Nearly 32 years ago, the Bell family came to view a Beechworth property then up for sale.
“We fell in love with it the day that we saw it and we still have that passion,” Pam Bell said on Friday.
Since 1986, Mrs Bell and her husband Graeme, who died last year, have owned The Old Priory, a historic three-storey building used for school camps and accommodation.
Now the landmark estate on Priory Lane is up for sale, with Mrs Bell ready to retire although planning to stay in Beechworth.
“It’s been a long journey,” she said. “All our girls have gone to school here and it's been a family business.”
The Old Priory dates back to 1887 after four Irish Brigidine nuns took charge of St Joseph’s School and a convent was built.
In the 1960s there were about 150 students but declining numbers led to the school and convent closing in 1978 and the property moving to private ownership.
Mrs Bell said she and her husband, a builder, began renovating once The Old Priory became their own.
“It was very solid, but it needed a lot of cosmetic work done to it,” she said.
The upgrades included lining walls with timber, painting, converting some rooms and expanding others.
Mrs Bell said they had bought it as a school camp before adding further accommodation.
“School camps are thriving, that’s our main business, probably because of the history that’s available in Beechworth as well,” she said.
“When the school kids arrive, they’re quite astounded when they see the actual building and the stairs, it’s just a different camp to what they’re normally going to.”
The Old Priory also hosted many spread-out families who chose Beechworth as a central holiday point.
As well as its dormitories, cottages and guest rooms, The Old Priory features leadlight windows and two sets of timber staircases.
Beechworth real estate agent Tony Stockdale, of First National Bonnici and Associates Real Estate, said The Old Priory was well known as a function venue.
“Everyone probably in Beechworth who’s lived here for a long time has some type of personal connection with it,” he said. “It certainly is a large part of this community.
“A building like this will stand the test of time, where many buildings that have been built since will fade away.”
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