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Retreat Cottage Registered Heritage Structure

Retreat Cottage, St. John's, NL
Retreat Cottage, St. John's, NL
Retreat Cottage, St. John's, NL

Statement of Significance

Formal Recognition Type

Registered Heritage Structure

Description of Historic Place

Located on a large, well-treed lot on Kenna’s Hill, St. John’s, NL, Retreat Cottage is a two-and-a-half storey gable roof structure. The designation is confined to the footprint of the building.

Heritage Value

Retreat Cottage was designated a Registered Heritage Structure by the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador in 1993 due to its historic and aesthetic value.

Retreat Cottage has historic value because of its age and its associations with many important Newfoundlanders who lived in the house. Retreat Cottage was built in 1834 or earlier as a country retreat for Edward Mortimer Archibald. Archibald was clerk of the government assembly and later became attorney general. The builder was probably Alexander Norris, a Scots carpenter/architect who had earlier worked on the construction of Newfoundland’s Government House, completed in 1831.

Archibald rented the house to Christopher Ayre - the governor’s secretary and later marshal of the Vice-Admiralty Court - who lived there until his wife’s death in 1837. In 1847 Archibald sold it to the Honourable William Thomas, who was a merchant and member of the Legislative Council. Thomas leased the property to a number of people, including Edward Dalton Shea, who was proprietor of The Newfoundlander newspaper and later President of the Legislative Council.

The first owner-occupant was the Honourable John Hayward, a judge who acquired the property in 1868. He was also a former member of the House of Assembly for Harbour Grace. It was Hayward who began the garden which was further developed by Annabella Stein who, with her husband Robert Carl Von Stein, bought the property in 1895.

By 1918 Retreat Cottage was owned by Sir Charles Hutton, a St. John’s musician, teacher and businessman. Hutton was an accomplished musician who staged many concerts and established a musical supply company in 1883. Retreat Cottage remained in the Hutton family until 1970 when the home was purchased by Shane and Maire O’Dea.

Shane O’Dea is an English professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the recipient of several teaching awards, including the Canadian Professor of the Year awarded in 1988 and the 3M Teaching Fellowship in 2002. Professor O’Dea has done extensive research on historic buildings and vernacular construction in the province. His research on Retreat Cottage enabled the history of the home to be thoughtfully and accurately recorded.

Retreat Cottage has aesthetic value as it is an interesting example of Victorian building practices. The house has undergone several alterations so that the style is now an eclectic vernacular. It has an unusually heavy timber frame, brick nogging on the ground floor and a central hall plan. Originally constructed as a one room deep structure, it became a salt-box with a rear addition in about 1837. In 1847 the dining room and drawing room were extended into the side porches. In the 1870’s the rear roof was raised to a mansard roof and several rooms added. Other notable features of the house are the Regency-style trellises on the west, the large, projecting chimneys and the sun porch at the front. Some of the 2/2 windows have interior wooden shutters and some have pilaster mouldings. Retreat Cottage is a testament to a time when care and thought was put into house construction and it shows the progression of the life of the house and the lives of its various owners. Retreat Cottage received the Southcott Award for heritage restoration in 1988.

Source: Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador property file “St. John's - Retreat Cottage - FPT 1642”

Character Defining Elements

All those elements that speak to the building's age and unique, eclectic design, including:
-number of storeys;
-heavy timber frame with brick nogging;
-steep main gable roof with mansard at rear;
-wooden roof shingles;
-return on the eaves;
-chimney number, style and placement;
-narrow wooden clapboard;
-wooden shingle cladding;
-wide wooden corner boards;
-size, style, trim and placement of sun porch and steps;
-size, style, trim and placement of porch on rear facade;
-size, style, trim and placement of wooden windows;
-size, style, trim and placement of wooden storm windows;
-bay window size, style, trim and placement;
-dormer size, style, trim and placement;
-dormer window size, style, trim and placement;
-size, style, trim and placement of exterior wooden doors;
-brackets;
-Regency-style trellises;
-original interior details: kitchen range, drawing room shutters, fireplaces, and;
-dimension, location and orientation of building.

Location and History

Community St. John's
Municipality City of St. John's
Civic Address 014 Kenna's Hill
Construction 1834 - 1834
Builder
Alexander Norris
Style 19th Century Vernacular
Building Plan Rectangular Long Façade