The house is a very fine 19th century mansion built in 1831 by one of Falkirk’s most important men, James Russel of Blackbraes, the founding partner of our oldest legal firm Russel and Aitken. He was what was called ‘a man of business’ with investments in mines and farms and ships trading abroad. At home he served on various civic organisations including a spell as manager of the successful Falkirk Banking Company and first agent for the Clydesdale Bank.
Arnotdale was his home until his death in 1858 when, it was said, he had “done more to benefit the neighbourhood by his indomitable energy and enterprise than any other man in Falkirk”.
One popular item in the gardens is the statue of the Prodigal Son, the work of Robert Forrest who also sculpted the Duke of Wellington and his famous steed ‘Copenhagen’ which stands in Newmarket Street.
The house later became home to the Ross family (of Tar Works fame) and Robert Barr before it was purchased by Robert Dollar and gifted to the town in 1922 along with the grounds to form a recreation space.
Dollar was Falkirk’s ‘Carnegie’ who left the town in 1858 and began his rise to fame and fortune in the Canadian lumber industry before moving to San Francisco and building up a fleet of ships. The Dollar Line was a huge success with links to the far east and China in particular. The fact that he was a Scot helped him in his dealings with the Chinese and he made many trips to meet the Chinese emperors who were still in power.
Robert showed his love for ‘the auld grey toon’ through a variety of gifts. Falkirk’s earliest public library in Glebe Street in 1886 was first followed by the water fountain in Victoria Park in 1912 in honour of Sir John de Graeme and then the house and park. A few years later came the 13 bells in the tower of the Parish Church (now Falkirk Trinity) and the two Peking lions which stand at the park gates. The great man visited the town on a number of occasions and in 1912 received the Freedom of the Burgh. An illuminated address was another thank you and today it hangs in Dollar’s former home in San Rafael, California, which is called appropriately ‘Falkirk’.
In 1926 Arnotdale became Falkirk’s first museum and many of us can remember popping in to see the Roman pottery and coins, the stuffed birds and egg collection and the penny farthing bike under the withering gaze of curator Doreen Hunter. The museum moved to Orchard Street in the 1960s but there are still four hypocaust pillars from one of our Roman forts standing outside the front door.
The park became one of the community’s most popular places to relax with putting and tennis as well as an entertainment centre. The gardens were a thing of wonder with the beautiful floral clock one of the highlights.
Alas the modern era with its regular bouts of austerity put paid to this grandeur until the arrival of the Friends of Dollar Park whose enthusiasm and energy has spurred the Council into much needed remedial action.
The beautiful restoration of the walled garden a year or so ago and the planned upgrade of the house for use by the Cyrenians promise a new and welcome beginning.