A V I E W F R O M C H A R L O T T E T O W N , P R I N C E E D W A R D I S L A N D
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When I first met Dora Atwell she had just bought that dear stone house with the eye-brow dormer in Clyde River. I was not prepared to "like" her [until I learned she was Mary's sister] because had she snatched that little house from under our noses. It was the autumn of 1971 and I had convinced the PEI Heritage Foundation Board that they should buy the property [I had not become ex-director at that point] and had worked out a deal with Annie Boyle and we had shaken hands on it.
Irene Rogers and I went off to Cooperstown, NY to a preservation meeting and when we came back the word was out "The Dog River House was sold".
We were disappointed and mad! Then I met Dora and I instantly knew that the house was in good hands and indeed it was - and what else mattered? Houses are far better lived in than becoming museums!
Dora and her husband treated it with all the love and respect that it deserved and after Jimmy died she stayed on with a door always open to anyone who had a curiosity about the house. They called it "Tich na Craig" -- the "house of stone". The house was published in many periodicals. Dora said "it was a lovely, lovely, lovely place to live".
A year or two ago, with Dora in a nursing home, her son sold it to the Provincial Government. They were packaging land for the Trans-Canada Highway and By-Pass route around Charlottetown and because it wasn't done all at the same time the complications were many.
Dora's 130 acres situated on the corner of the Trans-Canada Highway and the Bannockburn Road appears to be where the new by pass will meet the old Trans Canada. It's true they don't need all the land, but they have to have the freedom to manipulate the road in the best possible manner. And to make matters more complicated for them [the provincial government] the Old Dixon Farm and Mill site is just to the north of Dora's. That is where Ellen's diary was written for years, telling us about the day to day life on that spot.
Two very strong heritage properties with special houses on them. Roads have changed course before, but the political will has to be in place - or changed. The history of the Atwell house dates back to at least the 1830's. Names like Thomas Kickham Ambrose Lane, William Hyde, Mayhews and the Boyles to Atwell were connected with it and through that period of over 160 years the house has changed little - inside or out.
I took Dave Darby, an engineer and not a strong believer about old buildings, to say the least, out to look at it back in 1971 and he was astonished. At that point it had been vacant for a long time and used as a farm shed building. It was the foundation and basement that overwhelmed us. The stones in that eight/nine foot basement are 36 inches thick and of magnificent sizes. It is beautiful. NEVER think that this building can be moved and, please, never destroy its setting. It is one of very few stone houses left on this Island and it is one of our most important architectural treasures.
There are people out there that want to pick up where Dora left off.
Written Tuesday, April 25, 2000 at 09:35 PM