The little prefabricated Californian redwood building now standing at 42 Mitchell Street, Eden, arrived in Australia from America, destined for the newly constructed Green Cape Lighthouse complex erected by Albert Wood Aspinall between 1882 and 1883.
That facility included a telegraph office built on the spot known as Queen's Hill and in 1883, it was reported that it "...is an important telegraph station and an operator is always on duty."
Despite this, however, the living quarters originally provided for the master were "not very comfortable" so arrangements were made to provide "one of those American redwood houses which can be fitted together and taken to pieces almost as easily as a child's puzzle."
...they are a telling reflection of peculiar historical conditions which made the transportation of such buildings physically and economically feasible.Professor Miles Lewis, University of Melbourne's Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning
The importation of prefabricated or "portable" buildings to the Australian colonies began as early as the 1830s and with the ongoing shortage of labour and materials, particularly in the wake of the 1850s gold rushes, demand continued to grow. The peak year was 1853, but trade continued throughout the 19th and into the early twentieth century.
Australian architectural historian Professor Miles Lewis of the University of Melbourne's Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning noted that "...they are a telling reflection of peculiar historical conditions which made the transportation of such buildings physically and economically feasible."
Designs ranged from simple cottages through to larger, more impressive houses and grand villas along with civic buildings, with pattern books and catalogues allowing purchasers to browse and buy at a distance. Timber was the most prevalent material of the prefabricated buildings brought to Australia, although cast iron and corrugated iron were popular, and other materials also utilised, including papier-mâché.
Today, according to Professor Lewis, South Eastern Australia retains more extant 19th century examples than anywhere else in the world, and, as the Mitchell Street cottage illustrates, still more are being identified as recognition grows.
After landing in Australia, the cottage was transported to the isolated Green Cape peninsula where it was erected behind the telegraph office in September 1883.
However, a less than glowing report about the new addition claimed that "Such a building is totally unsuitable for the purpose it is destined to serve and probably after a very heavy gale both house and occupant will be missing, for the wind sweeps this headland with a force inconceivable by dwellers of Sydney."
Fortunately, the ominous warning proved unfounded and after William R Bragg moved in as the first of the lighthouse's telegraph and signal masters to occupy the building, it remained in use on the site for 32 years.
Then, in 1915, the little four-roomed cottage was offered for "purchase, demolition and removal". After being bought by master whaler George Davidson, it was relocated to the family's Kiah River station where it was added to the existing "Loch Garra" residence.
In 1930, the cottage was on the move again. This time it was transported across Twofold Bay to Eden where it was erected at its current Mitchell Street location. There, for almost three-quarters of a century, it was home to George Davidson's daughter Elsie and her husband Norm Severs, and remained as their family home until 2004.
In 2010, when the building was placed on the market, it was described as a "classic three bedroom timber cottage...constructed from American timbers transported to Australia in the latter part of the 19th century". It was reported that "the stumps are vertical blocks of wood with grooves cut in them, into which the walls are fitted".
The building is not listed on Schedule 5 (heritage) of the Bega Valley Shire Council Local Environment Plan.
- With thanks to local historian Angela George.