Edwin Nelson Residence – Saint John

Edwin Nelson Residence – Saint John

The Edwin Nelson Residence, located on Pitt Street in Saint John, is a Local Historic Place with a strong connection to David H. Waterbury and E. G. Nelson, as well as the Nelson family’s long-lasting presence there.

This residence features a distinctive blend of Greek Revival and Italianate architectural styles. It is a side-gabled, symmetrical building with eave returns, denticulated and bracketed eaves, and a frieze adorned with Acanthus leaves at the roofline. The large dormer boasts an ornate cornice and fretwork near the gable, while the elongated windows display entablatures supported by decorative scroll brackets with acanthus leaves and fish scale ornamentation. The entrance is strikingly ornate, featuring an entablature that mirrors the window entablatures but on a larger scale. The doorway is designed with sidelights, a base panel, a transom window, and beautifully paired wooden doors featuring molded Roman arch panels. The exterior’s original woodwork is remarkable for its high quality.

Edwin Nelson Residence Saint John NB

The house’s initial occupant was Michael Melaney, a tailor and shoemaker. In 1883, David H. Waterbury purchased the property from Melaney. Born in 1852, Waterbury began his federal service in 1869 as a junior post office clerk. In 1881, he joined the Department of Public Works and stayed there until his 1922 retirement. His responsibilities included overseeing all Dominion Government properties in the Maritime Provinces. In 1869, 18-year-old Waterbury and a group of friends established a lodge of the Knights of Pythias fraternity, which aimed to heal Civil War divisions between the North and South. Waterbury invited Supreme Chancellor Read and a fellow official to Saint John to set up the first branch of the order outside the United States. By the time Waterbury passed away in 1952 at age 90, the order had hundreds of thousands of members. He is credited with founding the order’s earliest international branches and was the oldest Knights of Pythias member in the British Empire. Waterbury sold the home around 1890.

My Own Canadian Home

From 1893 until his 1904 death, the residence belonged to Edwin G. Nelson, a local bookseller who gained fame by writing and publishing “My Own Canadian Home” in 1887. Known as Canada’s national song in the late 19th century, it was widely sung in Maritime schools and performed by bands. The song sold over 1.5 million copies by 1896. Although its popularity waned by World War II, it was revived and chosen as Saint John’s official song in 1967.

Edwin G. Nelson’s father was a poet and bookseller in Saint John, where Edwin started working as a young boy, sparking his interest in literature. He also worked for booksellers Thomas H. Hall and William K. Crawford. Occasionally using the pen name Edwin St. John or E.S.J., he began writing short articles, stories, and poems for local publications, including works for Stewart’s Literary Quarterly Magazine.

In the 1870s, Nelson moved to Prince Edward Island and became an importer and repairer of sewing machines, acting as an agent for Wanzer sewing machines. He continued to write for his own enjoyment and for newspapers in both Prince Edward Island and Saint John.

After the 1877 fire in Saint John, Nelson returned and established a bookselling and stationery business on King Street. He later relocated to the corner of Charlotte and King streets, operating there until his death in 1904. E. G. Nelson and Company became a central gathering place for literary enthusiasts in the city. His obituary in the St. John Daily Sun mentioned that his shop was a favorite spot for readers, as he was likely the most knowledgeable book dealer in the area. The shop also attracted Canadian patriots and British imperialists, as Nelson refused to stock or sell publications he considered anti-British.

In November 1888, Nelson co-founded the Saint John branch of the Imperial Federation League in Canada, serving as its secretary, and sat on the national organization’s executive. When the league affiliated with the British Empire League in 1896, he became the secretary of the New Brunswick branch. He devoted much of his time to promoting imperial federation and writing articles on the subject.

Nelson is buried in Fernhill Cemetery, Saint John. Members of the Nelson family continued to live in his home until the 1980s.

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My Own Canadian Home Music

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7 thoughts on “Edwin Nelson Residence – Saint John

  1. Very interesting article and comments. Is there a book or online publication re historic and heritage homes in Saint John?

  2. Thank you Boyd, yes I would love to see photos of the inside, sounds like you poured lots of love into this home.

  3. I was the owner until 2016 and the restoration of the front doors was my doing. Unfortunately, I was transferred for work before we could complete the exterior restoration, but we restored / repaired much of the interior spaces. It had been neglected for many years, but luckily the neglect resulted in most of the original character was left unchanged. We refinished both the front and back parlours woodwork (aka Living and Dining rooms), lifted the filthy carpet in the back parlour where we found what we think was the original Oil Cloth. Both fireplaces had the original faux painted slate, which were in very good condition, needing only a good cleaning, We added a new Granite tile floor in the main hall, with underfloor heating, and rebuilt the wall under the staircase to provide a better entrance to the basement. Completely re-wired, some new windows and a new roof on the Flat portion. I do have some pics of the before and after.

    1. Hi Boyd,

      Thanks for getting back to us so quickly. We’d love to have some interior photos of the house and will add them to our post. Thanks for offering.

      Larry & Steve

  4. What a unique home…do you have any photos of it inside? Who owns it now?
    We are moving to NB in the spring, we are so looking forward to visiting many of the topics you have covered.

    1. Hi Claudette. Unfortunately we couldn’t get inside to photograph the house. We have no idea who owns the house now. We’re approving your post in hopes that someone visiting our site might have the information you’re looking for and respond. Glad that you’re moving here in the spring and that our site has helped you learn more about our beautiful province. You can subscribe on the home page to receive an email when we send out a weekly post. And be sure to join our Facebook Group.

      Larry & Steve

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