building replaced it. It was used as commercial premises and possible a bank, until the Royal Canadian Legion bought it in 1947.  It is an example of a highly modified Italianate commercial building.  It is joined to the New Horizons building which was originally built in 1851, purchased by William Reed in 1854 and the reed family ran a general store here until the Clarke Bros. bought it in 1901  The Bear River Legion purchased the building in 1973.

Trading Company Building 1856.  The first building of record on this lot was built in 1856 by David Rice and purchased by Harris Harding Chute in 1863 and later by the Clarke Bros. in 1880.  With the demise of the Clark Bros. empire in the 1920’s,it was taken over as the Bear River Trading Company by Mac Parker in 1932 and it is well loved and fondly remembered as such as a wonderful general store that included dry goods, housewares, hardware, groceries and a great candy counter.  In the 1880’s the building was substantially renovated by the Bear River Economic Development Society. It originally was connected to the adjoining building, built in 1856 by David Rice. It was referred to as the Sail loft building because the upper storey was used for the storage of sails for the wooden ships.  It also housed the local telegraph office for many years. The Trading Company complex is a cornerstone of the village, and one of the few remaining buildings that was built on “stilts’ over the water.

It now houses a second hand book and junk shop, a family diner, an ice cream emporium/gift shop, as well as two apartments.

Edward Sanford (Bear River Pulp Co.) 1880. Prominently visible in most photographs of old Bear River, this was built by Edward Sanford in 1880, purchased by the Clarke Brothers in 1890, and variously used as a warehouse for storing the goods to load onto ships, a hospital for sick seamen, a brandy and liquor store for ships, a ship’s chandler shop, and a horse and oxen barn, a home furnishings store, a used clothing enterprise and even a museum.  The building was purchased in 1996 and extensively renovated by the current owners. It is a Greek revival style commercial building, approximately 9500 sq. feet, the largest privately owned building in the village.

The building is home of Oddacity Designs, a one of a kind clothing and accessories enterprise, as well as a vintage/antique shop, The Innocent Rose,  and a licensed guest suite, Inn out of the Fog.

The Turnbull House.1829.  This is arguably the oldest remaining building in Bear River, and some claim a section of it dates to the late 1800’s when it was used as a stagecoach stop and inn.  A previous building may have been used for that purpose. The date of 1829 is well documented however, and was originally used as a house/store purchased by John Barr in 1845, it was used as a postal station and customs house, and it is during his ownership that it is believed that the addition of the painted room was made.  The building was purchased by the Great War Veteran’s Association of Canada, Bear River Branch, and used as a memorial and club house until 1947, when the group purchased the Legion building.  It is a modified vernacular style with Greek influence. One feature of the house is a “painted room” which is believed to have been created in the mid 1800’s.

It is currently uninhabited.

Bear River Customs House 1920. This is now known locally as the Rebekah hall as the building was owned for many years by the Independent Order of Oddfellows, with the Ladies’ Auxiliary the Rebekah’s. Originally it served as the Customs House for the cargo that was brought into and leaving the area by the shipping industry. The downstairs has also housed the Royal Bank of Canada, a dress shop, millinery shop, bakery, and museum. The village cenotaph was originally located in the adjoining yard.

The building now houses a coffee roasting enterprise and an art gallery that is open occasionally. There is also a space on the second floor that is used for public events.

Edmund Walsh 1873: Known locally as the Harris house, this was built by Edmund Walsh, merchant, in 1873 and purchased by Robert McClelland in 1885 who operated it as an inn until 1898.  It was owned by Edward and Arthur Rice , prominent merchants until 1925, when it was purchased by Fred R Harris a prominent citizen of the village and the local insurance agent. At one time there was a tennis court in the back next to the creek.  The house is 3 storey Georgian with a mansard roof and Italianate influences.

The building was turned into apartments in the 60’s and then back to a single residence with a bed and breakfast in the late 1990’s, which closed in the early part of the 2000’s. It is  currently uninhabited.

Harris Harding Chute: 1857. One of the leading merchants in Bear River, Harris Chute also served as a Member of the Provincial Legislature. The house was purchased in 1884 by Wallace W. Clarke, one of the Clarke Brothers who ran the Trading Company, a lumber mill, clothespin factory, logging operation, shipbuilding operation, and shipping business.  It is still known in the village as the Clarke House, as the Clarke families lived there until 1944, when it was sold to Dr. Alexander Campbell, a physician who had his medical practice there until 1952.  It then became a residence for senior citizens and later was renovated into apartments.

John Moore House 1853   John Moore built this in 1853, and is listed in Lowell’s directory as having the occupation of caulker.  His daughter,  Elizabeth was a “spinster” who kept house for him, and inherited the property on his death in 1890.  It remained in the Moore family until 1944.  This is a modified Greek revival architecture.

It remains a single family residence.

Charles Brown 1869.This unusual example of a picturesque style architecture was built for Charles Brown, mariner, in 1869, and sold to Dr. Robert Ellison, who ran his medical practice there until  his death in 1907, when he willed it to his grandaughter Robina Romans.  It is still known locally as the Romans house, as the Romans family owned it until 1956 . This house is unusual in it’s three bay facade with central doorway.

It remains a single family residence.

Methodist Church: 1856.  It is believed that the Methodists were given this land by William Turnbull sometime between 1837 and 1840, and that there was a different building first built here, while other’s claim that this was the first church, built in 1856. The original structure had a tall steeple but it had to be removed as it was the frequent target of lightning and wind storms. This is a modified Greek revival architecture.  Unfortunately, the Hillsburgh United Church closed its doors in 2011 due to the declining numbers of congregants.

Andrew H. Harris 1837.  This is one of the oldest remaining buildings in the village, and the residence of Andrew Harris, who ran a dry goods and grocery store near the Bridge   He was deeded the land by his father, John Spurr Harris.  It remained in the Harris family until 1891, when it was purchased by Dr. Robert Ellison .   In 1907, it was purchased by Rhoda Yorke, wife of John Yorke who ran a livery stable between Bear River and Deep Brook, It was her horse and wagon teams that met  the Dominion Atlantic trains in Smith’s Cove and brought them into Bear River.  She also owned a dry goods store. The family also operated the Green Lantern theater for many years.

It remains a single family residence.

Oakdene School (1934)  The original Oakdene Academy which was built in 1895 was destroyed by a fire in January of 1934, and this replacement, similar to the destroyed school, was completed by September for the beginning of the school year. Unfortunately, the school was closed  in 1993 but the building now serves as a community center with  studio and commercial space.

St. John’s Anglican Church 1833: Originally the Anglican Church was built in 1833, but was destroyed by the same fire that devestated the school in 1934. This may have been the earliest church, but perhaps the smallest with it’s congregation beginning in the late 1700’s with the zarrival of the Hessians and Loyallists in 1784.  It was considered the most conservative of the village churches and adopted by the Protestant Hessians as a substitute for the Lutheran Church. this small church is still used for an occasional summer service.

Horatio Nelson Chute House  1830. It is believed this house was built inthe early 1830’s making it one of the oldest remaining houses in the village.  Horatio Nelson Chute was drowned off his boat “The Robert” in 1840, and the house passed to his wife and remained in the Chute family until 1855 when it became the property of Zebidiah Croscup, a shipwright and customs collector. In 1884 it was purchased by W Alpheus Chute, who’s occipation was listed as house mover, and later by his son Joseph Burton Chute, also a building mover; and the one who moved the Clarke Bros. buildings in 1903.  Oral history has it that he was famous throughout the county for his moving skills. It remained in the Chute family until 1951, then the Nicholl family until 1978, when it was turned into rental units.It has been recently renovated.

Zebidiah Croscup Building 1855.  The origins of this buidling have been in dispute for many years, some believing the builing was originally a church and later moved here.  There is no evidence of that however, and the records of the 1870’s show that this was a custom house operated by Zebediah Croscup .  Later this building was used to store and sell caskets. It is an example of a Greek revival commercial building.

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