On Water Street in Carbonear, several heritage properties are within walking distance of each other.
There’s the old post office, which operates in the summer as a tourist information centre. Located by the town hall is the Carbonear Railway Station Museum, which has undergone renovations and will soon host an exhibit on Carbonear Island.
Down a bit further towards the breakwater is the Rorke Store, which has its own museum exhibit.
The Rorke Store’s origins are closely intertwined with the building across the street from it. Rorke’s Stone Jug, which most recently operated as The Stone House bar before closing in 2008, was built in the early 1860s, about 10 years before the two storehouses were built (the eastern store, rebuilt in 1917 after a fire, was destroyed in a wind storm in 1999).
Both buildings were the brainchild of John Rorke, an Irishman who came to Newfoundland at the age of 17. His family continued to operate the family business out of the Rorke buildings until the late 1970s.
Bruce Branan, an American businessman, has been restoring historical buildings all over the world, including Europe and Asia. He purchased the building three years ago and has been working to redevelop the site, while maintaining its heritage status, for a potential new business venture.
“I do believe that Carbonear has great potential if there is proper leadership and investment, and the Stone House is, of course, the cornerstone for the town,” Branan wrote in an email sent from China Feb. 1.
Branan says he has a general interest in historical buildings, and the Stone Jug is, in his view, one of the best intact Georgian-style stone buildings of its era.
While he would not get into the specifics of what he plans to do with it, Carbonear residents Ron Howell and Marilyn Gear say they believe he’s been looking to set up a steakhouse.
Entering the building, you can see the amount of work that has already gone into it. New beams have been installed on the second floor, and the first floor is now a wide-open space. A $25,000 sawmill is set up on the first floor, and wood from the eastern Rorke Store is on hand, ready for use.
According to Howell, chairman of the Carbonear Heritage Society, Branan has put $700,000 of his own money into the building, including the purchase price. The most recent interior work was done last summer, Howell said.
Howell lists other interesting purchases Branan has made: 6,000 pottery pieces to be used as dishes, 75 small tables and 15-20 large ones.
Howell says Branan is considering using the second floor as a bar, although he hopes Branan reconsiders that idea and uses the space as a gift shop and craft store.
A small stage has already been built on the third floor, and Howell says that may be used as an entertainment space for people to rent.
Plans are in place to replace the windows, and there’s more work to be done on the stonework inside, but before all this, a new slate roof must be installed. Branan has contracted Hurley Slateworks, operated by Carbonear resident John Hurley, for the job.
“I very much want to complete the project and do what I promised to do,” says Branan.
Gear, who was responsible for obtaining the funding to help restore the Rorke Store buildings 13 years ago, was the initial project manager for the restoration and development of the Rorke Store museum and the post office. She says the redevelopment of the Stone Jug would likely benefit from the demolishing of the former Powell’s Supermarket building to its right, which could prove to be a fire hazard. It has been unoccupied for years.
“It should be demolished,” says Gear. “And that would open space for parking, or there could be a little park area.”
That building, originally built in the 1960s as an annex to the Stone Jug, is now owned separately.
Howell says the Stone Jug is a cornerstone for heritage, and any redevelopment of the site would be a boon for tourism.
“If something is not done for it, eventually all the stone is going to deteriorate and its going to be falling down, so we’re really keen to get something done for it,” says Howell.
Gear, who offered some assistance in the redevelopment, says all of Branan’s initial ideas were great ones, and the reopening of the Stone Jug would complement events happening at the community centre and the Rorke Store.
“One of the great things Carbonear still has is a Water Street. Its buildings still exist. (The Stone Jug) would be a great contributor to economic development.”