After breakfast I had a chance to sit down with the owners. Bob and Connie have been married for 48 years, and Bob’s family is originally from Brantford, Ontario, while Connie’s family is from England. Bob is a recording engineer and for many years he worked at the headquarters of the Billy Graham Ministry in Chicago, producing radio broadcasts and dispatching tape recordings to more than 500 radio stations. Connie meanwhile had raised the couple’s children and also worked for some time as a secretary.
Breakfast is served
In 1990 Bob retired and the couple decided to relocate to Wisconsin to run a bed and breakfast. They located a property in northern Wisconsin which they fell in love with. It had four guest bedrooms and was ideally suited as a bed and breakfast. The surrounding area featured North America’s largest chain of inland lakes and offered activities for all seasons. Soon Bob and Connie got used to their new lifestyle as bed and breakfast owners.
Clonmel Estate Bed and Breakfast
Nine years later the couple returned to Ontario because of Bob’s aging parents. They searched for bed and breakfast properties within driving distance of Brantford and settled on the quaint Lake Erie community of Port Dover. They found a historic mansion, built in 1929, that would be perfectly suited for creating a bed and breakfast in their new location.
One of the six bedrooms at Clonmel Estate B&B
A developer had actually purchased the property surrounding the Clonmel Estate and was planning to subdivide it into numerous single-family homes. With the support of people from the entire Norfolk County the Lawtons were able to stop the developer from completely carving up the property and managed to salvage at least the portion that housed the mansion including a substantial plot of land.
Our spacious bedroom
The Lawtons invested in new furniture, redid all the floors, spiffed up the mansion all around and created a spacious getaway destination with six guest bedrooms, three of which feature ensuite bathrooms. They would have liked to add more private baths, but the walls of the property are so thick that it is very difficult to reconstitute the layout.
The beautiful wood-panneled alcove
In order to promote local bed and breakfast travel, Bob and Connie Lawton founded the Ontario South Coast Bed and Breakfast Assocation which combined the resources of several bed and breakfast owners for advertising. Connie added that the association works as a great collaboration, and bed and breakfast owners recommend overflow guests to one another when their own places are full.
Store front in Port Dover: over 85 seasons of “hamburgs”
Connie showed me one of the property’s most famous treasures: a Casavant Pipe organ, dating back to the original owners. Occasionally guests play this famous instrument whose value has recently been estimated at $150,000. Connie also provided me with a historic overview of the Clonmel Estate: in 1925 local veterinarian and sheep rancher Harry Barrett found out through an ad in the local newspaper that he was to be the beneficiary of an unclaimed estate.
Connie shows me the Casavant organ
His grandfather, Quinton Dick, was the founder of the Bank of Ireland and had left behind an inheritance of about $2.5 million. Harry turned out to be the rightful heir and as a now wealthy man he set out to build a grand estate in Port Dover. The name Clonmel itself means “honey meadow” and derives from the town in Ireland where his grandfather had become a rich man. The original estate included six hundred acres of which there are presently six acres left, thanks to the preservation efforts of Bob and Connie Lawton.
Another comfortable bedroom at Clonmel Estate B&B
In addition to the large living room, the dining room, the library and the bedrooms, I had a chance to get to know another, usually private area of the Clonmel Estate. I found out that Bob is a passionate miniature train enthusiasts when he revealed that he has an entire room in the basement dedicated to his passion. This room happens to be the former vault of the estate that used to hide various treasures of the mansion. Now this room hosts an entire adult model train playground complete with a smoking locomotive.
The model train chugs around the corner