This past Tuesday (December 15), Islanders were treated to something of a storm day as the threat of impending inclement weather shut down large swaths of the province. Of course, when you’re self-employed as I am, such days lose something of their lustre, but no matter – the Baileys still tasted great in my coffee. I even kept my pyjamas on for good measure.
As per my morning routine, I checked into the Twitterverse to catch up on all the latest coming and goings of the world, and ran across this article posted by CBC PEI:
“Demolition of Holman Homestead Fought by Summerside Historical Group“
I did a double-take. The Holman Homestead? In Summerside? Not possible. I read the article, and to my dismay discovered that it was in fact one and the same. The Baileys seemed to sour in taste. So did my mood.
You can read the article if you like, but to save you a bit of time, here’s the gist: for the better part of two years, city resident Kay Rogers and her husband have had the house on the market, but have yet to find a buyer. According to Rogers, both the Prince Edward Island Museum and Heritage Foundation and the City of Summerside were approached in a bid to drum up possible interest in taking it off her hands, but to no avail. Should the homestead remain unsold by next spring, the Rogers’ have stated they will have no choice but to demolish it. They have even received a permit from the city (as of December 7) giving them the go-ahead should it come to that. Of course, the Rogers’ would rather a much happier outcome.
While the homestead currently sits on Parks Canada’s list of historic places (as of 2010), and is a registered heritage property within the city, it has yet to obtain that status at a provincial level, placing it in a threatening predicament. The Summerside and Area Historical Society has jumped into the ring to take up the fight and are set to appeal the permit to the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission. With any luck, it will be overturned and a bit of breathing room gained.
In light of this dismal bit of news, I thought I would dedicate this week’s post to the Holman Homestead to highlight its significance and to (hopefully) help foster a greater appreciation of its history. Every little bit counts.
It’s known by a few names: the Parochial House; the R.T. Holman House; or the Holman Homestead and Garden. You can find it sitting on a sizeable chunk of real estate at 286 Fitzroy Street in Summerside. Erected c.1854, it was built as a parsonage for the Church of Saint Charles Barromeo (an Italian of the Baroque era), formerly located in Indian River, but moved to that address in 1853. This was the situation for about twenty years until the mid 1870s, when the church was moved to another part of town and the parsonage was scooped up by one of the most prominent families around.
If not for its association with the Holman family, it’s hard to say if the house would have attained such significance. Robert Tinsom Holman, the patriarch, was born in March 1833 (and died in December 1906, aged 73) and first came to the Island along with his brothers in the very early 1850s. In 1855, he relocated to Summerside and soon rose from relative obscurity to great heights. His niche? The foundation of a wildly successful department store that bore his name for many years, which became the largest on the Island and turned him into a retail giant.
Like many successful businessmen then and now, however, Holman was no one-trick pony and concerned himself with a number of other endeavours: the acquisition of vessels for shipping; wholesale; meat and lobster canning; and the tourism industry as owner of the Island Park Hotel. He even bankrolled a newspaper, the Summerside Progress and Prince County Register, in 1866 which competed fiercely with the more entrenched Summerside Journal only to lose ground and fold in 1882. (The Summerside Journal lives to this day under the guise of the Journal-Pioneer.) The one area of which Holman steered clear was politics – for a self-made Victorian Dragon, probably a wise move.
Holman married Ellen MacEwen in 1864, with whom he had ten children. An impressive eight would survive to adulthood. Ironically, one of his daughters, Carrie Ellen, would go on to become a prominent advocate for Island history. If only she were alive today.
The core of the Holman Homestead is a Colonial Georgian centre hall plan; however, during the years that it was owned by the Holmans it grew in size after additions were made, such as a wing to the south, and another to the east. The vacant lot left by the church was put to use by Holman as a garden space. In its own day it achieved wide renown, and today is considered by many to be one of the oldest – if not the oldest – continuously maintained Victorian gardens in all of North America.
The loss of the Holman Homestead would be a major blow to Summerside, which already boasts an enviable array of historic properties that greatly add to its overall curb appeal. It would also be a sizeable black mark on heritage preservation in this province. Demolition of history, especially when so utterly needless, is never the answer. I sincerely hope that a buyer will come forward or, failing that, a creative solution cooked up to save this architectural gem from destruction.
Because once it’s gone, we ain’t getting it back.
PEI History Guy
P.S. – I would like to point out that this post comes in at just under 1000 words – your reward after last week’s long-winded ramblings.
December 18, 2015 at 8:44 pm
Thank you for your most interesting article on the Holman property. I would like to offer a correction and include a picture done circa 1875 by George Ackermann, The church was dedicated to Saint Charles Borromeo, an Italian saintly man who became one of the great Baroque saints. George Ackermann, a member of the great English art publishing house, spent time in Summerside in the late 1870s and painted a wonderful view of the great formal garden the Holmans had become famous for. The Heritage Foundation has a very battered and damaged copy of it in their collection but it shows every detail. I just tried to insert a file of it here but could not. I would be happy to mail it to you as it is a picture of the whole block in Holman glory.
Thanks so much for this. It is a little-known but important part of the history of Island architecture and gardening.
December 20, 2015 at 4:06 pm
Thanks for reading, and for your insightful comment – much appreciated! Here’s hoping this story has a happy ending!
December 20, 2015 at 4:18 pm
Apologies – I received your email (many thanks for the Ackermann scan!), but for some reason my messaging settings are preventing me from responding to it.
December 18, 2015 at 10:49 pm
I read the story in the Guardian and the point of view of the current owners is mercenary. As for the City what a lot of nonsense, how can it be that a building that is listed can be dismissed so easily? Demolition would be a blow to tourism and building a strip mall is not what Summerside wishes.
December 20, 2015 at 3:21 pm
It really is an unfortunate situation. I don’t have an intimate knowledge of the current state of the house mind you, but from what I can tell, it appears to be in great condition and move-in ready – and with an asking price of less than $300,000, I have absolutely no idea how it has remained unsold after two years! If I had the funds at my disposal, I wouldn’t hesitate in scooping it up!
I heard yesterday that there may be a reprieve of some sort in the works, which will hopefully allow the Summerside and Area Historical Society a bit of time to come up with a solid game plan. There are so many things that could be done with the property, in much the same way that a variety of other historic properties in the city have been given new life (Wyatt Heritage Properties, MacNaught Archives, etc.). I’m hopeful that the demolition permit will either be rescinded, or not put into effect. Frankly, how it was even issued in the first place is beyond me.
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December 20, 2015 at 3:22 pm
thanks for the details.