It is said all the time -- if these walls could talk. But what would they say, if they could speak to us? What have they seen, from their stationary vantage point, as the years have passed? I really want to know.
Here’s the tale of one such house. This story is unique to 25 Eugenia St., but similar stories could be told about hundreds of homes in this town.
Who built the house, who lived within its walls and what did their lives look like? Were there fires or floods, renovations or additions here? Weddings and funerals. Joy and sadness.
I have a habit of running my hand along the wall when I am given the privilege of entering a very old building. I want to absorb some of its history into my pores. Perhaps the wall will speak to me and tell me something about itself in a clairvoyant sort of way. It never happens, but I do it anyway.
In 1977, contractor Len Crow and his two partners, Danny High and John Giles, were working on another property along Eugenia Street when the sad little house on the corner of Albert Street caught their attention. It was very run down and seemed to be crying out for some attention.
“The neighbours suggested we’d be better off with a bulldozer. About eight months later, we began to agree with them.”
Len Crow had perhaps believed that the house could be brought back to life with just a little TLC. However, as the months went by, the project got bigger and bigger but the trio decided to see it through no matter what.
The team became fascinated by all the interesting nooks and idiosyncrasies of the house, the funny additions and odd spaces. At one point, they found a newspaper from 1913 so off to the land registry office they went and learned that the house was of an 1888 vintage.
Crow and his crew gave the house some 1970s flair as they remodeled, adding archways everywhere both inside and out, a mirrored master bedroom and fabric panelled ceilings. The living room and den were raised in order to create a sunken kitchen.
At one time, the house belonged to Sarah Stewart. She was an Irish born woman, the daughter of a preacher and sister to Paul H. Stewart who had been a newspaper publisher until accepting the position of assistant treasurer in 1887. He had once been put in a bad position when his longtime boss, county treasurer Sidney J. Sanford, absconded with $62,000 in embezzled county money.
Sarah kept house for her brother until he died in 1901 and it was still in her possession when she passed away in 1909.
George Wilson and his wife, Hazel, owned 25 Eugenia St., during the 1920s and later. George too had a short commute to work as he was a Division Court clerk.
The neighbourhood was a quiet one. In 1934, the florist business of Powell & Hook moved their greenhouse operations from their original Dunlop Street location, which afterwards became Bayview (Sam Cancilla) Park, to 29 Eugenia St. By 1939, they were out of business and replaced by a small florist, known as The Pines.
The quietest of streets can have their peace shattered at any time and Eugenia Street is no exception. Six months after Len Crow’s renovation crew wrapped up their project, the police were called to a birthday party gone terribly wrong across the street at number 26. Alicia Rolfe was dead from gunshot wounds and her 30-year-old husband was charged with her murder.
After learning all of this, I decided that I needed some photographs of these houses and set off on a short hike towards the courthouse up some of the steeper hills in this part of town. In search of quirky 25 Eugenia St., straight out of a fairy tall with it’s pointed roof lines, small windows and tree lined stone path, I would know it when I see it.
Except it wasn’t there!
The image captured by Google in the spring of 2015, the one that I had been studying, is not what I found. Instead, a very modern and stunningly beautiful home sits on the lot. It’s size and outline are so close to the original building that I wasn’t sure at first if the old house had been incorporated into it.
Puzzled, camera in hand, I walked around the edge of the property until I found a woman staining the fence in the back yard. I asked her – do you know if this is a new house or a very well renovated older home?
This was the homeowner and she told me that the house in front of me was two years old and a complete rebuild. She actually fell in love with the original house, arches and all, but it was beyond repairing, very little of it was up to code and it was a certain money pit.
As gorgeous as the present home is, you could see that the owner was a little sad that the old place couldn’t be saved. She told me of one oddball window, created by the adjustment of floor levels, that was so low that it was barely above waist height. Her dog loved to look out that window, perfectly suited to his size, and she misses seeing him enjoying it.
So perhaps, if the walls are no longer there to do any talking, we can look for the people who remember them and they can do the talking for the old places. The original version of 25 Eugenia Street is still standing in the memory of at least one person.