I could not, at any age, be content to take my place by the fireside and simply look on. Life was meant to be lived. Curiosity must be kept alive. One must never, for whatever reason, turn his back on life.—Eleanor Roosevelt
Living in a house built in the 1930s began feeding my curiosity. Who lived here before? What did it look like then? How much has it changed since it was built? I kept asking local people what they knew about our house. I started piecing together little bits of information:
- Before Toni (who we have met and bought the house from) lived here, Peter and Karen Chapman did major renovations.
- Before Peter and Karen, the house was divided into two flats.
- Dennis Smith, a local teacher, lived here.
Finally, I decided to go to the District Counsel office, and there I found a gold mine (pun intended since Greymouth was known for its gold mines).
The District Counsel had a copy of the original subdivision of the land from 1927.
Next I found the original plans: Proposed Cottage for Thos. Sotheran [Jr.], dated May 12, 1933. Scouring around History House, the local history museum and collection, I figured out that Thomas married Annie Elizabeth Olsen. They had two sons, Thomas Trevorah and Norman James, who apparently grew up in our house and worked in the family business.
The Sotheran family name is well-known in Greymouth. For many years, they owned the local “joinery”–which (for the American readers) is a cabinetry shop.
The records included the materials list, which makes me long for the “heart Rimu” paneling down the hallway. It is long since gone (or could it be covered??).
So far, I have only found a photo of Thomas, but none of the entire family. That is on my to-do list–it is a long list and any help would be appreciated!
Annie died in 1947. Thomas died in 1968. They are buried in the nearby Karora cemetery (it took me two visits to find their grave), which is only a short walk away. I have to wonder if Thomas walked the same path to put flowers on Annie’s grave from time to time.
I also found the plan that shows how the house was divided into two flats in 1969, one year after Thomas Sotheran died. For orientation, note that this plan is drawn upside down from the original plan.
Then along came the Chapmans in 1994. They must have followed a similar research path, looking for the original house plans. Although not exact, their restoration returns the house to a modernized version of the original plan. They did an exceptional job restoring the house. I hear he was transferred to Christchuch, but so far, I haven’t located them. Another missing piece of the puzzle.
We’ve settled in, made ourselves at home, have begun adding more landscaping and plants. Our bird feeder is outside the window and filled with feathered visitors. We are happy to be living the next chapter in this house’s history.
We think Thomas and Annie would be proud.