The Pelley House History

Nestled on the north shore, is a landmark structure, that has for over a century, added character and grandeur to the peaceful community of Boyd's Cove, Newfoundland. This private two-story dwelling is known as the Pelley House. The timber construction Victorian home was built in 1917.  It has two double bays with latticed windows, steep gabled peaks with pronounced eaves and a central chimney. The exterior of the house has not changed since the time of construction; however, the interior has been upgraded and modernization includes electrical and plumbing. to support a modern kitchen and bathroom.

As one strolls along the quiet roadway separating the house from the shoreline, it is very easy to observe the uniqueness of the design and the superb craftsmanship of this house. However, the story behind the walls that played just as important role in its character is not as quite as evident.  So it is with great pride that I now try to compile a brief history of the home.

 

Boyd's Cove was first settled by people from Fogo Island during the later part of the 1800s. The sheltered harbor provided safe haven for schooners; the surrounding area provided an abundance of natural resources for fuel and building materials and the land provided sufficient fertile grounds to produce crops and livestock feed.  These attributes attracted settlers from nearby communities who were eagerly willing to carve a place of their own. By the early 1900s, Boyd’s Cove was a small but thriving community with churches, schools and General Stores and was heavily involved with the inshore Cod fishery. 

 

Uriah Freake (1879-1924), a fish merchant who was residing in Lewisporte, had gained prosperity outfitting schooners preparing for the fishing industry along the French shore and the Labrador coast.  Uriah recognized the potential for an additional business in Boyd's Cove, and soon set about acquiring waterfront property with the correct characteristics to accomplish the goal. Uriah considered two main factors. First, there must sufficient water depth required for the anchorage and docking  large schooners would need for loading and unloading goods. Secondly, the shoreline must provide protection from the harsh North Atlantic Ocean and spring drift ice. Uriah purchased a parcel of land with water access from Richard Pope and John Freake on the north shore of the community.   Richard Pope and John Freake were fishermen and residents of Boyd’s Cove. The land met his requirements and was sufficient and suitable for erecting a waterfront business, and also build a residence and several additional outbuildings. 

 

Uriah was married to Mary. Her Brother, Alexander Coffin was a master carpenter and resided in Joe Batt's Arm. Uriah commissioned Alexander to construct a house fitting for a fish merchant.  A home that would impress his creditors and customers and demonstrate his own financial stability. 

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Barn 1990

The land was first cleared, and a small barn erected.  This barn first served as a home for Alexander Coffin and his wife during the entire construction period of the Pelley House.  Sometime during this period, a daughter, Ivy, was born in the barn.  The history surrounding the business construction is unclear.  It cannot be determined if the business or the home was built first or if Alexander coffin was involved with the construction of the waterfront premises.  Regardless, the Pelley House was completed in the summer of 1917.  A masterpiece of construction considering the economics of the country and that Newfoundland was at war in Europe.  Never-the-less, the dwelling presented an illusion of aristocracy compared to the modest, less luxurious homes occupied by the common fishing families.  After completion of the Pelley House, Alexander returned to Joe Batt's Arm and constructed an identical house except for an exterior door situated between the two bays.  This second house is still standing but has undergone many changes to both the interior and exterior.

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The Pelley House 1974

Uriah and Mary relocated to Boyd’s Cove and moved into their new home.  Uriah commenced operation of the business commonly known as the Boyd's Cove branch.  However, this was short lived.  There may have been problems relating to personal health, poor management practices or just that the couple did not enjoy living in the isolated community of Boyd's Cove.  Whatever the reason Uriah decided to sell both the business and Pelley House. 

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Edgar Ishmeal Pelley 1914

Edgar Ishmael Pelley, a young man from Lewisporte, had just returned home from World War I where he was a gunner with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. Edgar wanted nothing less than to put the war behind him and start a business. Assuming a merchant profession was far less stressful than fighting battles in France.  Edgar approached Uriah Freake and started negotiations. On December 31, 1921, the sale was finalized. It  consisted of several waterfront buildings, store stock and a large dock extending out into the deep waters. There was also a barn, cellar, several outhouses. and the house, now known as The Pelley House. Edgar purchased the entire package, lock, stock and barrel, for the sum of $15,699.11. 

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Waterfront Premises 1930

Uriah and Mary moved back to their hometown of Lewisporte.  They left little influence on Boyd’s Cove. However, they developed a very fond attachment for the Pelley House.   They again, acquired Alexander Coffin's skills to construct a house in Lewisporte  identical to the Pelley House.  Uriah died in Lewisporte shortly after the home was completed. This building is still standing but has been altered and modernized. 

 

Edgar met and started dating a young lady named Myrtle Bartlett.  She was in Boyd's Cove teaching at St George's Anglician school. Myrtle, from Bareneed, NL was a descendant of the Newfoundland seal-hunting and arctic exploring family, the Bartlett’s.  Her cousin, Robert Bartlett is considered one of  the greatest Arctic navigators of the 20th century, piloting Robert Peary and Vilhyalmur Stefansson on their historic expedition to the North Pole.

 

Myrtle and Edgar married at St John’s, NF on the July 1, 1029.  If the Pelley House was a Victorian home, then Myrtle Pelley was the Victorian lady.  She had a staunch personality stemming from her past as a schoolteacher, an aristocratic manner inherited from the prominent Bartlett family and a Christian approach to life as a God-fearing woman.  Myrtle was as much part of the home as the home was part of her. Any person who knew Myrtle always associated her with the grand home. She used her beloved home for entertainment and many guests were invited to stay and enjoy her hospitality.  Most experienced the pleasure of fine music as Myrtle often treated her guests with tunes from the renowned pump organ.

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Myrtle Bartlett 1929

Myrtle also had great pride in the property and ensured the maintenance was completed and the grounds were well maintained.  The front yard was fenced and filled with various fruit trees and berry bushes. The beautiful flower gardens also added to the home’s grandeur.  But one more thing was necessary to make the Pelley House a home.  It needed a family. After several attempts to conceive a child, Myrtle and Edgar adopted an 18-month-old baby in August 1935.  The child’s name was Mary.

 

Mary was the daughter of Arthur Blake and Lena Ivy Lewis, residents of the neighboring community, Birchy Bay North, NF. It is ironic to note that The Pelley House is considered one of the oldest standing structures in Boyd's Cove, however, only one child, Mary, was ever raised in the house.

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Mary Pelley

Edgar lacked the shrewd business practices associated with fish merchants.  This coupled with a kind heart and loving personality, resulted in Edgar experiencing some difficulty achieving much more than a modest success with the waterfront premises. During the Great Depression, the business was destroyed by fire. A new, smaller general store was built from the modest insurance policy.   The business in a few short years went into receivership. Afterwards, Edgar became a Forest Warden with the Newfoundland Government. In 1952, Edgar was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died on Saturday, March 28, 1953.

 

After the death of her husband, Myrtle, worked as the matron for the Bishop Jones’ Hostel located on 55 Rennies Mill Road, St John’s, NF.  This was a  boarding house for students attending Bishop Spencer College and teachers in training at Memorial University.  The  former house owner was Lord Edward Patrick Morris (1859-1935), a St John’s born lawyer/politician and Newfoundland’s 12th Prime Minister from 1909-1918. Myrtle held the matron position for five years.  During this period the Pelley House was only occupied during the summer months.

 

Upon retirement form the matron position in 1958, Myrtle returned to Boyd's Cove and operated the Pelley House as a boarding home.  Many individuals visiting, working or simply just passing through the community boarded at the Pelley House. There were doctors, magistrates, judges, welfare officers, and geologists to name a few of the professions. Some of the prominent professionals were Dr. Knapp; Magistrate Abbot; and Cannon George Earl. However, the most noted individual was Dr. G. Marshall Kay, Ph.D.  Dr. Kay was a Penrose medalist and a Newberry professor of Geology at Colombia University in New York, NY. He spent ten years visiting Newfoundland, during the summer months, and boarding at the Pelley House.  During this period, he and many students from Memorial and various other universities across Canada and the United States completed geology research in the Notre Dame Bay area.  It is said that the Pelley House is mentioned in the forward of a textbook authored by Dr. Kay.

 

Myrtle operated the Pelley House boarding home until 1974. Now in her golden years, she enjoyed the benefits of retirement. Her favorite spot was sitting in the rocking chair along side the warm kitchen stove.  She enjoyed many visitors who stopped in out of admiration for this lady and respect for her devotion to the church, music and the community.  During this phase of her life, she gave away most of the homes' furnishings and opted for newer and more modern effects.  As a result, many antiques associated with the home are lost forever. 

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Alladin Lamp

As Myrtle aged, her mental and physical health deteriorated and eventually she could no longer perform the day-to-day chores and especially the strenuous tasks associated with house maintenance. In 1983, Myrtle moved into a senior living  complex.  With the heart and soul removed, the Pelley Home remained in an idle state of decay for six years.  No longer did the smoke rise from the chimney on the frosty mornings and no longer would beautiful organ music ring through its walls.  The blinds were pulled tightly shut preventing the sun and moon from shining through the large bay windows. Stillness surrounded the grand home and the family left all effects in the same condition they were on that sad morning when Myrtle left her beloved home.

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View of Kitchen prior to1989 Restoration Project

The home remained empty and lifeless for six long years until Clara Thoms (Nee: Moss) the spouse of Myrtle's grandson, Gary, arrived on the scene.  The harsh weather conditions of the Newfoundland climate had now left its mark on the exterior. The wood timber shores had started to decay causing the building to lean forward, the paint was scaling, and the roof leaked.  The grounds were encroached by weeds and unwanted vegetation.

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Kitchen Stove 1989

Clara had a tremendous admiration for old homes and was devastated to see the Pelley House going to ruins.  To her this prestigious heritage building was crying for help and affection.   She persuaded her husband, Gary, to help with the restoration work.

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Front view of house at start of 1989 Restoration Project

The restoration work started on the July 2, 1989, a labour of love that consumed the next five years and tested both her and her husband's energy and strained the family budget. The house was raised, and a concrete foundation added. The roof was shingled, and the central chimney refurbished. Various parts of the exterior were restored or replaced as close as possible to the original design. A new veranda was added to enhance the structure.

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Side view of house at start of 1989 Restoration Project

During the restoration project, Myrtle Pelley's effects were carefully stored in the side-attic.  As Clara and Gary removed the framed photos from the living-room walls they took notice of a black and white wedding picture of a young couple.  Unaware who the people were and surmising it must have been important to Myrtle, they retained the portrait.

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View of Upstairs landing 1989

Clara's devotion to the restoration project was not due to greed but rather love and appreciation for being granted the honor and opportunity to preserve a piece of Newfoundland history.  Clara’s passion again provided the Pelley house with a heart and soul. The walls would once again would  the sounds of laughter from children and smoke would for another time rise from the chimney.  Once more a person sat in the rocking chair, in the warm cozy kitchen while the frost created art on the glass panes when the morning sun shone through the large bay windows.

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Clara Thoms 1956-2006

For the Thoms family, these were happy years.  Although residing at Gander they spent most weekends and holidays in the quiet community of Boyd's Cove. The restoration work and entertainment were mixed until the Pelley House started to shine with pride as if being proud of its new exterior paint and freshly mowed grounds. 

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View of Master Bedroom 1989

Christmas was the most special. While white snow lay softly on the ground and the colorful exterior lights shone brightly across the cove with joy, the family would nestle in front of the wood stove and sing songs, play cards or just play the acoustic guitars. This tremendous feeling of peace was only interrupted when it was time to head upstairs and end ones’ day by absorbing comfort from the soft and cozy mattress and warmth from the many homemade quilts. 

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Gary William Thoms

In the summer of 1995, a work transfer relocated the Thoms family to North Bay, Ontario.  Once more the Pelley House lay idle. Smoke stopped rising from the chimney during frosty mornings and voices and laughter no longer echoed through the walls.  The blinds were pulled shut preventing the sun and moon from shining through the large bay windows. Stillness surrounded the home as once again a sad family walked away from this historic  home.

 

Shortly after the Thoms family relocation to North Bay, Clara was stricken with cancer.  The continued battle to fight this dreaded decease consumed both Clara's time and energy and her health continued to deteriorate. No resources were available to visit Newfoundland or to complete the necessary maintenance and restoration work on the Pelley House. Many plans were made for returning to Newfoundland; however, the disease had a mind of its own.  After careful consideration and knowing that the harsh Newfoundland elements was taking a  toll on the Pelley House, it was decided to sell the home. A decision that was not taken lightly. It was concluded that the Pelley House should not suffer further deterioration. Another family must be found to take the torch and continue with the restoration project.

 

After a brief advertisement in the Downhomer magazine, the Pelley House was sold to the families of Milton and Marjorie Pelley from Nepean, Ontario and Sandra and Fred Moroz from Richman, British Columbia. A home located on the Atlantic coast of this great nation had captured the attention of a person living on the Pacific coast. 

 

Clara and Gary returned to Boyd's Cove in the fall of 2000 and prepared the property and house for transfer to the new owners.  All effects were removed and divided among the family members.  However, the unidentified wedding photo retained at the start of restoration was carefully hung once again on its walls.  This picture was of Milton and Marjorie Pelley. The new owners.

 

After a lengthy illness, Clara succumbed to the decease and died on 26 Jan 2006.  But not before seeing five of her six grandchildren born.  Clara often expressed regret for selling the Pelley House, especially not having the opportunity to share the beautiful home with her cherished grandchildren. 

 

For ten years Milton and Marjorie Pelley and Sandra and Fred Moroz were the proud owners of the Pelley House.  They used it as a summer home.  Restoration work continued and updates were made to further modernize the house. A new well was drilled, landscaping and driveway were completed, septic tank installed, and further sheeting added to the interior wall.  However, after ten years the owners found the yearly comminute to Newfoundland very difficult. 

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Milton & Marjorie Pelley

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Fred and Sandi Moroz

In the summer of 2010, Gary and his girlfriend, Kelly Lowther were touring Newfoundland.  While in Boyd’s Cove, and visiting the Pelley House, Milton and Marjorie, expressed a desire to sell the home.  After some consultation with, Kelly and his family, Gary purchased the home on the September 8, 2010.

 

During the next year extensive research was undertaken on the Pelley House to help draft and submit an application to the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador to consider the Pelley house a heritage structure. The HFNL is a crown agency with a mandate to help preserve the rich heritage of Newfoundland and Labrador.   On the September 23, the HFNL accepted the proposal and designated the building for both its aesthetic and historic value.

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Start of second restoration project 2011

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Window restoration project 2011

Over the next ten years Gary and Kelly completed extensive preservation work on the Pelley House.  The entire exterior was restored with replica windows and doors custom made and installed.  The roof was replaced and reshingled.  The clapboard siding and moldings were replaced and finally the foundation and wrap-around decking were replaced.  Major renovations were also completed on the interior. A new kitchen and cupboards were added.  The original pantry was upgraded to a laundry room and the downstairs bedroom was made into a large bathroom. Finally, the house was rewired with a 200-amp service and electric heat added. 

The Pelley House Heritage Home stands as a masterpiece of craftsmanship from an era that has mostly been forgotten.  We hope that in some way the restoration project has met with the approval of the original builder and the previous owners. We also hope that the many painstaking hours placed into restoring this home will preserve a piece of Newfoundland heritage so  future generations can enjoy the architectural beauty from a time gone by.  During the process, Kelly was able to share time at the house with her daughter Meagan, and Gary was able to enjoy time at the house with his six grandchildren, Curtis, Alexander, Jenna, Lauren, Kaylee and Bradley. 

 

To help support the costs maintaining this heritage structure, the Pelley House was listed as a rental property on Airbnb in the spring of 2019.