ItemWilliam Van Horne, at that time General Manager of the Canadian Pacific Railway, first arrived in St. Andrews in July of 1890 on a tour of inspection. The Canadian Pacific Railway, of which he had been construction boss, had picked up the New Brunswick Railway as part of its new acquisitions the year before, and since then Frank Cram, General Manager of the New Brunswick Railway, had encouraged Van Horne to view the town as a potential spot for port development, and also as a scenic retreat. Though the weather was gloomy in July, it was fine in the following month and when Van Horne came away from this second trip he was impressed with the area, at least as a spot for a new summer home. "It is a beautiful place," he told the St. Andrews Beacon, "and should become a popular resort."
Van Horne and his family stayed at the Algonquin that month, and in October the Beacon noted that part of Minister's Island had been bonded for $20,000 "by some western people having fancied it for a site for summer cottages." The following April the Beacon reported that General Manager Van Horne was to erect a palatial residence on Minister's Island, on a piece of land secured for him by Cram, and that Sir Donald Smith, Thomas Shaughnessy (Vice-President of the CPR) and other gentlemen from both Montreal and New England were planning to build in St. Andrews as well. In May a 150 acre lot of Minister's Island was officially deeded from Edwin Andrews, great grandson of Rev. Samuel Andrews, to William Van Horne.
Van Horne's plans were initially quite modest. He would build a two-story house 40 feet square, with four 16 x 16 rooms downstairs, including kitchen and laundry facilities, and bedrooms upstairs. Soon plans were revised to a building 84 x 60 feet, including a veranda. The structure would be faced with field 16 inches thick and sport veranda columns of red Island sandstone. In the fall of 1891 Edwin Andrews was hired to secure this stone, and a quarry was opened a short distance from the building site.
The St. Andrews Beacon provided a description of the house was it was expected to look by the summer of 1893: "The building will be two stories in height, with a broad verandah surrounding the front and sides, the general effect, as seen from the architect's plans, closely resembling what one would expect to meet among the paintings of the old Dutch masters. A large recess in the front of the building, in which the entrance will be located, will be composed entirely of glass, in small panes. This will serve to illumine the large hall inside, while it will give the structure a novel appearance from the outside. Opposite the entrance an immense old- fashioned fireplace will be built. The foundation stone for the fireplace has already been set in place. On either side of the hall will be two large rooms, which can be used for sleeping rooms or for other purposes. The kitchen, bath-room, etc., will be located in the ell in the rear of the house. A broad stairway leads to the second floor, which will be utilized almost entirely as sleeping apartments. There are five large rooms on this floor, also a bath-room. Each room is provided with closet and cupboards. The outlook from the upper windows, or from the verandah, will be grand in the extreme."
By the fall of 1892 a modest combination barn and carriage house had gone up alongside the house site, with carriage room and stables on the lower floor, with room for 8 horses; and a two-room apartment upstairs for the stable keeper. By June of 1893 a roadway ornamented with dwarf firs had been cut to the house and a well found water at 165 feet. The house was finished in July, and by the 20th the Van Horne family had officially moved in. The house was named Covenhoven, after Van Horne's paternal grandfather, Cornelius Covenhoven Van Horne.