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The Fight to Save the Davidson Ancestral Home

Scots Vow to Buy and Preserve Ancestral Cottage of the American Motorcycle Manufacturer

“They may take away our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom … or the Davidson family cottage!”

That’s the battle cry of a group of Scots fighting to protect the ancestral cottage of the iconic American motorcycle manufacturer, Harley-Davidson.

The Davidson Legacy Preservation group is a non-profit making group working to preserve, retain and enhance the accessibility of the Davidson Cottage in Netherton, Angus, Scotland UK. 

Group chair Nyree Aitken says they hope to promote the family home and its historical importance to the biker community.

Davidson Legacy Preservation group (from left): Seth Wing (vice chair), Nyree Aitken (chair), Jasper Watson, behind her Kevin Webster, Andy Harper (secretary), Mike Sinclair (founder), David Fraser, Maggie Sherrit (founder) and front is Ian Wallace (treasurer)

“The cottage was put up for sale as the current owners wish to retire but the only offers they have had have been from developers to knock it down and build new houses,” Nyree says. 

“We as a community of bikers, do not want such a significant part of history to be lost.”

The Harley-Davidson cottage, ancestral legacy of the American Motorcycle manufacturer. Media sourced from The Scotsman.
The Harley-Davidson cottage, an ancestral legacy of the American Motorcycle manufacturer. Media sourced from The Scotsman.

The group is hoping to secure charity status before launching a crowdfunding campaign to raise £500,000 to buy the Davidson cottage and employ a project worker to run and maintain the Davidson Legacy for future generations.

Harley-Davidson executive Bill Davidson and boss Jochen Zeitz visited the cottage last summer when filming the Sporter S promotional video. 

Bill comments in the video below of the ‘awe-inspiring and emotional experience’ of visiting his ancestral home. 

“The fact that they have preserved it for riders around the world to come and enjoy and spend time here, pretty awesome,” All says.

“Heritage is so powerful and is really unique to our company which I’m so proud of.”

Nyree says Bill’s comments help to keep them motivated and give to their campaign is ‘truly worthwhile.’

In 2008, Harley-Davidson enthusiasts Mike Sinclair, Maggie Sherrit, and Keith Mackintosh found the cottage, by then a crumbling ruin. 

The property was earmarked for demolition to make way for new housing development. Luckily, those three decided not to let that happen. 

They bought the cottage and set up the Davidson Legacy to save the site as a tribute to the pioneering Davidsons. 

For four years the Davidson Legacy team has worked tirelessly to restore the little house to how it would have looked when Sandy and Margaret left it in 1858 to make the grueling trip to America.

“The restoration of The Davidson Cottage was a big undertaking and an arduous task even with all the help from local bikers but, in the end, it was all worth it,” Nyree says. 

“Maybe it reflects the long, difficult journey that Sandy and Margaret made with their children, including little William C, who went on to become a father to the founders of the world’s best-known motorcycles.”

Harley-Davidson's heritage cottage - a piece of the American motorcycle manufacturer's history and legacy. Photo courtesy of Top Speed.
Harley-Davidson’s heritage cottage – a piece of the American motorcycle manufacturer’s history and legacy. Photo courtesy of Top Speed.

Sandy and Margaret Davidson settled in Milwaukee where Sandy found work for himself as a carpenter in a local railroad company.

Their surviving three sons and two daughters also adjusted well to their new lives, and each prospered in their own way. 

His middle son, William C. Davidson (1846-1923) was born in Scotland and grew up in Angus, but he became a man in America. 

“He is pivotal to the story of the Davidson Legacy because he had the attributes of technical skill, an analytical mind, and an aptitude for problem-solving,” Nyree says.

“These qualities are often considered typically Scottish as a nation of inventors and innovators….more importantly, they are key to understanding the spirit of enterprise in America at the dawning of the twentieth century.”

Aberlemno, Scotland, where the Davidson family lives on. Photo curtesy of the Iron Trader.
Aberlemno, Scotland, where the Davidson family lives on. Photo curtesy of the Iron Trader.

William C. Davidson, a Scot and naturalized American, set about building the very first Harley-Davidson workshop for his sons and now is famously known simply as The Shed. 

“He didn’t know it then, but he had laid the foundations for an iconic, internationally recognized, motorcycle-engineering phenomenon,” Nyree says.

You can find out more on the Davidson Legacy website, including a video of ‘Our Story’ (which even includes Jean Davidsons’ visit and many more) by clicking here.

*Media sourced from Top Speed, The Scotsman, Iron Trader News and RideApart, among others*