Historic Sea View home brought back from the brink
'I think it's really one of the finest old farm homes on Prince Edward Island'
The 160-year-old Sutherland House in Sea View on P.E.I.'s North Shore is halfway to being restored to its former glory.
The 16-room house, also called Melrose Cottage, was built in 1860 for John St. Clair Sutherland, who moved with his wife Marion from Scotland in the early 1840s. It was owned by five generations of Sutherlands until the last family member Barbara Sutherland eventually moved out.
"I just felt that I definitely wanted to save this house," said current owner Phillip Gallant. "I think it's really one of the finest old farm homes on Prince Edward Island."
'Really bad shape'
The house was put up for sale — the asking price was a mere $42,000 — and it was purchased in 2010 by the Schurman family of Summerside, who gave it a new foundation and roof, he said.
But the work stopped and the house was left unoccupied. It deteriorated badly until it was on the brink of being unsalvageable.
"It was vacant for seven years after they did that work and there was a lot of roof damage, so that let a lot of water into the house. That pretty much destroyed all of the interior — plaster, trims and floors fell into the basement," Gallant said.
"I appreciate the architecture of old and the handwork that carpenters did in those days," said Gallant. "I've driven by this house for years and seen it falling and falling and I wasn't in a position in all those times to even think about buying it."
When he was finally in a position to buy it, the experienced builder hesitated at its condition — "really bad shape."
"It was almost at a point where you'd say do I or don't I?" he said.
Said yes to the house
After carefully inspecting the home's framework of hand-hewn beams and square-headed nails, Gallant decided to go for it.
"I could see that the lines were quite straight still and I felt that I could do it — it was a big, big job and a little scary by times actually," he said. "I wasn't sure if I could put my feet on a certain area on the floor or not!"
I've saved it, but it's got a long way to go to being able to be lived in.— Phillip Gallant
He stripped the interior back to the framing — he was able to save the hardwood flooring in only one room.
He also repaired the home's original windows, removing the panes of hand-blown glass and replacing some of the wood. He replaced the verandah and carefully replicated decorative trim on the eaves.
"I wanted to see it saved, and I think I did that," he said.
Gallant is no stranger to old properties. He has done restoration work on some notable Island homes including Hazeldean in Springfield, P.E.I., designed by famed architect William Critchlow Harris.
House is for sale
"I've saved it, but it's got a long way to go to being able to be lived in," he said.
But Gallant wants someone else to take on the wiring, plumbing, insulation and drywall, as well as flooring. There's still more work to do on the outside too, he said, and the windows would need to be replaced with modern, energy-efficient ones if the house were to be lived in year-round.
"I would like to work with them, that's for sure," he said. "I think there's someone out there who wants this house, who will see what I see and will want to finish it properly, and that's the person I want to meet."
He estimates finishing the interior will cost $250,000 to $300,000 depending on whether it will be finished as a single-family home, or a bed and breakfast with half a dozen suites.
Don't mess with the style
The asking price is $242,600.
"I know that sounds like a lot for a house that needs that much more, but if you were to go out today, buy the piece of land, put the septic in, the well in, the foundation, build a shell of that size ... you'd be spending more than that, I assure you," Gallant said.
If he doesn't find the right buyer, Gallant said he will continue to pick away at renovations. But since everyone has their own vision and taste, he'd prefer most of it be done by new owners.
The exterior must stay the same, however.
"I'm pretty much firm that it must stay basically in the same styling that it is," he said.
'Going to want to do it right'
How can he be sure they'll abide by his stipulation? "You talk to people, you get the feel," he said. "And it's a large amount of money, they're going to want to do it right, I think."
The house has a famous connection, too — Lucy Maud Montgomery's aunt Margaret Montgomery married Robert Sutherland, whose father had built the house. Montgomery spent time at the house visiting with family. Her photos of it are included in her extensive collection at the University of Guelph.
"What I've learned from stripping the house is that the original house was likely a much smaller house," Gallant said. The house may have in fact been added on to over the years, judging from the interior beams and floor heights, he said.
He also discovered an old violin under the attic floorboards, and a letter from the late 1800s. The things he found will go to the home's new owners, he said.