(Article as published in the Journal Pioneer by Faye Pound)
The Sutherland "Melrose Cottage" of Seaview,
In the late 1970s I sat in a car by the side of the road in Sea View looking at this Gothic Revival house. I remember marvelling at the symmetry of the front of the house with its large central dormer flanked by two smaller dormers, all edged in teardrop gingerbread trim.
At the time I was working with an architect on a book of heritage architecture of Prince Edward Island and I suggested this remarkable house be included.
My curiosity about the Sutherland house led me to its front door and this story unfolded in the summer of 2000. The house had a realtor’s sign in the front yard gave me extra incentive to knock on the door. I was welcomed into the 1860 Gothic Revival farmhouse by its owner, Mrs. Barb Sutherland.
She proudly told me that her family is the fifth generation to inhabit the house. It has been passed down from John Sutherland to Robert Sutherland to Robert Leigh Sutherland to Robert Montgomery Sutherland and to Gordon Sutherland, her late husband. In today’s world this is an extremely rare occurrence.
"Melrose Cottage" was built about 1860 for John St. Clair Sutherland and his wife Marion Miller. It is an uncommonly fine and large house for the period on the Island. James Yeo’s, "Green Park" bears a very strong resemblance, both in style and scale. The dimensions are uncommonly large with at least a 45-foot width across the front elevation. Its early Victorian ‘cottage’ design would have been influenced by the pattern books of the day. A modern idea of a cottage is not a two and a half storey building.
A pattern book of country villas by the American architect, A.J. Downing was especially influential in establishing this Gothic Revival style which was the height of fashion of the day. He was described as an "architectural composer" who established a new attitude to domestic house design that revived the Gothic and Italian influence.
The sixteen-room house has changed very little over the years. Because of the large extended family that occupied the house, a second kitchen was established in the west formal front room. The original sandstone foundation is still in place and sandstone pillars help support the great weight of this uncommonly wide house.
Without the usual renovations that a house typically endures, this house has the kind of ‘bones’ that one rarely sees in a 140-year-old house on Prince Edward Island. The straightness of the spine in the cross-gabled roof can be attributed to the sandstone pillars in the cellar of the house; wooden pillars were more common and over time they rot and fail the weight of a large house.
The original 12 pane windows are still in place and they have a shadow box interior trim and panelled mouldings typical of very old construction. A pressed tin ceiling in the upper hallway is consistent with how many old homes show their finest points to the public who would stand at the front door.
There are remarkable features on the exterior of the Sutherland house. The teardrop decorative trim on the gable ends and dormers is exceptional in its ability to withstand the elements. Each teardrop with a triangle cut in its centre flows down from the peak of the gable or dormer topped by a finial mast. Perhaps this gingerbread decoration was made from an uncommonly used hardwood if it lasted this well.
Another exceptional exterior feature is the hand-forged nails that are exposed on each shingle. The Sutherland’s blacksmith shop manufactured these nails. The west elevation is not shingled but covered with a vertical board covering that was also on the North Shore Hotel in Malpeque that was torn down in the 1980s. Gothic Revival houses were typically sided in board and batten though not on Prince Edward Island. I suspect the shingles were a later addition.
The hood mouldings above the attic windows are also remarkably ornate in a time before fancy architectural details were machine made and bought off the shelf. The term ‘Carpenter Gothic’ could also describe the house style and these windows in particular. They are also patterned on a teardrop design.
The Canadian Inventory of Historic Buildings included the Sutherland’s "Melrose Cottage" in their survey in 1974. It amuses me to record that the bureaucracy of Parks Canada numbered this heritage house as 030006 000 00054. The black and white photographs taken at that time record the house before changes to the double front door.