(54 Circular Road, St. John's)
Arguably one of the most important private dwellings in St. John's due to its influence in shaping the surrounding neighbourhood, Bannerman House was nearly torn down in the 1980s because it had fallen into disrepair. An important historical building, it has several mysteries surrounding it; two of these being the exact year of its construction and the origin of its name.
© 1998 Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador
It is believed the dwelling was built in the 1840s. A chimney has the date 1849 on it, but it is thought the chimney was added after the original construction. A house did exist on the property in 1843, as an account mentions a scandal surrounding the owner of the house, John Mitchell. The son of the Governor Sir John Harvey, Frank Harvey, tried to steal vegetables from Mitchell's garden. Mitchell ended up shooting and wounding him.
As for its name, it is linked to Sir Alexander Bannerman, who was governor of Newfoundland from 1857 to 1864. However, no one knows why or when it was named after him. It may have received its name simply by being on the edge of the park named after the governor. There are legends that Bannerman bought the house or kept a mistress there. There are also rumours of a secret tunnel connecting the house to the Colonial Building. However, none of these stories has been proven.
The man who originally owned the house, Mitchell, first arrived in Newfoundland from Ireland in 1810. In 1815 he married Ann March and soon afterward leased the land Bannerman House now sits on for farming. Mitchell quickly established a reputation as one of the best farmers in the St. John's area, despite his occasional brush with controversy.
In 1846 Mitchell died leaving his estate to his wife who purchased the land from the Crown rather than continue to lease it. By 1848 she began to sell the land off in lots along what is now Circular Road. The 12 lots of land ended up netting her the considerable sum of £2,219.50 sterling. Some of the most extravagant homes were built on these lots by influential Newfoundlanders of the time.
After the Mitchells, the house was owned by a number of different people, including several of the island's most prominent businessmen and politicians. Included in this list are Sir Marmaduke Winter, his son Robert Gordon Winter, William Angus Reid, Dorothy Crawford and Donald Snowden.
By early 1990s the house was nearly demolished so that a new house could be built on the property. However, concerned local citizens and the support of the Newfoundland Historic Trust prevented it from being torn down. The house was eventually bought by Marilyn Porter who has worked hard to renovate the house.
Because of the age of the house and its numerous owners, it is not possible to describe the original architecture. With each owner, alterations have been made to the dwelling. When Porter began renovating the house, it was determined the original house has been a two-storeyed hipped-roof structure with a central chimney. Its early vernacular style is a striking contrast to the ornate Second Empire merchant houses that were built later in the area.
Bannerman House at 54 Circular Road and the other houses in the neighbourhood show Newfoundland's social, cultural and political transition from an outpost colony to the status of a self-governing dominion of the British Empire.
Bannerman House was recognised as a Registered Heritage Structure in 1994. This structure was also awarded the Southcott Award for heritage restoration by the Newfoundland Historic Trust.