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Woodbourne Inn connects St. Davids past and present

The unveiling of the little free library at Sparky’s Park Pavilion by the Friends of St. Davids last Friday prompted The Local to take a deeper look into designer/builder Leslie Mann’s inspiration, the Woodbourne Inn.

The unveiling of the little free library at Sparky’s Park Pavilion by the Friends of St. Davids last Friday prompted The Local to take a deeper look into designer/builder Leslie Mann’s inspiration, the Woodbourne Inn.

Former Buffalo Sabres head coach Ted Nolan and his granddaughter Quinn admire the little library.

Located on Four Mile Creek Road in the village, the inn was built as the home of William Woodruff and his family in 1839. William, who fought in the Battle of St. Davids in October, 1812, was a member of one of the founding families of St. Davids. He and his brother Richard were successful merchants, Richard having established a general store at the corner of York Road and Four Mile Creek in 1815.

The name Woodbourne is a nod to the creek which runs through St. Davids. The home was built in three sections, starting with the original Georgian design. In 1865, the west wing was added, while a Victorian-style wing followed in 1880, complete with high ceilings and ornate details. 

Woodbourne is currently owned and operated as an inn by Adam Duffy and Brad Lounsbury. The pair are partners in the Sweetwater Group, who also owns the Kent Hotel and the South Landing Inn, both on Front Street in Queenston. 

Lounsbury and Duffy bought Woodbourne in May, 2019. Lounsbury says when they took ownership of the property, the previous owners, John and Karen Klassen, had completed the vast majority of renovations. 

“We inherited a building that they had put a lot of time, effort, love and money into,” Lounsbury says. “The furniture was changed out, we’ve repainted, and we added a fairly significant fire safety system.”

Lounsbury credits Paul Harber of nearby Ravine Vineyards for getting him up to snuff on the history of the property. Harber’s binders full of photos and history books have been valuable in Lounsbury’s learning about what went on in the 182 years of Woodbourne’s existence. 

“It’s amazing how this property really flows into a lot of other things,” he marvels. “Ravine’s tasting building with the office upstairs was originally on this property. Friends of mine on Line 8, their garage used to be on this property. We’ve been able to piece together and understand how we fit into the community.”

The home stayed in the Woodruff family for generation after generation. The Klassens were the first owners who were not descendants of William Woodruff when they purchased it from Gloria Woodruff after her husband Bruce died around 2014.

Lounsbury is genuinely fascinated by the history of the property and the family who built it. Besides running the general store with his brother, William Woodruff was later a member of the Assembly of Upper Canada, serving under Sir John Colborne. He later became  a clerk of Niagara Township, then was magistrate at St. Davids and one of the directors of the Welland Canal.

“These were the people who were guiding the town as far as how it was going to be, what it was going to be, and what the rules were,” he says.

The Local visited the Woodbourne Inn last weekend, meeting with Yvonne Trout, the current hospitality manager there. 

The nature of the three different builds means that there are some unique features to the house. For instance, there are a total of seven staircases, including a unique servant’s stairs from the dining room up to the second floor. It also has what Trout refers to as little nooks and crannies and some secret hiding spots. 

“The famous one,” Trout explained while visiting a second floor suite, “is an extra cavity behind one wall. This is where William Lyon Mackenzie King hid during the rebellion (in 1837). He then escaped out the window and down a big horse chestnut tree.”

Trout said that back in the mid-20th century, the added wings were painted a barn-red and had fallen into disrepair. 

“It was definitely ignored and dilapidated,” Trout said. “I think it was the fifth generation family member (Bruce Woodruff) that got a hold of it and put in extensive renovations, including foundational support. He tried to save as much as he could, and then had it designated as a heritage property.”

Though there is evidence Woodbourne was used as a rooming house in the early 1900s, Bruce and his wife Gloria were the ones who renovated the house to be used as an inn. But both Lounsbury and Trout said the Klassens were the first to operate it as such. Today, Sweetwater rents out eight tastefully decorated suites. A ninth suite is the owners’ quarters. 

Lily Kvederys, Lord Mayor Betty Disero, Leslie Mann (who built the Little Library), Greg Walker, Dorothy Walker and Jan King-Watson cut the ribbon on the little library in Sparky’s Park in St. Davids that was inspired by Woodbourne Inn. (Photos by Mike Balsom)

The small library in the centre of the house captures some of the historical feel of the home. One could picture Mr. Woodruff sitting by the hearth reading one of the volumes chosen from the floor-to-ceiling shelves. Trout insists some of those volumes were originally owned by the family. 

A unique curiosity in the large parlour is a square baby grand piano.

“I believe it was purchased for this room in particular,“ Trout explains. “It is a rare piece. It’s in disrepair right now, and unfortunately it would be quite an ordeal to get it fixed.”

As impressive as the house is, the grounds are equally awe-inspiring, dotted as they are by a number of trees rarely seen in Niagara. 

Just outside the kitchen, part of the west wing, stands a chokeberry tree. Trout said the berries are mashed and added to jams to give them a darker hue. As well, two large osage orange trees greet visitors near the entrance to the parking area. 

“They have these beautiful, ornamental fruits that ooze a white latex liquid,” Trout told The Local. “They are really beautiful. Florists and flower arrangers will use them in their arrangements. When they fall, in about a month, you don’t want to be parked under them. They were planted to harvest the wood, which was used for bows and arrows.” 

She shows off an unusually large boxwood tree that is very old. “A lot of gardeners will stop and marvel at the size of it. We’ve had a couple of gardeners come in and counsel us on how to keep it healthy.”

The grounds also play host to two quince trees, which bear a bright yellow fruit similar to a pear that they use in jams served at the inn. And there is a grove of pawpaw trees that Trout explains bear a tropical-tasting fruit and can be complicated to nurture. 

It’s reassuring to know the fruit growing on those trees is being served to guests at the Woodbourne Inn.

After all, those trees are part of the remaining one acre of property at Woodbourne, the last of the 200 original acres of orchards that were farmed by the Woodruff family over many years. 

And though the property is no longer held by a founding family of St. Davids, it continues to be a link to the village’s past, and a big part of its present day life.