The first recorded mention of Westerlea is in the 1882/83 valuation roll for Nairn County, the propietor of the building being the Reverend Alexander MacKenzie of the Free Church, who is given as living at 6 Fettes Row, Edinburgh.
Mr MacKenzie was born in Inverness in 1819 and ordained in Nairn in 1843. He was a prominent figure in the Free Church movement in Scotland at the time of Disruption in 1843, was unanimously elected Minister of the Free Church of Nairn by its Presbytery and Congregation and was inducted into the newly built Church on 16th November 1843, this building on King Street, latterly Nairn Community Centre, has since been demolished and Nairn Free Church has stood at the bottom corner of Gordon Street since 1882.
Mr MacKenzie was in this ministry at Nairn for 20 years, during which time he married Isabella C Adams in 1851. In 1863 he moved to take up the ministry at the Free Tollbooth Church, Edinburgh. In 1892 he retired from his ministry in Edinburgh and took up residence in Westerlea, a house which he had built some 10 years previous. Unfortunately he did not have long in his retirement at Westerlea, he died in his 75th year, on 11th September 1894, after a sudden heart attack. An able preacher both in English and Gaelic, most assiduous in his work as a pastor, a man of buoyant spirit and cheerful and sympathetic manner, he was regarded in his days as “a faithful and earnest minister, a wise counsellor and a trusted friend”.
It is uncertain who was living at Westerlea before Mr MacKenzie returned to Nairn in 1892, but it was probably his three daughters, as they are recorded as being the proprietors of the house from 1895, after their father’s death. The names of the three daughters, who never married, were Isabella and Louisa (who were twins) and Jane. By 1915 Isabella had died, later Jane died, leaving Louisa as the sole proprietor, until 1936 when she died.
The house was acquired by Mrs Gladys Barron, a noted sculptor, and wife of Evan Barron, the well known Highland historian and owner and editor of the Inverness Courier. It is interesting to note that Westerlea was always in the name of Mrs Barron, and it appears that the house was bequeathed to her by Louisa for reasons unknown.
Evan Barron lived at Westerlea with Gladys until his death in 1965. Evan Barron was a major figure in the first half of the 20th century in the Highlands, and indeed he was described as a ‘Champion of the Highlands’ in his obituary. He led many political campaigns on behalf of the Highlands, especially in the fight to ensure the Highlands received the benefit from the Hydro-Electric schemes of the inter-war years. As a result, largely through his efforts, the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board was established. Through these campaigns he became a close friend of the Rt. Hon.Tom Johnston, probaly the most well known Secretary of State for Scotland. Evan was also one of the original Governors of Gordonstoun school near Elgin where several members of the Royal family have been educated including Prince Charles, Prince Andrew, Prince Edward and Princess Anne’s children Peter and Zara Phillips.
Gladys Barron was a distinguished sculptor who frequently exhibited at the Royal Academy in London. She specialised in portraiture in bronze and her portrait heads of important contemporaries (including Tom Johnston) can be seen in various venues including Inverness Town House.
In 1967 Gladys Barron died and the house was bought by Victor Ellen who converted it into a Hotel.