A sibling for sale: Historic Four Sisters house on the market

·4 min read
Take a rare peek inside one of the Four Sisters.  (CBC - image credit)
Take a rare peek inside one of the Four Sisters. (CBC - image credit)

A quarter of an iconic St. John's landmark is up for sale.

31 Temperance Street, the oldest of the Four Sisters houses, is on the market.

The stone mason who designed and built Cabot Tower built the homes as wedding presents for his four daughters starting in the late 1800s. He made them out of surplus sandstone and slate from the tower.

The house for sale is 2,200 square feet with four bedrooms and one bathroom, said realtor Debbie Hanlon. She's listing the home — which she says is zoned a commercial property — for $300,000.

"The bones are there," she said.

The Four Sisters have been abandoned for years. They're derelict inside.

What happened?

For a short while, squatters moved into one of the homes.

For decades, they reeked of sewage.

The bathroom is located in the walk-out basement.
The bathroom is located in the walk-out basement. (CBC)

"I was letting them deteriorate since they were of no value to me at the time," Judith Bobbitt told CBC News in 2015 when she started some restoration work.

She owns three of the four homes.

Bobbitt said the smell was resolved when the City of St. John's upgraded its sewage treatment plant.

She never finished the renovations but, according to Hanlon, Bobbitt still hopes to fix up her two other houses, numbers 35 and 37, on her own. They're not for sale.

Bobbitt used to run her business at the address that's now on the market. Although, Hanlon said, it could be reverted back into a residential property.

Bobbitt wasn't available for an interview, but according to Hanlon, will be donating money from the sale of the house to cancer research.

One of the sitting rooms on the main floor
One of the sitting rooms on the main floor(CBC)

"She's hoping someone will buy it and turn it into something like a restaurant that other people could come in and enjoy it," Hanlon said.

"From a business standpoint, there's already tremendous marketing built up around this, and flavour, around this property."

'A task of love'

Paint is peeling off the walls, staircases and mouldings are packed with dirt, many of the windows are boarded up.

"It's a task of love … and passion," Hanlon said, acknowledging it would be hard and costly work to make the space livable again.

This room and the kitchen area, which right now just houses a sink, is also in the basement. Presumably, it's where servants would have lived and worked.
This room and the kitchen area, which right now just houses a sink, is also in the basement. Presumably, it's where servants would have lived and worked.(CBC)

The kitchen area and bathroom are in the basement. Presumably, that's where servants would have lived and worked.

You can see three storeys from the back of the house — bedrooms upstairs, living areas on the main and kitchen, bathroom and assumed servers quarters in the basement — but there's actually a fourth storey beneath the walk-out basement level, built around Signal Hill bedrock.

But, is there a tunnel?

It's rumoured a tunnel runs underneath the four houses, dug out so the sisters could visit each other.

"I don't see evidence of that in this one," Hanlon said.

Three storeys are visible from the back of the house. The kitchen and bathroom are on the bottom floor but underneath that walk-out basement level, there's a shorter fourth storey where Signal Hill bedrock is visible.
Three storeys are visible from the back of the house. The kitchen and bathroom are on the bottom floor but underneath that walk-out basement level, there's a shorter fourth storey where Signal Hill bedrock is visible. (Curtis Hicks/CBC)

Numbers 31 and 33, the houses lowest on the hill, were built before Cabot Tower. Numbers 35 and 37 were finished after.

"That was the first one built," Hanlon said of the house for sale. "So maybe they added that in the other three when they put them in."

"I haven't seen the tunnels yet, but I'm looking for them."

The walls are two feet thick. That's seen in the depth of the windows.

The basement beneath the basement. Signal Hill bedrock is seen protruding through the wall in the photo on the left. The other three walls look like the rock in the photo on the right. Hanlon can't find an entrance to a tunnel.
The basement beneath the basement. Signal Hill bedrock is seen protruding through the wall in the photo on the left. The other three walls look like the rock in the photo on the right. Hanlon can't find an entrance to a tunnel. (CBC)

There's a gap between the exterior stone and the interior wood walls built for insulation and to keep the walls from rotting, according to Heritage Newfoundland and Labrador.

Getting interest

"They're structurally sound," Hanlon said.

The Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador designated the Four Sisters as Registered Heritage Structures in October 1988.

This is the first time one of the houses has been for sale since then.

The stone walls are two feet thick. You can tell by the depth of the windows.
The stone walls are two feet thick. You can tell by the depth of the windows. (CBC)

"I've gotten hundreds of calls since my sign went on it," Hanlon said.

"Mainly people wanting to see the inside, but some very serious investors … and some people off the island are interested as well."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador