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home of the week
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376 Nelles Rd. North, Grimsby, Ont.

Asking Price: $1,846,000

Taxes: $7,112.00 (2023)

Lot Size: 0.8 acres

Agent: Martinus Geleynse (Sotheby’s International Realty Canada)

The backstory

In 1986, Mary and James Volk set off on a one-day art tour of the Niagara region.

The Toronto couple had purchased a work by one of the artists in the past so they made sure that they fit in a stop at his address in Grimsby.

The Volks arrived to a remarkable old house that remained nearly unchanged as it was handed down through the generations of one family.

After the death of the last descendant, the artist stayed there for a time while the heirs decided what to do with the historic home. He showed the Volks around the unaltered rooms, pointing out the original staircase, heavy draperies and a wood-burning fireplace which was still used for cooking in the kitchen.

“It was in its original form,” recalls Ms. Volk of the building furnished with family heirlooms dating to the 19th century.

The couple purchased an oil painting of the garden that the artist created while looking through the dining room window.

Two years later, they bought the house.

In time the Volks learned much more about the local landmark and the Nelles family that features prominently in the history of Grimsby.

As one of the area’s founding families, the Nelles’s have been memorialized throughout the town. Street signs, a public school, a park and a local museum all bear the family name.

Long before their arrival, the land was part of the rich history of the First Nations such as the Hatiwendaronk, Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe, including the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation.

Three Nelles brothers were United Empire Loyalists who crossed the Niagara River into Canada in the late 1700s around the time of the American Revolutionary War. Each brother received a land grant at the edge of Lake Ontario, on the fertile ground below the Niagara Escarpment.

Perhaps the most well-known of the brothers was Colonel Robert Nelles, who became a mill owner, politician and commander of the local militia in the War of 1812. Today his house is the Nelles Manor Museum, where the grounds have been designated as an official 1812 battle site.

Incursions took place on many parts of the family’s land and three generations of Nelleses joined in protecting the Niagara frontier, according to the museum’s records.

The colonel’s brother, William, divided his own estate between his sons, with one parcel going to John Adolphus Nelles in the mid-1800s.

It was John Adolphus who built the house which currently stands at 376 Nelles Rd. N.

At the time, John Adolphus was a widower with four children. He married Helen Sumner and, in 1846, completed the house he called Lake Lawn because the pasture stretched all the way to the shore. The home remained in the family, passed down through the generations.

The last descendant to live in the home, Mary Burnham, died in the 1980s.

The exterior of the two-storey, red-brick house built in the Regency style was designated under the Ontario Heritage Act in 1986.

The house today

  • Home of the Week, 376 Nelles Rd. North, Grimsby, Ont.OTBx Air

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After their visit to the artist, the Volks didn’t think about the house again until two years later when they once again toured Niagara studios. The artist had moved on but he mentioned that the property was for sale.

They booked an appointment to view the home and bought it four days later.

In the two years since they had visited, a builder who specialized in restoring old houses had added modern conveniences, including new heating, plumbing and electrical systems.

He also pulled down heavy, flocked wallpaper, stripped paint from the 18-inch baseboards and refurbished the wide plank floors.

Many of the home’s unique elements remain, including the names the Nelles children etched into the window panes. Flora, Eliza, John and William are some of the names that appear in the wavy glass.

The original hardware – with keys weighing as much as a pound – remains on many of the doors.

Today the house has approximately 3,500 square feet of living space with four bedrooms and one-and-a-half bathrooms.

On the main floor, a large living room has a decorative fireplace, wide plank floors and tall windows with views of the manicured grounds.

The two spend much of their time in the library at the front of the house. After the original furniture was removed, Mr. Volk built new cabinets with book shelves above.

The original kitchen was likely in a separate building, Mr. Volk says, but at some point an addition was built on the back of the house.

Today a modern white kitchen has been installed under oak beams. The servants’ staircase has been opened up and its timeworn treads preserved. The fireplace holds a cast iron pot suspended on the original crane, and heritage records say John Adolphus is believed to have built the wooden surround himself.

Mr. Volk delved into old-fashioned cooking methods in order to put the kitchen fireplace to use. It took several pounds of wood to make a stew, he learned, and other dishes were often fried in skillets on the hearth. He added a spit for roasting meat over the embers.

“You can barbeque as easily on it as you can outside,” Mr. Volk says.

A large dining room at the centre of the home accommodates dinner parties. Over the years, the Volks have raised funds for the Grimsby Museum and other local organizations by auctioning off the opportunity to spend an evening at Lake Lawn.

Mr. Volk cooks dinner for the guests over the flame in the kitchen and a group of 10 or so gather around the large table in the dining room.

Upstairs, the house has three bedrooms and a study. The former servants’ quarters now serve as the TV room.

The Volks renovated the primary bathroom to include a stand-alone tub and a walk-in shower.

The Nelles’s household goods were sold at auction before the house was renovated, so the couple has traveled to many places in the United States and Canada to seek out furniture that fits the home. A china cabinet, for example, was salvaged from a post office in Nova Scotia, and the long dining room table comes from Buffalo.

Today the painting of orange day lilies the couple purchased during their first visit to the home hangs in the powder room.

The Volks hope the third family to become custodians of the 177-year-old home will appreciate and maintain its heritage.

“I hope they will respect its history and enjoy living in it because it’s going to be there after they’re gone,” says Ms. Volk. “These houses do appeal to a very unique, small set of people.”

Grimsby offers the opportunity to visit many wineries and orchards. The beach that once belonged to Lake Lawn is now the public Nelles Beach Park . Hikes in the area offer panoramic views from the many lookouts along the Bruce Trail and Niagara Escarpment.

“It’s a nice town. It’s a town that has an appreciation for culture as well,” Ms. Volk says.

The best feature

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Some of the oak, chestnut, maple, pine and spruce trees on the property are more than 100 years old, while pear, plum, sour cherry, magnolia and redbud trees blossom in the spring.OTBx Air

The grounds of Lake Lawn measure nearly one acre, about a block from Lake Ontario.

Some of the oak, chestnut, maple, pine and spruce trees on the property are more than 100 years old, while pear, plum, sour cherry, magnolia and redbud trees blossom in the spring.

Herb and perennial gardens surround the house.

Mr. Volk, who took up stone work, laid the walkways and patio. He had 100 tons of stone brought in to build the fence that lines the perimeter.

At times, hundreds of monarch butterflies have stopped over to roost in the trees during migration.

Each summer, the front porch is the setting for a recital performed by Ms. Volk on her harp.

“It’s a really inviting place,” Ms. Volk says of the porch that stretches the width of the house. “It’s like a room we use all the time.”

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