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Thimble Cottage - City of St. John's Heritage Site

Thimble Cottage, front facade
Rear facade
View from Thimble Cottage

Statement of Significance

Formal Recognition Type

City of St. John's Heritage Building, Structure, Land or Area

Description of Historic Place

Thimble Cottage is a wooden, two-and-one-half storey saltbox house located at 150 Oxen Pond Road, St. John’s, NL. Built circa 1850-1851 by farmer John O’Brien it is the third house built by O'Brien on his farm on Nagle's Hill. Situated on a narrow, steep, winding gravel road at a high point of the city this farmhouse is nestled in a forested grove and overlooks much of the City of St. John’s, with panoramic views of the south, east and west. The municipal designation is confined to the footprint of the building.

Heritage Value

Thimble Cottage has been designated a Municipal Heritage Building because of its historic, aesthetic and cultural values.

Thimble Cottage has historic value because of its age. Constructed circa 1850-51 by Irish Immigrant John O’Brien the house is the third home built on the farm. It is one of the oldest remaining farmhouses in St. John’s and is the last standing farmhouse in the Freshwater Valley area where once 20 such houses existed. Thimble Cottage is also historically valuable because of its associations with early agricultural development in St. John’s, a town which was based on the fishery. In the early nineteenth-century Governor Sir Richard Keats eased the laws against commercial farming and O’Brien took full advantage of this opportunity, establishing a commercial dairy farm. Thimble Cottage is also historically valuable because it has been lived in since its construction by members of the O’Brien family.

Thimble Cottage has aesthetic value as a rare example of a saltbox farmhouse within the City of St. John’s. Built of local materials for John’s son, Timothy, the house was constructed with local wood harvested from the nearby forest, and locally-gathered stone. The saltbox architectural style includes a steeply pitched gable roof with two-stories on the main facade and a dramatic rear slope that ends in a one-storey kitchen (linhay). Other features of note are the mortise and tenon construction and the large, central hearth which is typical for this style house, as it is in Irish vernacular architecture.

Thimble Cottage has cultural value because it is a physical reminder of an earlier time in the history of St. John’s. Freshwater Valley was once a rural community of farmers on the outskirts of St. John’s. Above the bustle of the growing city, farmhouses, outbuildings, gardens, fields and livestock peppered the landscape. Creating fertile fields from wooded wilderness, farmers in this area supplied city dwellers with fresh produce, providing the colony a degree of self sufficiency. By 1840, more than four hundred such farms were located within the boundaries of what is now St. John’s yet, today, only a handful remain. Thimble Cottage is an important component of the cultural landscape in an area quickly being developed as a compact, residential zone.

Source: City of St. John's, meeting held 2004/04/05

Character Defining Elements

All those elements of the building's vernacular, saltbox design, including:
-saltbox roof;
-two-and-one-half storey construction;
-boxed eave brackets;
-long overhanging eaves;
-narrow wooden clapboard;
-wooden corner boards;
-all remaining elements of original windows, including their sizes, styles, trims and placements;
-all remaining elements of original exterior doors, including their sizes, styles, trims and placements;
-large central hearth;
-chimney style and placement in the centre of the house;
-location and style of linhay (rear kitchen one-storey addition) on rear facade; and,
-dimensions, original farmhouse location and orientation of building overlooking the city.

Location and History

Community St. John's
Municipality City of St. John's
Civic Address 150 Oxen Pond Road
Construction 1850 - 1851
John O'Brien
Style 19th Century Vernacular
Building Plan Rectangular Long Façade
Website Link