Border Cities Star

The Rebirth of Belle Vue in 1928

 

 

(Editor’s Note: This is the twentieth in a series of articles about the Belle Vue property, most of which have been written by Debra Honor. Honor is a local historian/genealogist and a member of the Belle Vue Conservancy.)

 

By Debra Honor UE, PLCGS

 

In March of 1924, Mrs. P. B. Leighton sold the Belle Vue property to John G. Mullen, president of the Mullen Coal Company, Amherstburg. The article in the Amherstburg Echo of March 28, 1924 described the complete history of the former owners from Robert Reynolds to his son, Dr. Robert T. Reynolds, to William Johnston, to Simon Fraser and then to Perry B. Leighton. (Simon Fraser only owned the property for a few days before selling it to P. B. Leighton). The house has always held a fascination to residents in Essex County.

The article goes on to explain that the Mullen family had ambitious plans for the property including “having the beautiful grounds landscaped by a landscape artist from Cleveland, the house will be remodelled, preserving and accentuating the style of architecture, the interior will be remodelled and modernized, making it one of the finest residences on the chain of lakes.”

Belle Vue 1928 (Photo originally appeared in the Border Cities Star)

Belle Vue 1925 (Photo originally appeared in the Border Cities Star)

The next year, 1925, the Border Cities Star, had a huge article on the “Reynolds House” being renewed. In the article, it described the house as having “red brick”. The picture they use does show the house as being of dark colour though earlier photos had shown the house with white paint.

During the renovation, Mr. Mullen added a coal furnace for heating, modern electricity, a second story above the earlier bay window additions and the attached gazebo at the south end.

In describing the house in April 1928, the Border Cities Star added, “Particular attention has been paid to the landscape and in doing this Mr. Mullen has added an additional property. At the rear of the house are sunken gardens and many very attractive floral arrangements which will make the spot one of the show places of the section.”

In December 1928, the Amherstburg Echo described the house. “The residence of John G. Mullen, river front attracts great attention this Christmas season because of the beautiful colored electric lighting strung along the front and the vari-colored Christmas tree, composed entirely of electric bulbs, which flash on and off, with beautiful effect. It is the most ambitious electric lighting decoration ever before attempted in Amherstburg.”

What better way to advertise his new electric business, of which he was a partner, than with Christmas lights!

Please support our fundraising campaign. One hundred per cent of your contribution will be used for restoration of the Belle Vue House. You will receive a full tax receipt and a Belle Vue gift. Visit amherstburg.ca/donate to help us open up Belle Vue once again or visit www.bellevueconservancy.com for more information!

Secrets revealed in a picture

 

 

(Editor’s Note: This is the thirteenth in a series of articles about the Belle Vue property, the first by Robert Honor. The bulk of the articles have been written by Debra Honor, a local historian/genealogist and a member of the Belle Vue Conservancy with another of the articles having been written by Paul Hertel.)

 

By Robert Honor UE

 

Belle Vue has been with us for 200 years. Like most old homes, many changes have been made to it over the years due to new owners, change of taste and updating.

Tracing the architectural story of Belle Vue is very challenging as, visually, there are only two paintings done by Catherine Reynolds during Reynolds ownership, and there are only a few photographs through to the 1920’s.  The house is so long that any pictures of the whole house are from a distance, and much of the detail of the house is obscured by trees and shrubbery.

Closer pictures show more detail, but sections of the house are missing because it is too big.

Occasionally a new picture comes to light that causes us to look at the photos with new eyes.  Such was a picture of Belle Vue that was found in the 1925 Border Cities Star article about John Mullen purchasing Belle Vue and his plans for renovation.  The picture shows the corner of the centre block and the bay windowed reception room beside.  The roof is clearly lower and at a lower pitch than it is now.  A new study of other pictures of the house before 1925 also confirm this.

Belle Vue, as captured in the Border Cities Star, dated 25 July 1925, section 2 page 1. (Special to the RTT)

The late Stephen Marshall, architect, and Steve Brown, with the Town of Amherstburg made detailed inspections of the interior.   In the north attic room there is a closet with a trap door that opens into an attic built up over the original 1816 dependency roof.  It was believed this part of the house had been built in 1875, but surprisingly, the lumber was reclaimed, and looked early 20th century.  It was an unanswered oddity.

Now, we can deduce that the 1875 additions had low pitched roofs with no attic rooms, and that Mr. Mullen’s 1920’s renovation included tearing off the 1875 roofs and rebuilding them higher and with dormers to provide additional attic bedrooms on the second floor.  That is how we see the house today.

Why Mr. and Mrs. Mullen needed extra bedrooms is a bit of a mystery.  They were in their late 70’s and their children grown.  However, this led the way to the house being taken over by Veterans Affairs and becoming the Belle Vue Veterans Home for WWI Vets in the 1940’s – a very important period in the story of this amazing house.

Please support our fundraising campaign. One hundred per cent of your contribution will be used for restoration of the Belle Vue House. You will receive a full tax receipt and a Belle Vue gift. Visit amherstburg.ca/donate to help us open up Belle Vue once again or visit www.bellevueconservancy.com for more information!