Sto­ried stones

Stone Jug on tap for po­ten­tial come­back

The Compass - - OPINION - BY ANDREW ROBIN­SON

Sev­eral her­itage prop­er­ties along Wa­ter Street are within walk­ing dis­tance of each other. There’s the old post of­fice, op­er­at­ing in the sum­mer as a tourist in­for­ma­tion cen­tre. Lo­cated by the town hall is the Car­bon­ear Rail­way Sta­tion Mu­seum, which has un­der­gone re­cent ren­o­va­tions and will soon house an ex­hibit on Car­bon­ear Is­land.

Down a bit fur­ther to­wards the break­wa­ter is the Rorke Store, which houses its own mu­seum ex­hibit.

The Rorke Store’s ori­gins are closely in­ter­twined with the build­ing that stands across the street from it. Rorke’s Stone Jug, which most re­cently op­er­ated un­der the name The Stone House as a 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 build­ing 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 since then has been work­ing to re­de­velop the site, while main­tain­ing its her­itage sta­tus, for a new po­ten­tial 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,” writes Branan in an e-mail sent from China on Feb. 1, a date that co­in­cided with the Chinese New Year.

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 the build­ing, Car­bon­ear res­i­dents Ron How­ell and Mar­i­lyn Gear told The Com­pass he has been look­ing to set up a steak­house.

En­ter­ing the build­ing, one can in­stantly 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, chair of the Car­bon­ear Her­itage So­ci­ety, Branan has put $700,000 of his own money into the build­ing, in­clud­ing the ini­tial price he paid to pur­chase it. The most re­cent in­te­rior work was done last sum­mer, ac­cord­ing to How­ell.

How­ell can list off a num­ber of other in­ter­est­ing pur­chases Branan has made for the sight. He paid to have 6,000 pot­tery pieces made to be used as dishes, and pur­chased 75 small ta­bles and 15-20 large ones.

How­ell says Branan is con­sider- ing us­ing the sec­ond floor for a bar, though he hopes Branan may re­con­sider that idea and in­stead use the space for a gift shop and crafts 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 stones within the build­ing, but be­fore all this, a new slate roof must be in­stalled. Branan has con­tracted Hur­ley Slate­works, op­er­ated by Car­bon­ear res­i­dent John Hur­ley, to com­plete 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 funds that helped re­store the Rorke Store build­ings 13 years ago, served as the ini­tial pro­ject man­ager for 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 may prove a fire haz­ard. It has been un­oc­cu­pied for a num­ber of 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 con­structed in the 1960s as an an­nex to the Stone Jug, is now owned sep­a­rately.

How­ell says the Stone Jug is a cor­ner­stone for her­itage in the com­mu­nity, and any rede­vel­op­ment of the site would be a huge boon for tourism, par­tic­u­larly given its close prox­im­ity to other his­toric sites.

“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 early on, says all of Branan’s ini­tial ideas were great ones, and the re­open­ing of the Stone Jug would com­ple­ment events hap­pen­ing at both 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.”

The Car­bon­ear Her­itage So­ci­ety was the group that made the push for the build­ing’s pro­vin­cial her­itage des­ig­na­tion. How­ell says the group, which meets the sec­ond Wed­nes­day of ev­ery month, is in need of find­ing new vol­un­teers.

Photo by Andrew Robin­son/The Com­pass

The sec­ond floor of the Stone Jug has new sup­port beams in­stalled, and may even­tu­ally be used as a bar.

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