At the end of January 2021, we posted a series of "house histories" on the Museum's Facebook Page as part of a "Stay Home" Campaign. These posts were very popular and we were asked to make them available off of Facebook. We're always sharing stories and old photographs from Brockville's past on our Facebook Page, and we encourage you to give us a follow, and you can always browse our online database to uncover images and stories for yourself. But here, we're happy to share the stories from five of Brockville's old houses. (Note that Heritage Brockville also has a large listing of house histories on their website).
Cossitt-Comstock House at 165 King St E.
This stately house was built as a wedding gift for Kate Comstock upon her marriage to Charles Cossitt in 1898. Their marriage saw the union of two of Brockville’s most prominent and wealthy families. It is the only house in Brockville built with red granite. (For more on the Comstock family, checkout our recorded Talk & Tea on Patent Medicine).
Charles Cossitt, like his father, was a central figure in the social, political, and industrial life of Brockville: he was a member of town council, mayor from 1907- 08, and served on the Board of Health for 17 years. He was also an avid sportsman and was a founding member of the Lacrosse Club in early 1880s; he was also an active member of Brockville Cycling Club. He was also an avid golfer and played a round with the Prince of Wales and Prince George during their in 1927 visit.
Thornton Cliff at 275 King St. E.
Originally designed for Reuben P. Colton by Toronto architect, William Hay, it dates to 1854-55. The design is considered Scottish baronial with Tudor detailing. Colton sold the property in 1863.
The property was acquired by the neighbour, Senator George T. Fulford, in 1901; he soon after presented it to his daughter, Dorothy Fulford, about the time of her marriage Arthur C. Hardy.
Hardy became a Senator in 1922 and lived there until his death in 1962. (It was Senator Hardy who purchased and donated the land that today makes up Hardy Park).
In 1986 Thornton Cliff was owned by Aza Kulikovsky, and Gury Kulikovsky, a Russian Prince who was the grandson of Czar Alexander III, and mother was Grand Duchess Olga of Russia. Aza was the daughter of a Russian noblemen who had fled Russia during the Russian revolution.
Built c1855, Woodfield was owned for many years by civil and railway engineer Samuel Keefer with his wife Anne Eliza Crawford. Keefer was supervising engineer for the Brockville and Ottawa Railway, and responsible for building Brockville’s railway tunnel. The house features balanced proportions retained from the Georgian period.
The property was eventually inherited by George Butterfield in 1906. Butterfield donated a portion of the property to the city to create Butterfield Park, which the house overlooked, making the house better known as Butterfield. (Learn more about this and other Brockville parks in our recorded Talk & Tea on the History of Brockville Parks).
The house formerly fronted on North Augusta Rd., but when the remaining land was sold for residential development in 1950, after the death of George Butterfield, the house was absorbed into the development, turning into 55 Cochrane Dr. in 1956.
Willson-Page House and Somerset, at 40 and 50 Crawford Ave. (better known as St. Albans)
This park-like property is best known for its use as St. Alban’s School for Boys between 1901 and 1949 and more recently as St. Alban’s Stables. But the property includes two significant heritage homes: the Willson-Page House and Somerset.
The Willson-Page House was built by William H. Willson in the early-to-mid 1800s for his family and later owned by John Page, the Chief Engineer to the Department of Public Works.
Somerset was owned by Benjamin Chaffey Jr., a renowned civil engineer and contractor, from about 1859 until his death in 1867. It was named Somerset after Chaffey’s birthplace, Somerset, England. Chaffey is credited with taking part in the building of the Brockville Courthouse and a number of other Brockville buildings, as well as the Victoria Bridge in Montreal and the first Morrisburg Ship Canal. The house has a post-gothic style and is built of grey limestone.
The property and buildings were acquired for St. Albans School in 1901.
The School was started in 1896 by Reverend C.J. Boulden in Berthier, Quebec, and moved to Brockville in 1901. The private boy’s boarding school was founded on the principles that the student’s mind, spirit and body had to be developed to practice loyalty, sportsmanship, a sense of duty, respect for authority, commitment and service to God, country and your fellow man. Most of the students continued their studies at either McGill or the Royal Military College. The school closed in 1949.
Behind the school is the St. Albans stable, made famous by owner Eve Mainwaring. Eve was born in Estonia but in 1949, she immigrated here to Brockville. She rented a room at a local boarding house- the recently converted St. Albans school. There she met and married her landlord, Robert Mainwaring, son of the St. Albans School’s Headmaster, Max Mainwaring.
Eve and her husband Robert opened an equestrian facility on the former school’s grounds in 1957. Eve later became co-owner of the very famous Canadian show-jumping horse, Big Ben.
As of 2020 there were plans for a 60-unit residential development on the northern section of the farm property.
Belvedere, now located at 10 Belvedere Place.
Built for George Morton c1850, it was purchased by Chillion Jones and his wife, Eliza in 1872. It was later converted into an apartment building.
Chillion Jones was an architect and engineer from a prominent Loyalist family; he was one of the architects on the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa. But it was his wife, Eliza, who would make Belvedere famous.
After the death of a child, Chillion encouraged Eliza to start looking after a small herd of cattle on their property as a form of therapy. She soon managed to build up a heard of purebred Jersey cows- one of the first herds in Ontario- and started producing quality butter that was sold across Ontario and New York.
Eliza was able to sell her product for premium prices and by the 1890s was shipping out over 7,000 lbs of butter from her dairy, the Belvedere Dairy. In addition to their small property, she rented two nearby farms for her herd. Eliza’s dairy operation was very advanced for its time; the barn was gas-lit, had steam-driven equipment, and the cows were fed a carefully balanced and rationed diet to keep milk production at peak condition. By the 1880s Eliza was also traveling to fairs and exhibitions with her cattle, winning many prizes. Her success and reputation led to her publishing a book called Dairying Profit or the Poor Man’s Cow, of which The Ontario Department of Agriculture printed 50,000 copies.
Even after all this success, by 1896 Eliza had sold most of her farmland and she only kept enough cows to supply her family. Her attention then went to the raising and selling of carriage horses and racehorses. She died in 1902.
(Eliza's story is featured in one of our Stories from the Stones videos).