Located on a large, well-treed, sheltered lot on Kenna’s Hill in St. John’s, NL, Retreat Cottage is a two-and-a-half storey gable roof structure with a rear mansard roof. The designation is confined to the footprint of the building.
Statement of Significance
Formal Recognition Type
Registered Heritage Structure
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 is one of the oldest houses in St. John’s and has been inhabited by numerous prominent Newfoundlanders. It was built no later than 1834, likely by Alexander Norris, the Scottish carpenter/architect who had previously worked on the 1831 construction of Government House. It was intended as a country retreat for Edward Mortimer Archibald in what was then the outskirts of the city. Archibald was a clerk of the government assembly and later became attorney general. 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 William Thomas, a merchant and member of the Legislative Council. Thomas leased the property to a number of people, including Edward Dalton Shea, proprietor of “The Newfoundlander” newspaper and later President of the Legislative Council. The building’s first owner-occupant was John Hayward, a judge and former MHA for Harbour Grace. He acquired the property in 1868 and was the first occupant to develop the grounds of Retreat Cottage. The grounds were further developed into a market garden by Annabella von Stein when she, with her husband Robert Carl von Stein, bought the property in 1895. By 1914, Retreat Cottage was owned by Sir Charles Hutton, a St. John’s musician, teacher and businessman who established a musical supply company in 1883. Retreat Cottage remained in the Hutton family until 1970, when it was purchased by Shane and Maire O’Dea. Professor Shane O’Dea was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 2017 for his contributions to Memorial University as an educator and orator, and for his impact as an advocate for the preservation of built heritage in Newfoundland and Labrador. His research on Retreat Cottage enabled the history of the home to be recorded.
Retreat Cottage stands as a testament to the lives of its previous owners and to the alterations that each successive owner made to the property. Since the time of construction it has undergone several major alterations, giving the structure an eclectic vernacular style. The original 1834 section of the building has an unusually heavy timber frame, brick nogging on the ground floor and a central hall plan. Originally only one room in depth, the house became a salt-box with the addition of a linhay circa 1837. In 1847, the dining room and drawing room were extended into the side porches, during which time the exterior wall were strengthened with iron girders. In the 1870s, 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 (likely part of the original porch), the large, projecting chimneys and the glazed sun porch at the front. Some of the 2/2 windows have interior wooden shutters and some have pilaster mouldings. Retreat Cottage is a visual record of the progression of building styles in Newfoundland over the 19th century.
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;
-iron girts in exterior wall;
-steep main gable roof with mansard at rear;
-wooden roof shingles;
-return on the eaves;
-eaves brackets and exposed beams on gables;
-chimney number, style and placement;
-narrow wooden clapboard;
-wooden shingle cladding;
-wide wooden corner boards;
-size, style, trim and placement of glazed front 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;
-size, trim and placement of shed dormers on rear roof;
-size, trim and placement of gabled dormer on front roof;
-dormer window size, style, trim and placement;
-size, style, trim and placement of exterior wooden doors;
-Regency-style trellises, and;
-dimension, location and orientation of building.
All those interior elements, including:
-chimney-inset cast iron range;
-wooden drawing room shutters;
-fireplaces and mantels, and;
-late 19th century main staircase with ornamental carving.
Retreat Cottage received the Newfoundland and Labrador Historic Trust’s Southcott Award for heritage restoration in 1988.
Location and History
City of St. John's
14 Kenna's Hill
1834 - 1834
Rectangular Long Façade