A portal through time

Laura Howells
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The Quinnipiac goes up for sale

Enter 25 Winter Ave. and you are swept back to another era, a time before the world wars, Confederation, and the existence of St. John’s as we know it. The Quinnipiac is a 130-year-old Victorian-era house sitting on an acre and a half of land in the middle of St. John’s. Only two families have owned the house over its long lifespan. But now, it is back on the market, ready to begin a new chapter in its history.

Walk into the house and you are swept up in its 14-foot-high ceilings and the smell of rich mahogany. One immediately gets the sense every piece of this house has a story, from the marble engraved fireplace, to the Steinway piano made in 1900, to the secret filled-in room in the basement.

Go outside, and you are surrounded by a canopy of trees and a garden that sprawls down what feels like an endless hill.

“I remember Sunday evenings, with the birds singing and the trees all around, you felt very much cut off from town,” said former resident Carla Furlong.

When Quinnipiac was first built, it was hardly in the centre of town as it is now. Rather, Winter Avenue was on the outskirts of St. John’s, backed only by fields and farmland. St. John’s grew up around it.

John Purcell, a local builder, built the house in 1884. The 4,150-square-foot home cost $5,000 at the time—a hefty sum for the day.

The house was first owned by the Emersons, a prominent Newfoundland family that boasted a long line of politically involved lawyers.

Prescott Emerson, MHA for Burgio-LaPoile, was the first owner of the home. Having no children to whom to pass on the house, he left Quinnipiac to his nephew, Charles Emerson, who then passed it on to his own son, Frederick.

Although he worked as a lawyer, Frederick Emerson was perhaps best known for his contributions to the music community. A pianist, singer, and violinist, Frederick was also a composer, musical researcher, and lecturer at the Memorial University school of music.

Frederick’s daughter, Carla Furlong, spent her childhood in the Quinnipiac.

 “He’d come in the door, yell for my mother and go straight to the piano,” remembers Furlong, who studied harp at Julliard. “It was a good house to have for music because it was soundproof. If you were in the sitting room, you weren’t aware of the kitchen, that’s how solid the house was.”

Frederick also took great interest in languages; he spoke eight and read 12. Because of his linguistic inclination, he served as Royal Norwegian Consul, Icelandic Consul, and Vice-consul for the Netherlands in Newfoundland. His positions brought an endless stream of people through the Quinnipiac doors daily.

“There always seemed to be foreigners coming in. You never knew how many people were going to sit down for meals,” recalls Furlong, who says there were constantly parties in the house growing up. “I remember one Christmas dinner we had 14 nationalities at the table.”

“We had consuls here who never spoke the language. They never thought they’d need it. So my father got quite a lot of calls like that, and that brought a lot of people to the house,” said Furlong. “One time, when I was 11, (Gen. Ital) Balbo came. The Italian consul didn’t speak the language so dad had to translate. But you know what I remember about him? A big man like that, he bothered to come over to me and say, ‘Arrivederci, goodbye.’ A big man like that to bother with an 11-year-old. That shows that he was a big person inside.”

Furlong had a sister and brother who also grew up at Quinnipiac. She fondly remembers playing in the large garden with their animals and the other children on the street. Although the land is ripe for development, Furlong says she hopes the new owners respect the property.

The house is unique in that it has servants quarters, complete with a tiny winding staircase leading to a hidden bathroom.

“Everybody had help back in those days. They used to come in from out of town to help their families out,” said Furlong. “That all went out with the war.”

Furlong and her siblings moved away when they grew older, leaving no one to inherit Quinnipiac. Thus, in 1957, a new family adopted the house: the O’Leary’s.

Keelin O’Leary is the current owner of the home. She also grew up in Quinnipiac and like Furlong, has many fond memories. With its vast amount of land, she was able to have a pony as a child, which she kept at the bottom of the large garden. The family also put in a tennis court, which still exists.

She remembers one time in the early ’70s, the Vienna Boys Choir sang an impromptu concert during a reception in the dining room. The high ceilings made for beautiful acoustics, she says.

But with children living away, O’Leary and her husband feel the time is right to pass the house on for another family to enjoy.

“I think it’s just time for us now. There isn’t another generation here in Newfoundland who want to stay and live in it. Our children are elsewhere,” said O’Leary. “So it’s time to let another family live there. I certainly would hope that some other generation could grow up there and have great memories of growing up in a place like that.”

Quinnipiac is being sold through real estate agent Chris O’Dea. It has no listed price; the O’Leary’s are accepting offers.

Organizations: Memorial University school, Vienna Boys Choir

Geographic location: Quinnipiac, Newfoundland, Netherlands

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  • Andreas
    July 28, 2014 - 14:36

    Your article doesn't mention that O'Dea realty is advertising this beautiful house and grounds as a development opportunity for lots fronting on winter avenue. I hope that the city council and heritage advisory board can exercise some judgement and avoid another travesty in the middle of Winter Avenue as happened with Judge Place at the bottom of Winter Avenue.