Summerlea is a two-and-a-half-storey wood-frame house with attic and walk-out basement exhibiting an eclectic Gothic Revival style. It was built circa 1886 adjacent the Waterford River with street frontage on Waterford Bridge Road in St. John’s, NL. The designation is confined to the footprint of the structure.
Statement of Significance
Formal Recognition Type
Registered Heritage Structure
Summerlea was designated a Registered Heritage Structure by the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador in 2019 due to its historic, aesthetic and cultural value.
Summerlea is a well-preserved estate house located in the Waterford Valley in what was once a rural area of St. John’s. The first known owners of Summerlea were John and Fanny Syme. John Syme was born in Irvine, North Ayrshire, Scotland in 1843 and immigrated to Newfoundland in 1863. After settling in St. John’s he relocated to Harbour Grace, working as a bookkeeper and accountant with the firms of J. and W. Stewart and later Harvey Co. He returned to St. John’s in the 1870s. In addition to his business dealings Syme was active politically as Treasurer of the Municipal Council and member of the Newfoundland Legislative Council. He was also a volunteer with the St. John’s Curling Club and Regatta committee. Like many Scottish immigrants Syme was a member of the Presbyterian church. After Fanny’s death in 1891 John Syme married Elizabeth “Lizzie” Mackeen. John died at Summerlea in 1915 and Lizzie in 1938. Notable subsequent owners include the Snellens, Jan a prominent physiologist and Lydia a botanical photographer known for capturing wildflowers on and around the property.
Summerlea exhibits a typically Victorian mix of styles and building elements. The house conveys a predominantly Gothic Revival character with its steep-pitched roofs, bargeboard, finials, and a pointed arch window on the eastern elevation. At the same time elements such as round-arched windows and “stickwork” trim with diagonal clapboard belong more to the Romanesque and Tudor revivals. Other details include heavy brackets under the eaves and bay windows flanking the porch. It is one of a handful of local houses still possessing a slate roof. Its intricate detail makes Summerlea a focal point in an area now comprised largely of modern and modernized homes.
Summerlea’s interior is characterized by a spacious, symmetrical, centre-hall plan with much of its period detail intact. The two main floors exhibit substantial baseboards and trim mouldings with decorative plaster ceiling mouldings in some of the principal rooms. A large wood staircase extends through three floors with additional stairs leading to the attic and basement. The basement has brick-lined foundation walls and the remnants of what were referred to as “Scottish” floor tiles.
Summerlea was built as a country house, one of many observed in St. John’s throughout the 19th century and encompassing such structures as Retreat Cottage, Dunluce, and Richmond Hill (now demolished). Like other country houses and cottages it is located outside the city core on land found to be suitable for agriculture and gardening. The Symes tended a farm on the estate for many years and today more than 50 varieties of wildflowers can be found along the river bordering the property. Its physical location, between Caribou Hill to the west and Syme’s Bridge to the east, and its orientation, perpendicular to the road, indicates that it predates later development in the area which orients toward Waterford Bridge Road.
Source: Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador property file “St. John’s – Summerlea (119 Waterford Bridge Rd.) – FPT NL-5312”
Character Defining Elements
All original features of the exterior which relate to the age and style including:
-symmetrical façade with centered gable and bay windows;
-mixed brick and stone foundation;
-pair of brick ridge chimneys;
-steep-pitched grey slate roofs;
-wood bargeboard and finials;
-large 2/2 double-hung wood windows and wood trim including panels;
-garden doors on the southern elevation;
-round-arched windows on the second storey;
-pointed arch window in the cross gable;
-stained glass windows in the wing and stair;
-wood brackets at the eaves and bay windows;
-wood doors and trim;
-wood storm windows;
-narrow wood clapboard and wood trim;
-locations of all windows and doors;
-dimensions of the structure; and
-orientation of the structure perpendicular to the road.
All original features of the interior which relate to the age and style including:
-centre-hall plan with small “T” wing and bay windows;
-wood stairway in the hall;
-wide wood baseboards, window trim, and door trim;
-wood window panels in several styles;
-hardwood panel doors;
-decorative plaster treatments in principal rooms of the ground floor;
-cast iron mantels on the first and second storeys;
-brick-lined basement walls; and
-”Scottish tile” in the basement.
Location and History
City of St. John's
119 Waterford Bridge Road
1886 - 1886
Rectangular long facade