The Halfway House from “Come Ashore”

This article was taken from “Come Ashore to Holyrood” Compiled by Mary G. Veitch, R.N. (1989)1

See also:
Murphy – Halfway House & Chapel’s Cove
Salmonier Line of Road & Halfway House
Murphy Tree

Please note the word “compiled”; Mary Veitch collected the stories that went into her fabulous! book and created a wonderful resource for genealogists and for Holyrood families. She talked to everyone she knew; she asked people to write what they knew of their family histories, and she put them all together in her book “Come Ashore to Holyrood, A Folk History of Holyrood”.

I have no idea who supplied the information on the Halfway House. However, from what my mother says this was the story that she was familiar with, and she believed it to be gospel truth. Her mother was Ester Murphy, a daughter of Patrick Murphy who was a son of James, who (I’m pretty sure), was a son of Thomas Murphy, the second caretaker of the Halfway House.

In the days before paved roads and cars, making the journey from Placentia to St John’s was a big undertaking. Travel on foot, or even by horseback, horse and cart or horse and sleigh was slow enough in the best of times, but when the weather was bad, it was very treacherous going. The mailman, for one, had to make the journey good weather or bad.

The trip covered a distance of approximately eighty-four miles. The government decided to take some measure to offset the danger and discomfort by erecting a shelter on the Salmonier road, roughly half way on the journey. This shelter became the landmark known as the Halfway House.

Before the railway got underway in 1884, the mailman’s journey was from Placentia to St John’s. After 1884 his job was to deliver the mail to Holyrood station, where it was given to the mailman in charge of the mail car. This trip to Holyrood was still long enough that the mailman would have to make a stop, maybe two, at the the Halfway House.

When road construction to St Mary’s Bay began, the number of people travelling over the Salmonier Road increased. This meant that a bigger and better facility was needed. A house was built to replace the original shelter and a caretaker was provided.

The first caretaker of the shelter was John Murphy, originally of Chapel’s Cove. When an epidemic of cholera broke out in the Harbour Main area in the mid 1800’s, Murphy moved his wife and family to the wilderness to protect them from the dreadful disease. He built a cabin by the side of Peak Pond, six miles from Holyrood.

One day, Fr. William Forristal, the parish priest of Placentia was passing by the cabin on his horse and he stopped to have a chat with John. The priest happened to mention that a caretaker was needed for the new house that was being built. John applied for the job and was given it. He and his family lived in the new house.

One side of the house was a large room containing a stove, table and benches for the use of the travellers. The caretaker’s duty was to provide wood and water. The travellers supplied their own food.

In the later 1880’s John’s son Larry married Mary Shea of St John’s. Larry and Mary took over the caretakers duties as John was growing old. Now there were so many people travelling the route that it was necessary to provide meals and sleeping accommodations. As business expanded, the house became too small so Larry and Mary built their own house on the site of the original shelter. The Halfway House itself was now a small hotel in beautiful wilderness surroundings.

After Larry and Mary died, their daughters Maud and Josephine continued to run the Halfway House. Around 1913 Maud married William Walsh of Salmonier, In 1915 Josephine married Bernard Gough and moved to Salmonier.

Will and Maud continued to run the business successfully. Maud died suddenly in 1924 and Will continued to run the Halfway House. He eventually married Annie Tobin of The Gaskiers, St Mary’s Bay. Their two children were Will Jr and Michael. Will Jr’s son Paul is currently a General Practitioner with his own medical clinic in Holyrood.

Will Walsh died in 1945. Later that year the Halfway House caved in because the chimney collapsed. Annie’s sons built her a new house near the original site.

Farmers, fishermen, housewives, priests, doctors, governors, mailmen, judges, politicians all stopped at the Halfway House. Meals were shared, stories were told, gossip was exchanged, friendships developed. The Halfway House became, not only a landmark, but a legend of its own.

When Fr. Joseph Murphy became administrator of Holyrood parish in 1900, he started a yearly parish outing to the Halfway House. Young and old looked forward to this event as being one of the highlights of the summer.

On the day of the outing Father Murphy, with two altar boys and a few friends, would arrive very early at the Halfway House, where Mass would be celebrated.

Shortly after breakfast, the picnickers would arrive. Everyone would be dressed up and have their baskets of lunch with them, There was time to socialize while things were organized for the meal. After the meal, the women would chat and watch while the men and children held competitions such as races, horseshoes and tug of war. After the events, prizes were awarded. Around five o’clock in the evening the kettles would be boiled again and people would have another mug up. Then it was time for a sing a long before departing for home. People looked forward to the picnics at the Halfway House. However, eventually, as times changed, they died out.

Come Ashore to Holyrood, A Folk History of Holyrood
Compiled by Mary G Veitch, R.N., Edited by Marie L Hunt
Published by Creative Publishers, St John’s, Newfoundland , 1989.

I’m sorry to say that this book is now out of print and is no longer available.

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