The Nelles Manor sits proudly along Main Street in Grimsby; nestled amongst other character homes. What makes this particular home significant is the fact that it was owned by Robert Nelles, who many claim to be Grimsby’s founder. Nelles first came to the Forty after fleeing the American Revolution when a bounty was placed on his head. He settled in Grimsby and began to build the manor in 1788, later completing the structure in 1798. This structure is so old that the Niagara Green Belt website claims that it is the oldest inhabited structure between Niagara and Kingston.[i] It is also significant because it showcases late 18th century Georgian architecture.
The home’s contemporary story is just as fascinating as its historical counterpart. In 1963 Barry and Linda Coutts purchased the home. They were the first owners of the property outside the Nelles family, who owned the home for almost two hundred years. At the time of their purchase the home had drywall partitions used to create separate apartments. The Coutts family decided to tear down these dividers in order to restore the house to what they think “is a pretty accurate depiction of how it would have looked just before Robert’s death in 1842.”[ii] In the process of the renovation they uncovered many treasures including original flooring, fireplaces, and even a Red Coat jacket owned by Robert during the War of 1812.[iii]
The Coutts have stated that they are the “keepers of the manor,” only being “one part of its history.”[iv] Throughout the years they have opened the door of their home to welcome community members, allowing them to appreciate and learn about the historic house and Grimsby’s rich history. Currently, they are in the process of turning their home into a public museum that all community members can enjoy. They have sold the house’s rights to a not-for-profit charitable corporation who is working tirelessly to make this transition.
In one of my last blog posts I discussed Toronto’s issue of disposable architecture and how many older buildings are being torn down so that condos can be erected. I decided to write about this story to show the tireless work that many individuals are doing to preserve our heritage. Visible history is important to any community. Being able to see and experience a heritage building instills pride in where one lives as well as acting as a place of social exchange between community members, drawing people closer together. In this case, the museum will become the grounds where history and social interaction intermingle. It acts as a “living, breathing” entity, rather than a place you can only read about in a history book.
I would like to note that my discussion might sound overly simplistic. I understand that there are many circumstances resulting in the destruction of older buildings. In this case, it is very fortunate that the Coutts family has the means to essentially donate their home in order to make it a museum. In many cases, this is not possible. However, I do believe that these actions should be applauded and that perhaps it can inspire others to find ways to keep heritage alive in their own communities.
Niagara This Week. "Protecting Grimsby Heritage," February 2, 2016.
Niagara This Week. "The Nelles Brothers and Their Impact on Grimsby," August 12, 2010.
Niagara This Week. "Making of a Museum: Owners Spent Nearly 50 Years Restoring Grimsby's Nelles Manor," February 2, 2016.
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