Craigweil was built for Alexander Hay in 1886 in the midst of an economic depression. It is evidence of the minor impact of the financial crash on some of Adelaide’s wealthiest men, and their determination to live in fashionable homes in the city.
Hay, who arrived from Scotland in the first years of the colony, enjoyed a full life in pastoral pursuits, general business, philanthropic work and public affairs. He was both a councillor and a parliamentarian, an early president of the YMCA and first chief of the Caledonian Society. He was a member of the Legislative Council for 18 years, from 1873, and built this residence during that time. He also built a summer estate at Victor Harbor shortly after named Mount Breckan which, at the time, was one of the largest homes in Australia. When he died in 1898, he was greatly respected as “one of the most esteemed citizens of Adelaide”.
The house was designed by Thomas Hyland Smeaton. Born in 1857, Smeaton came to South Australia in 1879 to take up an appointment as clerk of works to the government. To become more proficient as an architect, he had served an apprenticeship as a stonecutter and builder. He later worked in the office of Alexander “Greek” Thomson, the well-known Scottish classical architect of the day. After a health breakdown, he came to Adelaide, later practising in his own right.
The house is a variation on the traditional asymmetrical villa, presenting less verandah to the street and more substance in the form of stuccoed walling. The elaborate high-quality detailing combined with squared random coursed sandstone masonry is in marked contrast to many of the bluestone buildings of the period. The gabled section of the façade and the string courses are unusually elaborate and still in good condition.