Text and Image: Rod Kemp
In 1855, Mount Lofty House was the first of the “Big Houses” to be built on what was then Ridge Road, the track from Crafers to Mount Lofty Summit (now Mt Lofty Summit Road).
Originally planned only as a summer house for the Hardy family, it became a permanent residence after a few years, and expanded to match Arthur Hardy’s land-holdings in the area.
The entrepreneurial Hardy experimented with all manner of animal husbandry and agriculture on his 400 ha, including grape vines, walnuts and the exotic trees and shrubs which made up the gardens around his home. He was, however, less successful in managing his finances and surrendered the property to the bank by 1865.
Subsequent early residents include the politician Alfred Watts, whose wife Jane wrote “Family Life in SA”, followed by his brother-in-law, Francis Stokes, but both families only stayed about 10 years. In 1886, the well-known businessman, Arthur Waterhouse took over the property as his summer residence for the next 36 years during which he substantially extended and modified the house, introducing electricity and the telephone before selling in 1922.
Solicitor George Cowan then owned the house for a few years, before it was sold to John Richardson, who moved from Burma, bringing a taste for exotic teak built-ins and again extending the gardens.
Later short-term owners included Geoffrey Rainsford, the jeweller, and Peter Chapman who moved from Akaroa in Stirling. The last family to live for any significant time at Mt Lofty House were the Douglas- Hills who stayed for nearly 20 years. In early 1979, the house and a small portion of the remaining land were sold to a Christian Community who were interested in exploring a sustainable and shared lifestyle for around 20 people. When the Community ceased in 1982, James and Katherine Morgan and their young family moved in, only to experience the destruction of the house, and much of the garden, in the Ash Wednesday fires of 1983.
Local architect, Ross Sands, restored and later extended the house, converting it into a “Country House” with five-star accommodation before a succession of subsequent owners continued to expand the business to what it is today.
Further Reading: The MLDHS Archives contain many articles, photographs and books which further detail the history of this property and its owners.
Do you have memories/photos of this building and or the people who lived there? Contact us at email@example.com or drop into the History Centre at the Coventry Library, 63 Mount Barker Road, Stirling.