The O'Reilly House - Historic Site

 


Background information - The O'Reillys

In the late 1800's Placentia, with the area courthouses and steamer service, became a centre for church and state administration for Placentia Bay. Thomas O'Reilly was one of the local merchants who dominated local trade. He was a Placentia native who was educated at St. Bonaventure College in St. John's. He was teacher and trader in Placentia before being elected in 1865 as the Conservative representative for Placentia and St. Mary's. In 1877, O'Reilly was appointed magistrate at Placentia, a position he held for nearly 20 years. He is also known as the founder of the local branch of the still existing Star of the Sea organization. O'Reilly's son, William, was also a magistrate, as was his son William. It was this latter William who built the house which is now known as O'Reilly House.

 

Background Information - The House

The O'Reilly House, built at one time for magistrate William O'Reilly, is located along the Orcan River (the "arm" ) in the heart of the town of Placentia. A father of eight, O'Reilly commissioned St. John's contractor W.J. Ellis to build the substantial two-storey house in 1902. It continued to be the home of the local magistrate until 1984. The last magistrate to live in the house was Magistrate William Linegar, who lived there with his family from 1943 until his death in 1984. At that time the house was acquired by the Placentia Area Historical Society, refurbished to its original state and became a designated historic site. It has been open to the public since

1989 - the same year that Newfoundland Historic Trust presented it with a Southcott Award for restoration work. The house is unique in its architecture and in the fact that it was a home for magistrates for so long. To most people in the area it is known simply as "the magistrates house".

Features of the house

From the outside, O'Reilly House is eye-catching with lovely stained glass around the front door and its two bay windows. Inside the front door and straight ahead there is a centre hall with beautiful oak stairs leading to the second floor. To left of the hall there is a front parlor and a dining room separated by pocket sliding doors. Each room is exquisitely divided, and each has a fireplace with a decorative mantle. Standing at the bay window in the parlor one can look out at the unchanging river that inspired William O'Reilly to build his home on this site. In these rooms and throughout the house are floors made from spruce, restored from the original flooring. The plaster walls and ceiling are accentuated by detailed moulding.

At the back of the main floor hall is a kitchen/pantry filled with a wonderful assortment of furniture, including a Waterloo wood stove with three burners and a top oven. A box of wood sits beside the stove and next to it is a rocking chair. Close by is a spinning wheel and a butter churn. The kitchen table is set for tea and the sideboard is filled with dishes. For after-meal naps, there's a black settee tucked away in one corner.

Winding servants' stairs at the rear of the kitchen lead up to what used to be the maid's room, and to a door that leads to the main part of the house. The second floor has four bedrooms for family members, and a room with a glass door that is believed to have been a library or study. In the master bedroom there is a love seat under the bay window, looking out at the magnificent ocean view. As well there is a fireplace which was most likely used for warmth on cold winter evenings and alongside is an old-fashioned rocker. The bedroom also has a wrought-iron bed, a dresser, and a wash stand. There are also two wooden trunks , one of which is filled with linens and sits at the foot of the bed.

This house truly provides the setting of an early 1900's well-to-do Newfoundland family.

 

Source: Placentia Historical Society, Placentia

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This Page is part of a Historical and Cultural Web Site created by students of Laval High School, Placentia, NFLD (A0B 2Y0). Edited March, 2000