Description of Historic Place
The expansive two-storey building at 76 Central Street is built in a variation of the gable ell style. It retains many original Gothic Revival decorative elements including hood mouldings and brackets and is prominently located on the northwest corner of Central and North Market Streets. It is the former home of Prince Edward Island Premier J.H. Bell. The registration includes the building and its lot.
The heritage value of the building lies in its affiliation with several prominent families, including that of former Premier J.H. Bell, as a handsome example of Gothic Revival influenced architecture, and for its contribution to the streetscape.
Born in Cape Traverse as the son of Scottish immigrant Walter Bell, John Howatt Bell (1846-1929) studied law with a Toronto firm and was called to the Bar of Ontario in 1874. After practising in Ottawa and later Emerson, Manitoba, he returned to PEI in 1884 and opened an office in Summerside. In 1886, Mr. Bell purchased the present corner lot in order to build a house for himself and his wife Helen, daughter of Cornelius Howatt. The residence was constructed in 1887 by William P. Baker and Thomas Beattie. The quality of their work was noted in a local newspaper: "Its exterior appearance is very pleasing indeed, the architectural proportions, decorations and color blending in such a harmonious manner that it is the subject of favorable comment."
J.H. Bell entered provincial politics in 1887 as a Liberal member of the Legislature and went on to become a Member of Parliament from 1905 to 1909. In 1915, Mr. Bell became a provincial candidate for Fourth Prince and was chosen as leader of the Liberal Opposition. His party won the election of 1919 and he became the fourteenth premier of Prince Edward Island. When his government was defeated in 1923, Premier Bell retired from public life.
The property was inherited in 1929 by his brother's daughter, Elizabeth Bell, who had married Hibbert M. Downing. Mr. Downing, a native of River John, NS, was a civil engineer with many years experience in the construction of buildings and highways. He was the general contractor on many Summerside buildings including the house at 283 Green Street and the Anglican Church Hall on Summer Street. Mrs. Downing sold the residence in 1948.
The house has supplementary historical significance as one of several homes saved from destruction by the Great Fire of 1906. Mr. and Mrs. Bell were away at the time and came home to find the houses to the north and to the east on Central burned to the ground. Their home was still standing due to what the press termed "super human efforts" on the part of Summerside and Charlottetown firefighters.
To many Summerside citizens, the house at 76 Central also has heritage value as the former Bowness Funeral Home, which was operated in this location from 1948 to 1968. After 1976, the residence changed hands several times. In conjunction with the house next door at 82 Central, it was used from 1977 to 1984 as the Prince County Nursing Home. It was converted into four apartments in the mid 1980s. Today, the ground floor is used as a cable TV studio.
With its many historical associations, the building continues to contribute to its streetscape.
Source: City of Summerside, Heritage Property Profile
The heritage value of the building is shown in the following gable ell and Gothic Revival style elements:
- the two-storey massing and form of this large house with large steeply-pitched gable roofs with asphalt shingles
- the brick chimney
- the steeply pitched twin dormers on the east elevation and similar double dormer on the recessed section of the south elevation
- the hood moulding over the round attic windows as well as over the paired windows in the second storey gables
- the original placement of windows on the east, south and west elevations
- the matching ground level bay windows with elaborate bracketting and two-over-two windows
- the single storey roofed veranda with bracketted Doric columns on the east facade of the north extension of the house and the veranda entrance in the southeast corner of the house
- the continuing contribution of the building to its historical post-1906 streetscape