Laurel A. Beechey
For the News
When the sold sign went up on Seven Gables, a large red home on Oxford and Tillson Ave., terror struck the hearts of many in Tillsonburg for fear it would be ripped down and replaced by a condo.
When we heard that a McLaughlin had bought it, there was a great sigh relief! Without knowing which McLaughlin or what their plans were, I knew they would do their best with the house. Although I don’t know the family very well, I do know they are very down to earth, caring people.
Look at all they have done for our town. They buy up old warehouses and make them presentable again and stimulate business. They call themselves building recyclers and rather than ripping something down they re-purpose it into something to suit the needs of the building, and the times.
That’s what Ewart did when he have bought the 1880’s portion of the Tillson Block, home to the old Heath’s Department Store and re-purposed it so beautifully, even recreating the decorative trims and architectural art inside and out. They preserved the old elevator car we all used to love riding in. They update the basic needs and wants of modern business and residents, but try to keep as much historical as possible.
Ed and Maureen McLaughlin bought Seven Gables, which was built between 1904 & 1906 by Edwin VanNorman Tillson and his wife May Elizabeth Harrison while they stayed at Annandale House with his mom, Mary Ann Tillson. It was named after Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, ‘The House of the Seven Gables,’ although it was not until a later addition the gables numbered seven. Their first home, damaged by fire, would have been similar to his sister Harriet Tillson Harrison’s home next door, which still stands.
The house was built in the middle of King Edward VII’s reign and the Edwardian architectural styles were very different from the often heavy, cluttered and dark colours of the Victorian style. Seven Gables shows a fresh, light, more informal style in architecture. Ed & Maureen McLaughlin and staff kept the interior design Edwardian, with flower and floral patterns, and softer, lighter colours.
I have visited Seven Gables several times over the years. I was privileged to see the home when Ted Tillson (E.V.’s grandson) still lived there. Peter and I were privileged to see the house 30 some years later when it was first purchased by the McLaughlins and fortunately - historically - the owners in between had done virtually nothing to the house. We were also privileged to get a recent pre-opening tour of Tillsonburg’s most exquisite Bed and Breakfast. (I believe our only B&B now.)
What is it like today? You can’t tell that walls and ceilings had to be opened up to upgrade the electrical and plumbing, replacing knob and tube electrical wiring and old lead pipes. Whole bathrooms needed to be added for the suites, as well as heat ventilation and air-conditioning to provide the comfort and facilities people expect today. If you had never been in the house you would be hard pressed to know anything changed.
Now if you happen to be one of the many citizens in town who got to party on the third floor playing pool with Ted, well, you will notice a difference up there as the one very large room is now sectioned into beautiful suites. You will notice new walls, but they look like they have always been there. The new baseboards match the original, as do the doors. It is that kind of detail that shows the care and extra expense which was taken to preserve as much as possible and keep the original character of the house.
Les Lonsbary, who I believe has been on the project from the beginning, is now the host of the B&B and he has had quite the enjoyable time searching out the right antiques to give the house the ambiance it deserves. Especially in the suites, the furniture must provide the functionality and comfort the public will demand.
There are a few photos on the Seven Gables Tillsonburg website sevengablestillsonburg.com that you can see now, plus a by-the-second countdown to their new website launch in 10 days (from when you read this article). But for now you can see the beautiful restoration work they have done and some of the furniture.
Seven Gables is already open for business and it will give the public, as they describe it, 'Elegant accommodation with a touch of modern,' but it gives our town so much more. Ed and Maureen have saved a very historically important Tillson home. They have filled the gap for those who love history, like myself, who travel to explore and learn of our country's past.
People can come to Tillsonburg, stay in a historic home, visit another historic home (Annandale National Historic Site), shop at our Station Arts historic train stations, eat at the historic Mill Tales Inn, tour the town to see other old historic buildings, and our unique, beautiful, partially historic downtown. Historic Heaven!
Seven Gables fills a very empty niche in Tillsonburg and I personally would like to thank the McLaughlins for what they have done.