It was early 1966 when Roy Stevens learned of an abandoned 1838 tavern for sale in the village of Consecon, Ont., and persuaded his wife, Margaret, to take a look.
"We decided one very cold January morning to go and look at this place. He wanted the old part and I agreed," recalls Ms. Stevens of their Prince Edward County excursion.
Mr. Stevens dismantled the old building, left behind a later addition, and transported the pieces 50 kilometres south to Waupoos. The couple spent the next 42 years putting the house back together and finishing the interior.
The house, which was 95 per cent complete, was sold at auction recently after Mr. Stevens died last spring at the age of 78, and Ms. Stevens moved to Vancouver Island to be closer to her son.
"The happiest thing about it is that it was saved," Ms. Stevens says. "It was a Canadian thing of beauty."
On auction day, only one registered bidder stepped forward to name a price for the property, which was put on the block with a minimum opening bid of $250,000.
The purchase price was not disclosed at the request of Ms. Stevens and the buyer, says broker Manson Slik of Gordon's Estate Services Ltd.
"We met and exceeded the reserve for sure," Mr. Slik adds.
More than 300 people toured the property, he adds, but it was a young solicitor from Toronto who took over from the Stevens.
Some of the people who viewed the house commented that living there would be a bit like living in a museum, he adds.
"In the end, only one person saw it the way that Roy saw it."
Mr. Slik says the purchaser, who owns two other properties in the county, plans to finish the remaining work on the house.
Ms. Stevens says the Greek revival house was a happy home for her family. The 2,200-square foot house with three bedrooms sits on a little less than one acre of land on County Road 8 near the hamlet of Waupoos. There's a view across the road to Lake Ontario.
"I just hope the new owners have a feeling for it."
She decided to put the house up for auction because she wanted a quick sale, Ms. Stevens explains. Older houses can sometimes languish on the market for a year or two in Prince Edward County.
Mr. Slik considers the current real estate market in the county the slowest in 10 years.
"Sales are sharply down," he says, while the number of listings is up.
According to Mr. Slik's research, the structure was built for Richard Hayes by 23-year-old craftsman Martin Miller. Several years later, "Hayes Tavern" was sold to Robert Porter and, with an addition, became "Porter's Hotel" until 1869.
From 1869 until 1920, the hotel and tavern had a storied history, the archives show. But it was abandoned after 1920 when Consecon became a "dry" village and liquor was no longer served at the bar.
When Mr. and Ms. Stevens purchased the property in 1966, they were given only six weeks to remove it.
The addition, which dated to the later 1800s, was not as well-built, says Ms. Stevens.
"We left that behind because we just wanted the original tavern."
Mr. Stevens took it all apart, made careful drawings and measurements, and numbered each portion.
The pieces remained in storage for several years, recalls Ms. Stevens. "There were children to raise."
In 1973, Mr. Stevens began reassembling the puzzle.
Throughout the house, numbers pencilled onto woodwork can be seen here and there.
For example, the floors in the second-floor bathroom, which have never been painted, expose the numbering system.
Mr. Steven hand-made plaster moulds in order to reproduce the original ceiling mouldings, cornices and rain gutter water heads.
In the dining room, 16 original oil-on-board landscape paintings were uncovered after the Stevens received a phone call from an elderly lady who said she lived in the house when she was a child.
"I tried one and a tree showed up - and then a horse and then a bridge," says Ms. Stevens, who painstakingly worked away at the panels. "That was great - discovering them, taking many layers of paint off and restoring them."
Working on the house, Ms. Stevens liked to imagine the historic times that the tavern stood through. The armed uprisings of 1837 in Upper and Lower Canada, for example, were under way when the tavern was under construction, she reckons.
"Just think of the history - the rebellion. It was being built and people were talking about the rebellion."
While Mr. Stevens was the creative force behind the reconstruction of the house, Ms. Stevens spent many hours working on it alongside him.
"I spent a lot of time on scaffolding - he did, too."
Once, working on the exterior, they lost track of time and laboured long into the night. When they eventually checked the time, they found it was about 3 a.m.
"I just wondered what the neighbours were thinking," Ms. Stevens says.
By the early 1980s, the pair had made enough progress to move in with their two children. There was still a lot to do, Ms. Stevens remembers, but the house was livable enough.
"You can live in unfinished rooms," she says.
Meanwhile, she laid limestone paths through the garden and planted old-fashioned perennials such as bleeding hearts and orange lilies.
"I liked orange lilies because they are survivors."
Mr. Stevens continued puttering, his wife says, until he fell ill last year. The family spent this summer completing some of the remaining work in time for the auction.
Ms. Stevens says her husband would have been shocked at the attention the house has received. Many pieces of furniture and art were auctioned off along with the property, and bidding was brisk for those items, Mr. Slik says.
Looking back, Ms. Stevens fondly recalls the many big family gatherings and Thanksgiving pot-luck dinners.
"It's been a nice house to live in."