Citizens pitching in to help preserve historic mansion
by Doug Draper
In its nearly 120 years as one of Thorold's most dramatic landmarks, the Maplehurst mansion has gone from being a home of one of the community's founding families, to a hospital, to an abandoned ghost house in danger of being torn down.
This spring, it has become a labour of love for more than 30 volunteers working with Keefer Developments Ltd. to restore the three-storey brownstone overlooking Thorold's downtown to its former lustre.
On almost any given day of the week now, the volunteers come to Maplehurst-some equipped with professional building skills, others with skills they developed while doing building projects around their own homes-to help with a project that will eventually see the city-owned property re-opened as a heritage inn.
"We live near here, and my brother and sister were both born here (when Maplehurst served as a community-based hospital)," said Marilyn Cassidy last week, as she and her husband Paul took a few moments out from refurbishing a huge pine door in one of the mansion's second-storey rooms.
"It is a beautiful building," added the long-time Thorold resident, "and it is very nice to see something like this being done in the community."
David Young, an employee of Keefer Development who has decided to turn his professional building skills to the restoration of old buildings, is co-ordinating the team of people who have signed up as volunteers for the restoration project. A number of them signed up last summer, during a well-attended open house at the mansion, and Young began calling them to the work site earlier this year.
"We have a lot of families and we have high school students who are putting in community hours (as part of their curriculum requirements)," said Young, who has made sure everyone, regardless of their level of skills, is given something rewarding to do. "Just the idea of helping to bring something like this back to life," he said, " appeals to a lot of people."
Young said there are "some people who come every day and others who come occasionally. I certainly tell people not to put in more hours than they feel comfortable with."
One of the more skilled volunteers, Tom Hillier of St. Catharines, is helping with the reconstruction of the mansion's large porch. His daughter Jennifer, a Dennis Morris secondary school student, is also volunteering some of her time.
"I feel this is a very worthwhile project," said Hillier. "It is a good investment in heritage not just for Thorold, but for all of Niagara."
Linda Krause, another volunteer from St. Catharines, expressed similar feelings about the building's importance to Thorold and the region.
"I am so excited that Phil Ritchie (Keefer Developments' president) and Dave Young are doing this restoration project. She was built to last," Krause added of the mansion, "and she is meant to last."
Like some of the other volunteers, Krause has links with the building going back to the years when it was a hospital.
"My Uncle Stan died here," she said, "and they took wonderful care of him. "That was more than 10 years ago, and it was the first time I had the privilege to come here."
The restoration of Maplehurst is part of a larger downtown redevelopment project, launched by the city and co-ordinated by Keefer Developments with the help of other private sector partners. The work is continuing over a 15-acre area of the downtown which includes Mike's Auto off St. David's Road, the former Gallaher paper mill and the historic Welland Mills building off Pine Street.
The city purchased Maplehurst for $625,000 two years ago from its last owner, Basil Griffis, who could no longer afford to maintain it and was concerned he might have to tear it down. The mansion was originally home to members of the Keefer family, which had a hand in the development of the first Welland Canal and key businesses in the community.
Ritchie and Young said they can always use more volunteers to help with the restoration work, including the landscaping of the lawns. Anyone interested can contact Keefer Developments at (905) 680-2221 or through its website at www.keeferdevelopments.com.
Last Modified: -/-