Newspapers are often the best way to tell the age of an old house in Newfoundland. Not for what’s in the newspaper, but for where it’s found. Often, newspapers were used as an insulating barrier, either pasted to the walls like wallpaper or stuffed between the walls.
By checking the dates on the pages, one can estimate the age of the house. If all the newspapers are dated, say, 1878, then it can be assumed the house wasn’t built before that, and likely not too long after.
There are, of course, several other ways to determine the date – cross-checking literature, local oral histories, diary and journal entries, church records and family histories are a few methods – but for a homeowner restoring their newly acquired old house, checking the dates on newspapers found in the walls is often the most direct method.
It was in this way that Geoff Coughlan discovered the approximate age of his Petty Harbour house shortly after buying it. He was at work, and a colleague told him she used to own the house, going on to tell him they found newspapers dated 1898 and 1899.
But those newspapers don’t tell the whole story – like how this house was the first in Petty Harbour to have a television, and that the local kids would look in the window to steal a glimpse. Or how the house can be seen in the movie Orca – it’s the yellow one, up on the hill.
Now the house is blue, and it’s seen several changes through the years. But it still retains that old house feel and character that Geoff was looking for. He’s always liked old houses, and was looking for a house to buy after returning home from Alberta. He had no prior connection to Petty Harbour, having grown up in St. John’s, but after seeing the house with its panoramic views of Petty Harbour, he knew it was the one.
He and his wife, Elizabeth, lived in the house with two small children. It’s a small house, and the young family found themselves running out of space. Reluctantly, they moved to a larger home.
“I’ll be honest with you, I never, ever thought we’d move out of here,” says Elizabeth.
Instead of selling the house, they kept it as a place to return to when they had the time, although they didn’t use it as much as they’d like. Instead of letting it sit empty, they decided to share the house with visitors by offering it as a vacation rental property.
As their guest book can attest, the house is appreciated, with out-of-province visitors calling it the real Newfoundland experience.