Organization: The New Brunswick Historical Society
City: Saint John
About This Project Idea
Benedict Arnold never slept in Loyalist House. In fact he left Saint John, New Brunswick in a huff in 1791, never to return. Loyalist House was built by David Merritt in 1817, well after the famous Revolutionary war general, and traitor, according to American history, had died. Arnold lived in the city from 1785 to 1791 and attempted to set himself up in business. He was an unpopular figure who was embroiled in lawsuits and even accused by a business partner of burning down a warehouse for the insurance money. His residence was on the corner of King and Canterbury streets, a few minutes stroll from Loyalist House. Who knows-perhaps Arnold often passed by the site of the future Merritt residence, plotting revenge on his enemies.
So Benedict Arnold never even saw Loyalist House. But the period furniture in the small house museum, which turns 200 this year, needs some love and care. We are also hoping to replace the faded wallpaper with something brighter. Please donate to our crowd funding campaign so we can restore this sofa and its companions and help keep alive the heritage of the Loyalists and early Saint John. Even if it includes Benedict Arnold.
Loyalist House is the second oldest extant building in Saint John, 50 years older than Canada itself and celebrating 200 years the same year as Canada 150. These are all factors we can incorporate into the economic, social and cultural benefits. The Loyalist House has become a community institution over the years where people come together to celebrate, share and become inspired. Activities have included specialized tours, receptions, teas, lectures, seasonal events and ghost walks.
In addition to the specific history of the Merritt family, Loyalist House is part of Canada’s immigration and refugee history. The Loyalists were the first wave of refugees to reach New Brunswick; in recent years, they have been followed by groups such as Syrian refugees. This is a way that we may connect the history of Loyalist House with the 21st century.
The former Merritt home has stood the test of time as the city has been built up, altered and torn down around it. On TripAdvisor, Loyalist House has been rated as the #1 attraction in Saint John though we recognize that there is always room for improvement and this is why we want to keep pushing forward. Continued work in enhancing the visitor experience will only solidify and assert the presence of Loyalist House in our community for future generations to cherish and enjoy.
About this place
In 1783, several thousand American Loyalists left their homes, having fled the American Revolution, and arrived at the mouth of the St. John River and began to carve a city out of wilderness. Two years later, Saint John became the first incorporated city in what later was Canada. Among these Loyalists were the Merritt family who arrived from Rye, New York. In 1810, David Daniel Merritt, one of the sons, purchased property just within the city limits at the time and began construction on a house, which was not completed until 1817 most likely due to the War of 1812.
A Georgian mansion and originally known as ‘the House on the Hill,’ the Merritt home was constructed of New Brunswick pine with cypress clapboards on the south and west exteriors. The house remained in the family for six generations and survived the Great Fire of 1877. In 1958, the house was sold when it was to be demolished in favour of a gas station. This never came to pass as it was then sold to the New Brunswick Historical Society which planned to operate it as a museum. That same year, it was designated a National Historic Site of Canada. With the Governor General Georges Vanier and his wife present, the doors of The Loyalist House opened for the first time to the public in 1961. The house operates as a museum during peak tourism season, as well as during the busy cruise ship season in September and October. During other times of the year it opens for special events. The museum features furniture, paintings, clothing, tools, household items, toys and other artifacts from the early to late 19th century.
In recent years, the exterior of Loyalist House was deteriorating rapidly. Community champion, Barry Ogden headed up major fundraising in 2016 through private funding and gifts in kind which resulted in a major overhaul. The project took 11 weeks to complete with a budget of $600,000. With the completion of this extensive renovation, the exterior of the home is now returned to its former glory.