Google+ Followers

Monday, 4 November 2013

Ancestral homes, then and now

I've been away in NZ for the last week and a half, but I really wanted to contribute a late blog for this topic, as it brought to mind a number of houses that are of significance to my family tree, and the changes that have occurred to them since being occupied by family members.

 The first house on my list was built by or for my husband's 3x great grandfather Dan Calwell in White Deer Mills, Union County, Pennsylvania in about 1820. This photograph was kindly sent to me in 2007 by Jane Shuman, a local resident. We had visited the area ourselves earlier that year but unfortunately at the time I was unaware of the location and continued existence of the house. It would have been great to see inside it too, but apparently the owner in 2007 was not particularly receptive to visitors. A letter written by two ladies who were living in the house in 1962 described it as "a beautiful old house with fireplaces in every room, nice mantels and six bedrooms". Clearly it was and still remains a solid and substantial home. Dan Calwell was a prominent businessman who was well thought of for his progressive views on community welfare and free public education. He represented Union County in the house of Representatives in 1820-21, and on his death was eulogized in the Pennsylvania Parliament as being "[A] man of integrity and intelligence; ...No man belonging to this body stood fairer or higher, and no man among his friends and acquaintances, enjoyed more of their respect and regard than Mr Caldwell... He was a kind warmhearted man, an exemplary parent, and a firm undoubted friend of his country and her institution. The loss of such a man creates a chasm in society which cannot be easily filled up."
Dan and his second wife Jane Huff lived in this house, at which the local elections were held, from 1820 until Dan's death in 1836, and had a family of eight children here, two of whom emigrated to Australia in 1853. Dan's great grandson Arthur Calwell  followed in his ancestor's political footsteps, having a distinguished career which culminated in his becoming the leader of the Australian Labor Party from 1960-1967.

Old photograph of Dan's house from a historic publication

The home of Daniel Calwell and family became known as High Mansion after a subsequent owner named Henry High. The land on which it stands was once owned by a lady known as the Widow Catherine Smith, who built the original mills on the site in about 1785 and was legendary for having walked some thirteen times from there to Philadelphia, a distance of 160 miles,  in her efforts to defend her rights to the  property.
The next image comes from photograph of a painting of a farm known as Oakdale, which was established in 1875 near the town of Gore by my 2x great grandfather Adam Cruickshank, who emigrated to Bluff NZ in 1863 with his wife Charlotte and family.  Adam and his sons ran the property successfully for many years, running crops and livestock, but a grandson who inherited it was not such a wise manager. Consequently the property is no longer owned by Cruickshank descendants, so this painting by granddaughter Charlotte Annie Petrie is all that we have to remember it by. Charlotte was an accomplished artist who travelled to London in the 1920s to study at the renowned Slade School of Art. I was able to visit the property recently as part of a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Cruickshanks' arrival in NZ. It is now a dairy farm, and I can attest to the fact that while the original house and outbuildings have not survived, some of those tall oak trees do still exist.

Oakdale farm, originally owned by Adam and Charlotte Cruickshank

Next is a photograph of the home of another set of 2x great grandparents, Charles and Jane Young, who emigrated from Ballater Aberdeenshire to Lyttleton NZ in 1851 and settled at Kaiapoi, north of Christchurch, where they raised a large family.  The date of the photograph is unknown, as is the identity of the young boy on the lawn, and it may actually have been taken early last century, after Charles and Jane had passed on, but if so, the house would have been in the possession of one of their sons.  It looks friendly and welcoming, and I especially like the fact that the family cat occupies central spot in the photograph! The weddings of several Young daughters, including my great grandmother Jane Isabella, took place here. Again, sadly it appears this family home no longer exists.

Woodside, the Young family home near Kaiapoi, NZ
My grandparents John and Mona Morrison built their home in Aylmer St Somerfield, in Christchurch NZ in the early 1920s. Jack was a lawyer who had to work hard to complete his education at night school after leaving school and joining the public service at fourteen. Four of the six Morrison children were born here in their simple but comfortable dwelling. Jack became Commissioner of Stamp Duties for Christchurch, and was very well thought of by his legal colleagues. The garden he cultivated in his spare time was often admired by passers-by, and Jack kept the lawns well manicured. He provided Mona with flowers to decorate the home, and his vegetables and fruit trees kept the family supplied with good food.

The Morrison family home in Aylmer St in the 1920s

Mona relaxing on the lawn at Aylmer St with her two eldest children Patricia and Ken, c. 1925.

A photo in the garden at Aylmer St, taken when my mother took us on holiday from Australia for a rare visit to Nan, Granddad and their youngest son Peter, over Christmas in 1960.

The home appararently survived the Christchurch earthquakes reasonably intact, and has recently been recently sold, having been much modernised by with various additions by later owners, such as as a deck for example, as shown in this photo that accompanied the sale advertisement:

 The property is now fenced and the house largely hidden from public view, but a glimpse from the street shows that the chimney pot  is still missing, a common result of earthquake damage.  No doubt the toilet across the covered way from the back door has been either removed or  updated, and an inside bathroom installed. Nothing that Jack and Mona ever desperately felt a need for. My mother recalls that Saturday night was bath night for all the children in the tub in the kitchen, with plenty of hot water provided by the 'wet-back' behind the kitchen fire, and that her father called it 'pig-killing night'!

My parents lived for over twenty years in Canberra in the house pictured below, in the suburb of O'Connor. I remember it as being a great family home which we moved into in 1965, the year I started high school. Over the years a bedroom and rumpus room was added on at the back, in a style sympathetic to the original architecture. Here's a photo of my mother standing in the front garden, which was my father's pride and joy. Dad followed in the tradition of his father and father-in-law as a keen gardener, and nurtured a productive vegetable garden and many fruit trees around the back, as well as many flowers and shrubs. Great views over Canberra and nearby Black Mountain from the large living room window! There's a photo of that view somewhere, but I'm not sure in what album it's presently hiding.

My parents' home in Wattle St O'Connor ACT, c. 1987, after which they retired to live on the NSW Central Coast

Happy memories of parties and family celebrations, both inside and in the garden, such as my 21st birthday, a casual affair with friends around for a BBQ and cake.  I also had a party here in the garage/basement for my eighteenth birthday, and at the same time we celebrated the end of our final year school exams. Seems so long ago now!
Several owners later in 2013, our former home looks very different in external appearance - I know which I prefer!

The only house we have ever had built was also in Canberra, in 1977 in Kaleen, which was then a new suburb not far from O'Connor. We couldn't afford architectual design, but were inspired by a love of shade-creating verandahs popular in Australian county towns to adapt a standard builder's plan in line with that concept.

Foggy inspiration for the future, near Forbes NSW

Our' 'creation' in progress, with  a verandah on 3 sides, was the first house to be built on the block

Street view of the finished product in 1979, with fledgling garden.

 In the event we only lived in our 'dream house'  for just over two years, before moving to Sydney for work in early 1980, when our first child was just two months old. Last time we drove by a couple of years ago it didn't look too much different, apart from looking a bit neglected, and the brick carport built by my husband and his father was still standing firm too. I'm fairly certain that if subsequent owners have done anything inside, they will definitely have replaced the 1970s style orange kitchen benches and also the cork tiles that we painstakingly installed!  My mother presented us with an orange canary named Fernando to match the decor, and he survived almost 20 years, two cats and numerous moves. 

And now a few houses later, we live in Melbourne, in a house we love that is around 103 years old and has lots of character. No more new houses for me! The sepia photograph of its front porch decorates the top of this blog, and for anyone interested  I've previously written a little on its history here at at

Post a Comment