Description of Historic Place
The largest landmark on Water Street in downtown Summerside is the imposing rectangular brick building that once was the renowned Holman's Department Store. It is located on the south side of the street and the south elevation overlooks the harbour and the former railroad corridor now known as the Trans Canada Trail. The registration includes the building and its lot.
The building at 250 Water Street is one of the most valuable heritage structures in the City of Summerside. Its heritage value stems in part from its rarity in Summerside, being only one of two brick commercial buildings on Water Street dating from the 19th century. The heritage value embodied in this building transcends many generations of Islanders, particularly those who live on the western half of Prince Edward Island. It was the department store of the province's largest retail firm, R.T. Holman Ltd., which was founded before Confederation. The mercantile business founded by Robert Tinson Holman in 1857 grew to be the largest retail concern on Prince Edward Island. Over the years, hundreds of employees worked in the store that was considered "the largest store in the world for the size of the town in which it is located."
R.T. Holman's business thrived well enough for him to erect a four-storey brick warehouse in 1874. It was located on the southwest corner of Water and Spring Streets and at the time was the largest building in Summerside. In 1893, he hired local architect George E. Baker to prepare plans for a three-storey department store to be erected west of the warehouse. The cellar was dug in May 1894 and the foundation walls were laid by the firm of Jenkins, McDuff, Gormley and Blanchard of Charlottetown. They were masons and bricklayers who also erected the framework of the building's walls, which were constructed of bricks made in Bedeque by the F.W. Strong Company.
The building opened in November 1895. It was 134 by 105 feet with large plate glass windows, 5000 feet of electrical wire, two expansive stairways leading to the second floor, ceilings of varnished spruce, a special fireproof vault, and about a mile of shelving. The third floor was used for storage and two freight elevators came up from the basement, which had doors wide enough for a horse and cart. It was reported that the building gave downtown Summerside "quite a city appearance."
Mr. Holman, who was 61 when the store was built, passed away in 1906, the same year the firm became incorporated. His sons, Harry and Leroy, assumed control and inaugurated a catalogue mail order service in 1909, a venture that was successful for many years. In 1909, the company also added to the store with the erection of a two-storey building on the western end and, in 1910, another addition on the south side was constructed. Both were connected to the main store by a series of archways.
In August 1919, the contract for a major expansion was awarded to Summerside contractor Peter G. Clark. He closed in the 30 foot gap that had existed between the warehouse and the store, a project which also entailed rebuilding the north and east walls of the warehouse. As part of the reconstruction, the new portion of the front exterior was given storefront windows and three new entrances, including the distinctive one on the corner of the building. At this point, almost 200 people were employed and the outlying property consisted of 15 warehouses, the wharf, and two railway sidings.
The firm prospered, expanding to Charlottetown in 1923 and to Montague in 1934. A 1941 newspaper article about Holman's 84th birthday revealed that over 800 freight cars "containing all manner of produce from all over the world are unloaded at Holman's warehouses each year." The retail market changed in the 1970s when shopping malls began to open in Prince Edward Island. Like some other old established department stores, Holman's was unable to survive and went into receivership in 1985.
The building and property measuring 1.58 acres was sold in October of that year to Reliance Investments. The structure remained open under the name of Dominion Square and provided retail and office space for various businesses. The owner sold the historic landmark in March 2007 to the Summerside Regional Development Corporation.
Source: City of Summerside, Heritage Property Profile
The heritage value of the former Holman's Department Store reflects the late Victorian period sensibility in commercial style buildings, as shown in the following character-defining elements:
- the overall rectangular massing of the brick building, with flat roof and four-storeys
- the size and placement of the brick chimneys
- the traditional commercial storefront façade consisting of cornice, transom, large plate glass windows, recessed entryways, pilasters and base panels
- the stone window sills of the north, east and south facades
- the rectangular windows on the second floor with brickworked caps
- the placement of doorways, especially the elaborate entryway on the east and north corners
- the exterior details including the arched Italianate influenced brick detailing over many of the windows and the corbel details near the roof
- the Romanesque influenced curved entries on the south elevation designed to accommodate the receiving of freight of various sizes and shapes
- the suggestion in brickwork of the letter "H" on the corner entry
- the location of the building between Water Street and the former railway line (now Trans Canada Trail) and its physical and visual contribution to the streetscape