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