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Reconnaissance Trip To The Randall House (c. 1800)
Randall House Museum
Extract from the Randall House Handout Pamphlet
(© Wolfville Historical Society)
Randall House has been at the heart of Wolfville for two centuries. For its first sixty or so years it stood on the east bank of the inner harbour, a stone's throw from the schooners and ships which tied up here and served as the communications and transport link connecting Wolfville to the rest of Nova Scotia and to the world. Local traffic from Grand Pré passed along the old Post Road in front of the house, turned along the west side of the harbour and across a bridge where the Tourist Bureau now stands, then returned to the Post Road to continue to Greenwich and Kentville. The Randall House and the Whidden House to the west, stood as sentries at either side of the inner harbour just as they now stand flanking Willow Park, the approximate inner harbour location.
In the early days the people who lived in Randall House could see ships being built along the harbour banks; they were familiar with the bustle of cargo being loaded and unloaded, and they could stroll down the lane across the road to the wharves and the lighthouse. When the Windsor and Annapolis Railway reached Wolfville in 1869, the inner harbour was filled in and Randall House assumed its present position on Main Street at the eastern end of the commercial district.
As late as the 1930s cows were brought up the lane from the dyke every night, past Randall House and on up Willow Avenue to their home pasture and the Babbling Brook Dairy on Gaspereau Avenue.
No one knows for sure when Randall House was built. It's architectural style is Neo-Classical, which places it in the period 1750-1830, but there are some clues. Aaron Cleveland, a cooper, lived in a house on this property between 1808 and 1812 and he may have been its builder. In 1812 it was purchased by Charles Randall and for three generations the Randall family owned the house, sometimes renting it out to others. In 1838 Margaret Best started a school for young ladies. It ran for six years in the Randall House; and when Charles D. Randall, who became principal of Horton Academy, married, he raised his family here. In the 1920s Eardley Randall, whose initials you can see carved in the attic stairwell, and his invalid sister Annie, were the last of the family to live here. The house has chiefly been the residence of a succession of middle class Wolfville families, until it was acquired by the Wolfville Historic museum.
Some of the furniture, books and paintings in the house belonged to people who lived here in the past, like the Randalls and the Patriquins, but most of the museum's collection was donated by local families. The DeWolf parlour ... commemorates the influential family after whom the town was named. That is the history we present to you today: a Wolfville home which contains the collected furnishings and decorations of a century and a half of comfortable domestic life lived by Wolfville people.
In each room of Randall House a Room Card provides a detailed description of the function and contents of that room so that you may go through the house, from the cellar to the attic, as you like. Our staff are available for assistance and to answer questions.
The uneven floors and the attic and basement stairs are all original or of original design, so please go with care. The little back hallway, with five doorways of differing designs, shows that the house was a work in progress over the 19th century. Note the absence of a corner post in the front parlour. Was this an attempt at enhanced gentility, as was the use of clapboard for the front and sides of the house, but shingles for the back!
Randall House is unusual in that it has been spared many of the "updates" and improvements" that most houses of its age have undergone. Apart from electrical work, heating, ventilation and bathroom facilities which are required if the house is to be open to the public, the most recent renovation, the kitchen sink, dates from the 1920s. Hot water was installed only in 2000 when the Society's Social Committee rebelled.
The back parlour is now used as a temporary exhibit room where, over the summer, a number of short-term presentations of local interest will be located.
We hope you find your visit to Randall House both interesting and enjoyable. On your way out stop and browse among some of the local books and cards available in our gift shop at the back door.
A Brief History of the Randall House
This property, like all the other land in Horton Township, was granted to the New England settlers known as Planters, who arrived from Connecticut in the 1760s after the expulsion of the Acadians. A house on the property is mentioned in the deeds as early as 1769 but it is likely that the large and imposing eight room residence with full attic and cellar was built at least a generation later by more established settlers. Aaron Cleveland, a cooper, lived here with his family from 1809 to 1812, during which time he took out a large mortgage, and it is possible that he was the builder. The house, which overlooked the harbour, the wharves and the bustling commercial centre of Upper Horton or Mud Creek, was strategically situated to be at the hub of village life.
The term "the Randall House" was first used in 1812 when Charles Randall, carpenter, coachmaker and member of another Connecticut Planter family, purchased it from Cleveland. His wife Sarah Denison died shortly after the birth of their only child, Charles Denison Randall, and for a time father and son lived here alone. They later moved to a smaller house on the property and rented the Randall House. Among their tenants was the Rev. John Pryor, principal of Horton Academy and one of the founders of Acadia University, who is described as "a cultivated, courtly man". He and his family lived in the house and may also have used it as temporary classroom space for the Academy. From 1835 to 1845 Mrs. Henry Best, widow of a Halifax naval officer, operated a seminary for young ladies in the building.
Charles D. Randall bought the house from his father in 1844, and moved there following his marriage to Nancy Bill, the daughter of a prosperous farmer and member of the Legislative Assembly. Members of the Randall family continued to live in the family home until 1927 when Eardley and Anna left the Randall House for the last time. Eardley's initials can still be seen carved into the wall of the attic staircase, and his favourite Jerusalem artichokes grow again in the old garden.
The Charles Patriquin family purchased the house in 1927, restored it and installed its first bathroom. The Patriquins are still remembered for their warm-hearted interest in young people: there was a dress-up box for local children from which they could create Hallowe'en costumes, while Charles taught them how to care for wounded birds and animals. He also looked after the ducks who spent the summer in the Duck Pond (the old harbour) and grew a productive garden nearby. It was the Patriquins who expressed the wish that the house should remain unchanged in the community as a reminder of past times.
Photographs of the Society's original museum, the T.A.S. DeWolf house, now hang in the front hall with a framed square of the pictorial wallpaper-all that remains of Prince Edward's gift. The Randall House is arranged and furnished as an early Wolfville residence and most of the furniture and artifacts have been donated by local people. A temporary exhibit room in the back parlour features changing displays which relate to the town and surrounding communities.
Randall House Preliminary Historical Report, By Eric Krause (Krause House Info-Research Solutions), 2008
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