The house at 75 Spring Street, now known as the MacNaught History Centre and Archives, was built for a local surveyor and auctioneer named John Clay. He was for many years a Deputy Sheriff as well as a Superintendent of Public Works for Prince County and was well known and respected in the community. In November 1887, the Summerside Journal noted, “Deputy Sheriff Clay has built a very fine substantial and well finished two storey house on his corner lot….” The east wing was a later addition, the year unknown.
Prior to the construction of the present building, the Clays apparently had an earlier dwelling. John Clay bought the property from foundry man George Bishop in 1877. A house in this location is shown on Ruger’s 1878 map of Summerside and also in Meacham’s Atlas of 1880.
After Clay’s death in 1900, his daughters Elizabeth (Bessie) and Caroline took in boarders for a few years. The property had been deeded to Bessie and in 1912 she sold it to Cyrus B. Morris. Mr. Morris was involved in lobster canneries and ran the Summerside branch of the N.B. Company Fred Magee Ltd., and was a manager of the P.E.I. Fox Exchange. Mr. Morris and his wife Florence sold to Theron Morrison in 1947, but lived in the house for their remaining years. Mrs. Morris died in 1949 and Mr. Morris in 1955.
In 1957, the house and lot was sold to J. Watson MacNaught, a lawyer and politician who served four terms in the Canadian House of Commons. In 1963, he was appointed Solicitor General in the Liberal administration and then in July 1965, he became Minister of Mines and Technical Surveys. He lost his seat in the November 1965 election and the next March he accepted a government appointment as Chairman of the Dominion Coal Board. He retired from public service in 1972 and practiced law in Summerside with his son John. After Mr. MacNaught’s death in 1984, his wife Eva continued to reside in the house until 1997.
In 1998, the MacNaught house was acquired by the Wyatt Foundation and became the third property in the formation of the Wyatt Heritage Properties. It is the location of the MacNaught History Centre and Archives, which offers a public research area on the main level. The previous reading room on the second floor, which was in use until its relocation in 2009, now serves as a meeting and program room and is the display area for paintings by Summerside artist John Gothard Baker (1870-1953). The MacNaught Gallery, which is the front room on the first level, is used as an exhibit space. It is also the reception area for visitors who purchase tickets for the Wyatt Museum.
The MacNaught History Centre and Archives at 75 Spring Street is a Designated Heritage Building, protected by the municipality and included in the provincial and national registers of historic places www.historicplaces.ca and www.peihistoricplaces.ca. It is the recipient of a PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation architectural preservation award.
For additional information about this building and others of heritage value in Summerside go to www.peiancestry.com and browse the Heritage Properties.