Its walls have hosted princes and rogues in the 177 years since Ridley Hall first rose from its lot on Water Street, overlooking the harbour in Harbour Grace, N.L.
Now, Red Deer lawyer Brian Flanagan and his wife, Jean, are struggling to salvage their stately manor from the wrecking ball.
Earlier this summer, the Town of Harbour Grace mailed the Flanagans a pointed letter, informing them they had 30 days to either fix it up or tear it down.
Weeks since the letter was mailed, the remains of Ridley Hall, a registered historic structure, still stand while the Flanagans await results of a letter campaign.
They seek reprieve from the town along with assistance from the Province of Newfoundland, the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador and even the attention of Rex Murphy, Newfoundland-born shaker and mover with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
The Flanagans had just married in 2000 when they purchased Ridley Hall with plans restore the Georgian mansion, room by room, during their annual visits to Jean’s childhood home.
Unoccupied for the previous 20 years, the massive home that merchant Thomas Ridley built in 1834 was utterly derelict, Brian Flanagan said recently, shortly after his and Jean’s return from their annual visit to Harbour Grace.
Work on the restoration was moving along smoothly until 2003, when someone lit the place on fire, he said.
While the Flanagans went about their business in Red Deer, their unoccupied summer home became a party spot for local teenagers, despite efforts to keep it boarded up. Police in Harbour Grace did not roust the partiers and no suspects were ever charged in connection with the arson, said Flanagan.
There was no insurance on the building because insurance companies would not cover it, he said.
In its current state, Ridley Hall would likely fetch a tidy profit if the stones were sold as salvage and the lot sold separately, said Flanagan.
However, he believes the building should be restored and returned to full use, a cost which is beyond the Flanagans’ means. They purchased the property for $20,000. While insured for public liability, they were unable to find an insurance company that would cover the building.
Flanagan’s hope is that a public organization such as the town or the province will eventually restore the mansion for public use.
Ridley Hall built as Georgian mansion
Parks Canada, in its bank of information about Canada’s historic places, describes Ridley Hall as a Georgian mansion built in 1843 by English merchant Thomas Ridley, who was at one time the most prominent businessman in Harbour Grace.
During Ridley’s 50 years as a sealing and fishing merchant, his house was the centre of social, political and economic activities in what was then a thriving city.
A ballroom was built off the back as a later addition, entertaining guests including representatives of the Direct United States Cable Co. Ltd. who arrived in 1866 to recover a trans-Atlantic cable that had been lost between Heart’s Content and Halifax.
Later named Cable and Wireless Ltd., the company used Ridley Hall as a cable station in the 1930s and 1940s, after which it was returned to use as a private residence.
Accounts of its past glory include stories of visits during the 19th century from various people of esteemed rank, including the Prince of Wales as well as members of other royal families from Spain, Portugal and the British Isles.
The home also contained a secret dungeon under the dining room floor, complete with a spy hole at eye level. It was said to be used for storing contraband and harbouring renegades.