It was an emotional stroll down memory lane for Frederic Ellis Adams when he revisited the historic Arrowtown cottage where he was born 76 years ago.
These days, the picture-postcard property on Buckingham Street houses the offices of local architect Maarten Hofmans.
But Christchurch-based Adams discovered his old family home – built in 1885 – has lost none of its appeal with rubber-necking tourists.
The retired New Zealand Post worker nods in recognition when Hofmans tells how folk often mistake the restored building for a mini-museum.
“I can be sitting still at my desk studying plans and become aware that people are peering in the window,” Hofmans says.
“As soon as I make a move I’ve seen some of them get a real fright, because they’d assumed I was some kind of exhibit.”
Adams recalls how as a youngster he encountered something similar – he’d sometimes be woken on summer mornings by people sticking their heads through his open bedroom window.
“They’d be surprised and embarrassed to find there was someone actually living there and would back away apologising,” he chuckles. “Some things never change.”
The Arrowtown cottages made news in 2006 when billionaire Queenstown property player Eamon Cleary angered the local community after it was revealed three of the iconic buildings had fallen into disrepair.
Letters of protest at their decaying state flooded in to Mountain Scene for weeks during a spirited Save the Cottages campaign.
Eventually, the saga had a happy ending when white knight developer John Martin brokered a deal to buy the former miners’ cottages off Cleary for $1.9 million.
Martin immediately sold them on to Queenstown Lakes District Council at the same price, sparking a huge street party in Arrowtown.
But long before all the controversy, 59 Buckingham St – known as Granny Jones Cottage – was simply home to Adams.
He was born in a front bedroom on December 2, 1933 and lived there until he was 16, along with parents William and Mary and four brothers and sisters.
His grandmother Florence Agnes Jones had moved in around 1912 and also stayed there until she died in 1942.
“It was pretty cramped with all those people in a two-bedroom house and we had no electricity until 1945 so it was also pretty cold in the winter,” Adams says.
“I used to take a candle to bed at night and we also had kerosene lamps to light the place.
“But we also owned number 61 next door and we eventually moved into that cottage because it’s a little bit bigger.”
Adams says after his mother passed away in the mid-1970s they sold No 59 to a relative for the princely sum of $14,000. Two years later, the neighbouring family home went under the hammer for $17,000.
Today, the capital value of each cottage is $375,000 and $470,000 respectively.
But to Adams, the memories gleaned there during his upbringing are priceless.
He and wife Pearl Mary have three children and seven grandkids so he’s rapt the renovated cottages will be there for future generations of his family to visit for a peek into their past.