Historic Rodman Hall

Historic Rodman Hall

Lest there be any misunderstanding as to who built the house, Merritt encircled the initials "TRM" in the right sidelight (leaving the house) of the inner stained glass doors in the front hallway, and similarly encircled his wife's initials "MM" in the left sidelight. Below the initials in each sidelight the date "1862" is encircled. The date on the side with TRM's initials is confusing because it reads from the entrance side and is obviously of different workmanship from the rest of the glass. Part of the sidelight was broken early in Arts Centre history, and a careless repair workman put the date in backwards.

It is probable that finishing work on the house continued in 1863, and in that year the laundry room was added and connected to the original west wing with an archway carrying the date "1863."

The motto with the coat of arms in the fanlight, "Praesto et Persto," has been translated as, "I Stand Fast and Persevere."

The house has been called a "stately old Victorian Mansion." Adamson in "Our Ancestral Roof" said, "The Romanticism of Rodman is transitional from late Gothic to early Tudor to Jacobean." He described dormer ends and gables as late Elizabethan.

Stokes in "Under This Roof" called the architecture, "Jacobean Revival."

The St. Catharines Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee has described the main part of the house as "a symmetrical building of Georgian proportion but with gables and windows reminiscent of the Flemish style."

So there you have the building style. It's Late Gothic to Tudor to Late Elizabethan to Jacobean to Georgian to Victorian — with a dash of Flemish. The architect, if there was one, is unknown.

Probably it was put together by a master builder using an architectural pattern book and some knowledge of features in other big houses in Upper Canada. He may have mixed up architectural styles, but he built well. Maintenance requirements have been less than might be expected in a building parts of which are 128 years old. And the overall visual impact is rather pleasant, if a bit confusing to those trying to identify an architectural theme.

The house is a building of ashlar limestone probably obtained from the nearby Queenston quarries. Those who like their history embellished may prefer the story that the stone was quarried in Scotland and came to St. Catharines as ship's ballast. The exterior stone covers two courses of brick and is trimmed with attractive quoins at building angles.

The rear elevation has a wide verandah of Victorian design. Originally this verandah extended along the south and east sides of the main 2 ½ storey part of the house, but the east verandah was removed in the 1960 expansion, and part of the south verandah disappeared with construction of the 1975 addition. The portion remaining has been carefully preserved and some of the pillars from the part removed have been integrated with the new construction. The original verandah roof structure is unusual with rafters cut on a curve from larger wooden members thus providing concave roof sections.

The house interior is notable for its Italian marble fireplaces (12 fireplaces, not all of them marble), inlaid oak floors, and fanciful plaster cornices in what was the double drawing room and in the dining room. The stained glass double window on the main staircase intermediate landing dates from about 1880.

In this house lived the Merritts, Thomas Rodman and his wife Mary, for all their married lives. They celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary in Rodman Hall in 1903.

An early product of Upper Canada College, Thomas, while not so famous as his father, was an important business man in the area, enjoying a wide variety of interests with particular emphasis on milling and shipping. Interested in finance, he was president of the Niagara District Bank for many years and when it was absorbed by the Imperial Bank, he became a vice president of this bank, and in the last few years of his life he was president. He served for six years as a federal member of Parliament representing the riding of Lincoln. He was president of the Ridley College Association and is credited with being largely instrumental in the establishment of Ridley College in St. Catharines.

He and his wife had no children, and when he died in 1906 his heir was his nephew, William Hamilton Merritt, grandson of the canal builder.

This William Hamilton Merritt, 1865-1924, was a doctor and practiced in St. Catharines as a physician and surgeon for many years. On inheriting Rodman Hall, he appears to have retired from his medical career but maintained a life-long interest in militia affairs. At the outbreak of World War I he organized the 14th Battery, Canadian Field Artillery, and took this unit overseas in 1915. Illness took him out of front-line service the following year, but in 1917 he was back in the war zone, where, combining his medical and military experience, he commanded a military hospital. As a soldier he retired as Lieutenant-Colonel, but remained active in business as a director of several companies. He died in Rodman Hall.

Another Thomas Rodman Merritt, son of the soldier-doctor, inherited Rodman Hall and lived in the Hall until he sold it to the St. Catharines and District Arts Council. The house had long since become too big for him and he had converted it into three apartments. He was ready to sell the property, but not enthusiastic about proposals to tear down the house to make room for a housing development. Least of all did he like the idea that the stone and bricks be used as material in a fill to be built across the old canal. The concept of an arts centre appealed to him so much that he not only agreed to sell, but contributed generously to the campaign to raise money for the purchase price of his own house!

The accomplishments of the various members of the Merritt family have been recognized in several ways, the latest being the designation by The City of St. Catharines of November 27th as "Merritt Day." This date marks the anniversary of the first passage through the canal. On November 27, 1829 the schooner ANN & JANE passed St. Catharines en route to Buffalo, completing her voyage on December 2, and linking Lake Ontario with Lake Erie for ship transit.

September 17, 1960 is also an important date. On that day Rodman Hall became Rodman Hall Arts Centre. This history of the Centre describes its beginning and the first twenty-one years.

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