The Reid House was always the first property she saw when taking the Highway 101 exit to visit her grandparents and it holds a special place in her heart.
Laura Marson of Lower Sackville has a deep interest in the historic Avonport property and wants to see it saved. It has sat empty for several years, aside from its apparent use by squatters, and has fallen into disrepair. It has also become the target of vandals.
“It was always well maintained, from what I remember, and lately it’s just been run down,” Marson said.
She started researching the property and was “fascinated” and “floored” by its historical significance. According to Gordon Haliburton’s book “Horton Point: A History of Avonport”, the Reid House served many purposes over the years, including a court, tavern, stagecoach stop and hotel.
A 2015 article by Wendy Elliott titled “Kings County heritage houses at risk” features information from Janice Hattie’s history. The article points out that the house was later used as a post office and election polling station. It was granted a national heritage designation in 2007.
It is said that the house was built circa 1760, although this is difficult to confirm. Haliburton’s book points out that Joshua Reid was the founder of the Avonport family. Reid first appears in the land records of Kings County in 1828, when he bought 11 acres of land on the south side of the Mount Denson Road in Avonport.
In 1837, Reid took over the so-called Witter property. This is when Witter’s Tavern became the Reid House, as the community knows it today. The house and three parcels of land are currently owned by Nanco Developments of Halifax.
Through her research, Marson learned that the house carries a provincial heritage designation as well, although there are no plaques at the site. She believes it was granted the designation sometime in the 1990s. She was also informed of an application submitted by Nanco Developments to have the provincial heritage status removed.
If the heritage status were removed, it is possible the house could be torn down to make way for new development. She created a Facebook page to rally support for its preservation.
Marson said too much of our built heritage is being lost and the Reid House is iconic to the Avonport area. There’s so much “rich, raw history there” that would make a great museum, art gallery or community gathering place.
“That’s my vision, would be to have a museum and then have community rooms inside, bringing the community back together like it used to be surrounding that house for so many years,” Marson said.
NOT AWARE OF APPLICATION
When asked about the application by the company to have the provincial heritage designation removed, Nanco Developments vice president Norman Nahas said it was the first he had heard about it. He said the application wasn’t initiated by him.
They don’t have any firm plans for the site at this time and he said Marson is the first person to express to him an interest in the Reid House.
Nahas said there is plenty of land at the site and, hypothetically, any new development could unfold independently of the Reid House itself. He said he would contact Marson to discuss her ideas for the house and that he would start investigating the matter a little more deeply.
“It’s interesting to me, I’d love to see if she’s able to do something with it, if she’s from the area, if she knows it, to find a good future for that structure because it could work out,” Nahas said.
Marson said Nahas has told her that they would be willing to give the house to her at little or no cost if it could be moved. However, Marson said this wouldn’t be ideal because the location is integral to the history.
HERITAGE COMMUNITY INVOLVED
Kings County Museum curator Bria Stokesbury said she applauds Marson for coming forward to try to save the building, which has “a rich and storied history in the county.”
“It’s one of our earliest standing structures, it’s got a national designation, for all of these reasons it’s worthy of saving,” Stokesbury said.
She appreciates that saving it poses a financial challenge considering limited resources for such purposes, as would its ongoing maintenance.
Stokesbury informed the local heritage community of Marson’s interest in saving the property through the Kings Hants Heritage Connection (KHHC).
She said Marson is “doing her due diligence” as a private citizen by contacted organizations such as the Nova Scotia Heritage Trust, for example. Kings County representatives on the heritage trust include Beth Keech and Krystal Tanner.
WALL MURAL UNCOVERED
Marson was told by former owners, who were children at the time, that a mural was discovered on the wall when their mother was removing layers of wallpaper. Marson received permission from the current owner to go in and photograph the property, including the mural.
Marson said there isn’t a lot of documented history on the artwork, which appears to portray a man and woman embracing. Zwicker’s Gallery in Halifax assessed it and it most likely dates from the early 1800s. Marson believes it should be saved.
Stokesbury said the mural appears to be graphite on plaster. They have been in contact with the Canadian Conservation Institute in Ottawa to get suggestions on how to preserve it.
In her most recent column, Elliott writes that a former owner, the late Margaret Reid Magee, told her in the 1980s that one day a traveler couldn’t afford a bed and painted the mural in exchange for his lodging.
For more information on efforts to save the Reid House, visit “Reid house est 1760” on Facebook.
DID YOU KNOW?
- The wooden Reid House is two-and-a-half storeys and features 16 rooms.
- It’s notable for its chimney structure, which incorporates a large cooking fireplace and beehive oven.
- For most of its history, the house was the centre of a farm of more than 200 acres.
- Four generations of the Reid family lived there.
- The late Margaret Reid Magee fought the expropriation of the property and the demolition of the house when Highway 101 went through.
- The Avonport overpass separated the house, barn and an outbuilding from the farmland.