Part 1: The Last remaining Fisherman's House on McNutt's Island
Anne Yarbrough very graciously granted permission to re publish this and other articles from her https://novascotiaisland.blogspot.ca/ Blog. Thank you.
We met on the Internet, our house and us. We cruised around Nova Scotia
on our magical computer machine as if it were a flying carpet, swooping here
and there. It was fantasy and escape, but also posed the intriguing question:
Could we really jump ship and go on such a big adventure?
The question became reality when we visited for the first time, in late 2006.
By then we were ready for something more demanding, something more
rigorous. Something like a house on an island, uninhabited for the past decade or so, and mostly only in summers before that; it had been the late 1950s when its last full time occupants had packed up and moved off the island. It had never been wired for electricity, never had running water.
Oh yes, like so many other old house types (perhaps you know one or two), we fell in love. An old house gives up its secrets slowly. The autographed kitchen window was easy to overlook. We discovered a shuttle, carefully hidden in the wall above the front door, only after we had removed plaster and lathe to add insulation, but on the other hand, it is perfectly obvious that the entire house is joined and pegged in the old building style, so that it fits together like a ship. When gale force winds howl across the harbour, as happens several times a year, the house moans and sighs like an old schooner in a mighty sea.
And its foundation is as clear as a bell: a simple course of hand-hewn stone. You can find, on nearby boulders, marks where these foundation stones were sliced away. Yet mysteries remain. The kitchen seems to be an older construction than the rest of the main house. Its’ ceiling is of ship-lapped board, whereas the ceiling in the main part of the house was plastered.
Its floors, we found after Greg peeled back six layers of additional flooring, are far more worn than the floor in the main part, so worn that in many places the knots protrude. A substantial cellar lies below this part of the house.
The roof-line shows two different times of construction putting these suggestive details together, we think that the kitchen was once a small one-room house, or a storehouse built for supplying the lighthouse. I’m leaning toward the storehouse interpretation, since I can’t find evidence of a fireplace beneath it, nor of access to a loft.
The main house, one and a half storeys and five rooms, was built sometime in the 1850s; most likely by Jonathan Perry and his son William. Jonathan Perry purchased the property from lighthouse keeper Alexander Hood Cocken in 1857 but he and his family had been living on the property, probably renting from Cocken, since at least 1835.
Below our house, near the shore, are the ruins of an old house that is commonly supposed to have been the place where Jonathan Perry and his wife Martha Hagar Perry raised their large family.
Jonathan divided his property when he died, leaving part to son William and part to son Samuel. His daughter Almeda and her husband continued to live in the old house near the shore until they left for Massachusetts in the early 1900s.
The earliest land records tell us that Loyalist Moses Pitcher was granted the
land – a fifty acre lot – in 1784 and sold it to George Ross in 1785. A dwelling,
store and fish houses were built during the time of the Ross ownership.
This is also the time when the lighthouse – the second in Nova Scotia! – was being built at the opposite end of the island, at Cape Roseway. Supplies for the building and maintaining of the light could only have been landed here on the island’s western side, then transported arduously to the cape.
In 1816 Ross sold his island property to the widow of his business partner,
who continued to run the business after his death.
Andrew Lightbody was perhaps the first settler to live on the property. In 1793 the House of Assembly owed him fifteen pounds, three shillings and ten pence “for taking care of the lighthouse to this day.” He may have lived here until his death in 1816. Mary and Thomas Barrow farmed it after that, and the records show that Mary Barrow, widow, sold it to Alexander Hood Cocken in 1835. Whether these early settlers lived here – in what’s now the kitchen – or in the old house near the shore, and how extensive were their connections to the lighthouse, I don’t yet know but I hope to find out. After all, that’s part of the joy of falling in love with old houses.
Part Two: Renovation, to follow.
*Anne Yarbrough and her husband Greg Brown lived and wrote on McNutt’s Island in Shelburne Harbour. Greg’s book, Island Year: Finding Nova Scotia
(Pottersfield Press, 2010) tells the story of their first year on the island, and Anne’s blog (www.novascotiaisland.blogspot.com) explores all aspects of island life.
*NOTE: Anne Yarbrough and her husband Greg now reside in Delaware near Wilmington. This article was originally presented in the June 2010 edition of The Griffin, A Quarterly Publication of Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia
It has been reproduced in The Cooper’s Inn, Where History Meets Hospitality Blog with Anne’s permission.