Location: 109 St. Paul Crescent, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada
Today Rodman Hall is known as an art gallery but the home was built as the private residence for Thomas Rodman Merritt, the youngest son of William Hamilton Merritt and Catharine Rodman Prendergast. His father William Hamilton Merritt had been instrumental in the building of the first canal connecting Lake Erie with lake Ontario.
Thomas Rodman Merritt was born in Mayville, NY in 1824 he was educated in Toronto and at the Grantham Academy in St. Catharines. In 1853 he married Mary Benson in St. Catharines. Their marriage produced no children. Thomas Rodman Merritt was a businessman and a politician. In 1843 he opened a general store in St. Catharines with James Benson, eventually expanding it to include a flour mill. In order to facilitate the movement of goods they had two ships built by Louis Shickluna, the Welland and the Shickluna.
After several years the business partners disbanded with the general store going to Benson and the ships and mills to Merritt. Eventually Merritt would sell the shipping company and mills in order to pursue other interests.
Merritt also played an important role in establishing Bishop Ridley College, a school for boys built in St. Catharines close to the Twelve Mile Creek. He was for a short time the school president and sat on the board until his death in 1906.
There is speculation that he began building Rodman Hall as early as 1854, however it appears that the estate was completed sometime around 1863, as the inscription on an archway states. The stately mansion known as Rodman Hall was built on a large parcel of land just outside the town of St. Catharines, along the Twelve Mile Creek and the second Welland Canal. The large stone residence was meticulously landscaped with lush gardens and terraced lawns that covered the hillside leading from the creek's edge to the house.
Of particular interest is the fact that Rodman Hall was built from materials acquired from his brother's estate. William Hamilton Merritt II, Thomas's brother died in 1860 at the age of 38 leaving a wife and three young children. Wm H. Merritt II was a barrister in St. Catharines, Ontario. He had travelled to Lake Como in Italy, a popular tourist destination and had fallen in love with Montebello, an old Italian castle.
Upon his return to Canada he began construction on a grand estate along Ontario Street in the City (town) of St. Catharines. William Hamilton II passed away shortly after the foundation was poured never living to see his dream fulfilled. All the building materials were moved across the city to western St. Catharines, along the bank of the Twelve Mile Creek where William's brother Thomas Rodman Merritt built a stately home which became known as Rodman Hall.
The land that was once intended for William Hamilton Merritt II's grand estate never materialized and the property was sold to the City of St. Catharines. The foundation was turned into a grand pavilion, which stands to this day and is the focal point of this historic park in the centre of the city. The park would acquire the name Montebello Park, after the original owners vision.
Over the next five decades the home known as Rodman Hall and the gardens would continue to flourish under the careful stewardship of the Merritt family. However by 1950 the house was in very poor repair. Eight of the initial 20 acres had been sold off and the home converted into apartments. In 1960 the property was purchased by the City of St. Catharines and the District Arts Council which in turn turned it into an Arts Centre. The gardens behind the residence had been long neglected but with a donation from the Walker family and help from the John Howard Society a rhododendron garden was planted.
In 2003 Brock University took over the property with the understanding that it would continue on as an art centre.
Parking at Rodman Hall is free. Admission to the grounds are free