One of the Munro girls giggles as she writes her name in lead pencil on the upper level chimney in the 1890s. The blacksmiths' tools are clanging in the corrugated iron and timber outbuilding. The cows are mooing, wanting to be milked. The trees rustling in the breeze tell stories of their homelands - England, the US, Australia.
This is Argyle homestead - a heritage listed residence located at Geham, north of Toowoomba. It has been home to a post office, dairy and B&B and is brimming with history.
Argyle was built in the 1870s for Duncan Munro, a timber merchant and prominent Toowoomba businessman who established the Argyle Saw Mills at Geham in the Highfields area north of Toowoomba. Munro was granted several parcels of land around Geham Creek; in 1868 he acquired the land on which Argyle stands. He is first recorded as living at Argyle Farm, Highfields, in 1874. It is likely that Argyle was named after Munro's birthplace, Argylshire in Scotland.
Extensive stands of timber in the Highfields area stimulated the timber industry and provided the impetus for the establishment of saw mills from the late 1850s. The population of the area grew rapidly as a result of settlement during the late 1860s and early 1870s.
As land was cleared of timber, a thriving dairy industry developed, which was assisted by the opening of the former Highfields (later Spring Bluff) Railway Station.
Munro and his brother Archibald established the Argyle Saw Mills near Geham Creek and opened a timber yard in Toowoomba during the 1870s. Munro was also responsible for the expansion of the timber industry in the Perseverance, Ravensbourne and Cooyar areas.
In 1897 the Governor visited Munro's new saw mills at Ravensbourne and Perseverance Creek, staying at Argyle Homestead. At this time, Munro was also constructing a tramway which would connect the timber country with the Crows Nest branch line at Hampton and enable the area to be further opened up for timber milling.
Munro travelled to the US around 1904, where he acquired a locomotive for use on his tramway. It is possible because of his interest in the timber industry, that he acquired some of the exotic tree species planted around the homestead while in the US. Munro moved to Toowoomba early in the 1900s, and remained there until his death in 1926.
From 1903, Argyle was leased to a number of people until Munro sold the property to Johann J Kahler in 1920. The Kahler family had been among the early European settlers in the Geham district, and members of the Kahler family worked at Munro's mill on Geham Creek.
During the late 1930s, Argyle Homestead also served as the Geham Post Office. Kahler died in 1942, and the property was transferred to David Kahler.
David Kahler died in 1983, bequeathing an area of four acres, including Argyle Homestead, to the National Trust of Queensland, which subsequently sold the property to Steven Salt of Salts Antiques in Crows Nest in 1987 by public auction.
The homestead was sold to Pam McQueen in 1989, who began to renovate the property adding narrow stairs to access the attic area to create guesthouse accommodation and the house became a tourist attraction.
Argyle homestead was acquired by Julie and Ross Smith, the present owners, in 1993, who then purchased the original portion of 50 acres on which the homestead was first built.
Both Julie and Ross are descended from founding families of Queensland and have family links to several other historic homes and properties in the state.
Julie and Ross moved there to retire but the home quickly became a passion and they have extensively restored the property.
"Following extensive renovations, we opened the house as a six-bedroom bed and breakfast retreat, offering guests a glimpse of old traditions and gracious living," Julie said.
"Guests were treated to the best of local produce and rooms featuring open fireplaces and period furniture."
The latest touch was adding beautiful replica finials, which Ross has made, to the dormers, barrel vault and gable ends.
Argyle is a chamferboard residence with corrugated iron roofs set among a variety of mature trees and timber and corrugated iron outbuildings.
The residence is a simple rectangular building with a steeply pitched gabled roof containing attic rooms, and a covered verandah on three sides. It rests on timber stumps, and has an annex to the rear with hipped and skillion roofs.
The residence has a symmetrically composed front elevation to the east, with a central steeply pitched dormer window with an arched opening, over a barrel-vaulted central entrance portico with timber stairs.
Tall chimneys rise either side from the ridge of the roof. The gable ends to the east and west have paired timber windows with shutters.
The verandah, which is partially enclosed to the rear, has square timber posts with decorative capitals and valances, and double posts at the corners, supporting a convex corrugated iron awning. The timber verandah balustrade is cross-braced.
The exterior has fine decorative timberwork, including curvilinear fretwork fascias to the dormers, gables and principal roof. The barrel vault has shaped battens with decorative holes.
Internally the house has four intact rooms opening from a central entry corridor, with variously renovated rooms forming an L-shape to the rear, including the stairs and window of the former Geham Post Office.
The front entrance to the house has a substantial timber door framed by sidelights. Interior walls of the home are remarkably made of horizontal hardwood boards spanning the entire length of walls. The floors are of local blackbean.
The four rooms at the front of the house each have a fireplace with timber mantelpiece, and glazed double doors opening onto the side verandahs. Steep narrow timber stairs lead to upper level rooms.
The plaster and lath render around the chimneys bear the signatures of former occupants of the house, including members of the Munro and Kahler families.
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The grounds contain various surviving mature trees, which include local and exotic species: cedars and pines marking the boundary, cypresses framing the front entrance, and holly bushes to the north encircled by a driveway, interspersed with large shade-providing pines and cedars.
The farm structures on the property include a timber slab and corrugated iron shed with pitched and skillion roofs on hand sawn timber pole framing, and a set of timber carcass gallows, both located to the north-west of the residence.
Argyle Homestead has aesthetic quality as an intact picturesque residence set in a complementary landscape of a variety of mature trees and modest outbuildings. It also retains clear evidence of its development as a homestead and farm.
The Smiths converted Argyle to a private residence in 2000.
In retirement, Ross works out of his studio located on the grounds of Argyle, devoting himself to his long held interest in art.
Using mostly pastels, he captures subjects close to his heart - heritage buildings, old machinery, portraiture and more.
Both Ross and Julie continue to feel passionate about the home and its historical significance.
"Caring for Argyle and its many out buildings is an extension of our keen interest in Queensland history and provides a continuous and exciting project," Ross said.
"It's something we feel passionate and privileged to do."
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