Editorial By: Cheryl Sund & Carol Hattaway | Photography By: Sund, Hattaway & Dr. Christopher Cooper
Somehow the universe guided us to this old house. Vacationing here as children, we never dreamed that one day we would own it. We are the sixth generation to own this Port Clyde house and we are direct descendants of the original Lyle family in this area.
The house is located on a point of land in picturesque Port Clyde, Nova Scotia with a harbour in the front of the house and a bay in the back. It is a comfortable 1 ½ storey, four bedroom loyalist style house, looking out across Negro Harbour to the old railroad bridge which carried steam trains from 1906-1976. Today it serves pedestrians on their walkabouts. On the shore in front of the house is a remnant of an old wharf where, we understand, passengers were ferried across the harbour before the road bridge existed.
‘The section to the left of the door had extensive rot, from the clapboards, sheathing, and studs to the interior horizontal wooden dado’
The first ancestor to come to the area was Gavin Lyle (born 1752) who was a British soldier from Hamilton, Scotland during the Revolutionary War. At war’s end in 1783 he was granted land along the Clyde River in Shelburne County. In addition to his grant, he bought land and a house in 1798 from an original grantee in nearby Port Clyde. His son, Gavin V. Lyle (born 1801) built our house next door in 1820, when he settled down with his family. They were known to be farmers and small shipbuilders.
Before Left | After Right
Gavin Lyle had five daughters so unfortunately the Lyle family name died out. Of the five daughters, most moved away; however one daughter, Drucilla Lyle Swanburg lived in the house with her husband and children until their deaths. Another daughter, Emily Russell Lyle taught school in nearby Shelburne and lived there until her death in 1935. All of these Lyle family members are buried in the nearby Clyde River Cemetery.
The property then passed through the five sisters’ many descendants and finally to our grandfather, William Coumans in 1946. He was born in East Jordan, Nova Scotia in 1888, the son of a sea captain and master mariner. We recall his stories about sailing with his father in the early 1900’s to the West Indies and South America, carrying lumber, codfish, coconut and molasses. William entered the Royal Canadian Engineers in 1916 to help with the cleanup effort in Halifax after the Big Explosion. He was a building contractor in the Boston area and retired in 1966 to live in Port Clyde until his death in 1981, age 93.
Before Left | After Right
There were times, we believe, when the house was occupied only part time between 1906 and 1966. Because of this, it has had no major “What Were They Thinking” done to it, only a few upgrades along the way. Our grandfather installed the plumbing, electricity, and heating and added two dormers, one in the front and one in the back. The woodshed, attached to the kitchen, was turned into a small dining area, with new windows facing the harbour. The chimney for the living room fireplace was removed. The mantle and hearth are the only pieces still existing, but our hope is to someday resurrect the original fireplace. The chimney for the parlour remains to service today’s furnace. Interestingly, the connection of the stovepipe to the chimney is still evident in the plaster.
‘Most of the clapboard and trim had to be replaced with pine, being careful to copy the original’
After William’s death, the house passed to our father, William Coumans Jr. who was the only heir. He grew up in Boston, but remembers visiting the Port Clyde relatives as a child. Both our parents enjoyed visiting Port Clyde through the years so we had an early exposure to the place. We took ownership in 1994 when our parents decided they couldn’t manage the house any longer. Since the start of our ownership, we knew that an average of fifty-five inches of precipitation each year on the South Shore of Nova Scotia was taking its toll on the house. Being fifty feet from the harbour was doing it no favours either.
Before The House Was In Miserable Condition
East winds drive rain and salt water onto the front of the house. A wet cellar, mouldy odours, bowed kitchen ceiling tiles, a mouldy mattress in the room just above the damp cellar (with gaps between the floorboards) and the rubble stone foundation devoid of mortar, were the telltale signs of poor health. When large pieces of the living room’s horizontal wooden dado fell to dust on the floor and the carpenter ants arrived, we knew we had bigger problems than we originally thought. Being members of the Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia, we called them seeking guidance. They told us about “Old Home Living.” We were so fortunate to find that Dr. Christopher Cooper would be vacationing in Nova Scotia that year and would make a house call to us. Thank heavens for Christopher. He put all our problems into perspective, and only then could we clearly see what had to be done.
New Clapboard Ready For Paint
The house is on the Barrington Municipality’s Registered Heritage Property list, so after their approval, we set to work with our carpenter, Bill Ross of Port Saxon. He has worked on many of the old homes in the area and is known to be the best. He warned us that even he could not know how much rot there might be until he got into it. Most of the clapboard and trim had to be replaced with pine, being careful to copy the original. The entire foundation sill had to be replaced on the front of the house. The section to the left of the front door had extensive rot, from the clapboard, sheathing, and studs to the interior horizontal wooden dado. We love the photo showing our living room interior from the street (see top image)! We added pilasters to the smaller ell and dormers and we did things to ensure water flowed away from the house. The old flat-roofed dormer in the back was replaced with a high-pitched roof that sheds water away from the house. The original vestibule was long gone, but its reinforced roof hung on for seventy additional years. We had a new vestibule built under this roof, which kept the original form in proportion. It looks as though it was never absent. It was important to us to keep the original six-over-six windows, since, as Chris says, they are the most character defining elements in an old house. They do need some work now, so we’ll use the article, “Re-glazing Old Windows” in “Old Home Living” as our guide when we’re ready for that project.
Ready For Another 200 Years
Our major interior project is to remove the 1960’s wall to wall carpet and crumbling area rugs through much of the house. We now know from Chris that painted floors were in vogue during the period our house was built, so we are trying to paint one room every year. We love the wide floor boards. Some are worn more than others and each board seems to have its own personality.
We are grateful for all the suggestions our neighbours have given us and, most especially, we give our thanks for the help from our two husbands, both of whom are engineers. We cannot be thankful enough for the skills and abilities of our carpenter, Bill Ross. His eye for remedying crooked walls was just what we needed. With the help of his son, Jeremy, they revitalized our old house’s exterior so that it is once again a gem in our neighbourhood. Credit for the expert painting job goes to Tim Turner of Jordan Falls. Their work not only saves our house, but it brings a piece of history to life. We love this old house and are honoured to be its owners for awhile. This house, along with many other Nova Scotia jewels can be seen on the web under http://www.nshistoricplaces.ca. This is Nova Scotia’s Historic Places Initiative, administered by the Heritage Division of the Nova Scotia Department of Tourism, Culture, and Heritage.