When you’re renovating a space in an old building, there are many visions to be had.
You look ahead to the future. The possibilities.
You revisit the past. The history.
And when the past and present collide – literally, because you’re holding things in your hand that are 100 years old – well, that’s just the icing on the cake.
Such has been the case for sisters Joanne LeBlanc Wallace and Clare LeBlanc who purchased a property at 278 Main St. in Yarmouth. Most recently the ground level of the building has been turned into a new business – a women’s clothing consignment shop called Friends of Jane’s.
But it was when they started renovating the top floor, which will be turned into trendy apartments – "not your traditional cookie cutter apartments" – that their trip to the past really began.
They’d make interesting finds in the attic. Behind walls. Some things have even fallen from the ceiling – a tag from a former business fluttered its way to the floor below.
One of the most interesting finds, in their opinion, is a business ledger dating back to 1891 when hardware merchant William L. Rogers operated a business here. Aside from the penmanship in the ledger – which is amazing, not to mention the condition the ledger is still in – it’s the names that they find fascinating.
“Most of them are English names. There’s not many French names, where now we would have a lot of French names,” says Clare.
The name d’Entremont shows up now and then, but names like E.K. Spinney and Capt. John Killam are more common.
“You also see lots of last names that are street names that we have now – Haskell, Ellis, Baker, Tooker, Goudey, Jenkins, Baker. That’s what’s interesting to me,” Clare says.
Other finds from back in the day – and we mean way back – have included an old bottle (with not a crack in it), old wooden boxes, a theatre payroll, accounts payable ledgers, square hand-forged nails and spikes, wooden stamps, etc.
Another major find is a Fit-Reform W.L. Rogers exterior sign, several feet in length that they discovered in the building. Really, almost in plain sight.
“I think what was intriguing to me is all these years have passed and nobody said, ‘Gee, there’s a sign up here and it’s interesting,” says Joanne. But as much as they’ve searched old historical photos, they’ve yet to find one that shows the sign.
And they have made other discoveries as they’ve researched the building. Growing up, they knew the building it as McKinlay’s Bookstore in the early 1980s. In the late 1980s, people would remember it as a location of the Women’s Up to Date Shop. The business C.F. Rand from 1927 to 1961 rings a bell for them because they’ve seen references in old newspapers and know of older folk who remember this as one of many uses of the building.
The building itself, which according to town heritage records is believed to have been built around 1875, was even originally located in Milton, when it was owned by members of the Dudman family. It was moved to this Main Street location around 1880.
Another aspect of Yarmouth’s history that the building is tied to is the Brown Street fire of 1963, which destroyed several businesses in this block. Interior walls upstairs still show fire damage. The sisters believe it has to be from that fire.
Clare is thoroughly enjoying the upstairs renovation. Living much of her life in Saint John, N.B. – although Yarmouth is still her hometown – she sees a lot of similarities between Saint John and Yarmouth. Saint John, she says, has undergone a transformation where older buildings have been purchased and repurposed, creating a whole new vibe in parts of the downtown.
"In Saint John there was some really forward-thinking people that pushed through all the negativity and said, 'there’s opportunity here,'" she says.
She sees that happening in Yarmouth (and would like to see more of it happening) and wants to contribute to this type of refurbishment – not just of buildings, but of attitudes.
Meanwhile, the sisters have donated the ledger and some other items they found to the Yarmouth County Museum. Some of the other finds they’re keeping and will display and incorporate into the new spaces as their renovation continues.
“There’s some really rich history buildings, old interiors that can be repurposed. And there’s lot of people that are interested in that,” says Clare.
Not to mention, the interesting things you also find along the way as an added bonus.