30 years of restoration, 150 years of history

30 years of restoration, 150 years of history
Shown is Cottonwood Mansion, which is celebrating 30 years as a historical site this year.

Cottonwood Preservation Foundation celebrates 30 years

By Charlene Papasodaro

The Haldimand Press

SELKIRK—When driving down Haldimand Rd. 53 it would be hard to miss the beautiful Italianate-style red brick building sitting there on the side of the road. Many have heard of Cottonwood Mansion, although not everyone has visited it to explore the Victorian-era pieces within. The mansion is operated by the Cottonwood Preservation Foundation, which celebrated its 30th anniversary on February 1, 2019.

Prior to 1989, the now-beautiful shutters were dropping off, or missing entirely. The plaster was marbled with holes and the 1860 sloping veranda had fallen off long before. The building may not even be standing today if not for one man’s determination: Larry Hamilton.

Shown is the mansion in 1876; it is believed that the people on the balcony are residents William Homes, wife Cynthia, and daughter Lillian.

The mansion was originally built between 1865 and 1870 by William Holmes on property inherited by his first wife Mary Hoover. After Mary’s death, Holmes married Cynthia Anderson and they had a daughter named Lillian. Upon his death, Cottonwood was left to Lillian, who continued to live there for 11 years until she moved to St. Thomas in 1903. The house was rented for a few years before being sold to the Campbells of St. Thomas and then again to the Andersons (no relation to Cynthia), who would pass down the house through their family. In 80 years only the back part of the house, what was called the servants’ quarters, was lived in. The rest of the house was in disrepair. Hamilton was from Massachusetts and a distant relative of Mary Hoover. He came to Selkirk in 1980 researching his family before purchasing the mansion in 1988 for $100,000. Local resident Clayton Spears remembers, “I used to drive by and I’d wish someone would do something with it,” but even he thought Hamilton was crazy when he saw just how badly the house had deteriorated.

Hamilton brought Spears, a member of the Fisherville District Lions Club, and others into the house looking for help in the form of manpower and donations. The chimneys had to be replaced and the roof was leaking, leaving water damage throughout almost the entire building.

Spears said, “When I saw it, I said, ‘Oh Larry, you’ll never get this done.’ He looked me right in the eyes and said, ‘I will get this done’.”

Cottonwood Mansion in disrepair, 1988
Shown is the mansion in 1988 after it had fallen into significant disrepair, completely missing the veranda and balcony previously seen.

It took a lot of work, but Hamilton did make progress with a lot of community support. By 1989, Hamilton started the Cottonwood Mansion Preservation Foundation. He sold the property to the Foundation in 1992 for $1. Larry was adamant that the restoration bring the building back to how it looked when it was originally built in the 1860s, even if that was more expensive. The exterior restoration took about four years and cost $135,000.

“Larry’s full idea was to make it a living museum,” said current Foundation President Richard Hoover. That idea has certainly come to fruition thanks to Hamilton and many volunteers. Hamilton passed away in 2004 from multiple sclerosis, however, his memory lives on in the mansion and the connections he made. Restoration and upkeep have continued in the years since. Right now, the ballroom is being redone after a leak had damaged the plaster. There is also a hope to repair the upper balcony and belvedere in the future.

Current Preservation Foundation president Richard Hoover and wife, Anne. They relax in some 1800s-era furniture, just as guests are welcome to do.
—Haldimand Press photo by Charlene Papasodaro.

Richard Hoover said the mansion has “held up fairly well in the past 30 years.”

Catherine Stidsen, Vice President of the Foundation, said, “It’s really very rewarding” that people who never would have been interested in history can come to the mansion and find a passion in learning about the past.

The actual celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Cottonwood Preservation Foundation will not be occurring until spring due to the cold weather and the current repairs taking place. Members in attendance are sure to have lots of stories as quite a few have been on the scene since even before 1988.

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