For millennia, the moccasined feet of hunters and fishers traversed the
isthmus between the Rideau and Mud (Newboro) Lakes. European explorers and
missionaries, traders and pioneers followed. But without falling water for power,
only a few such as William Buck Stevens pioneered along the isthmus.
During the years 1826-32, the Rideau Canal was built under the direction of
Lieutenant Colonel John By and the Royal Engineers as part of British defense
strategy in North America. The canal linked the navigable waters of the Rideau
River System flowing northward to Bytown (now Ottawa) and the Cataraqui flowing
southward toward Kingston. Crossing the isthmus was one of the most difficult
tasks undertaken on the canal. The route chosen demanded digging through a
hard ridge of Canadian Shield granite lurking beneath the landscape. Many lives
were lost to accidents and swamp fever (malaria). Private contractors were
bankrupted. Ultimately the 7th Company of Royal Sappers and Miners completed
this vital link between 1829 and 1832.
In time, the construction community called “The Isthmus” was superseded by
New Borough, then Newboro. Throughout the 19th century Newboro grew and
prospered from its location at the keystone of the Rideau arch. Built to defend
British North America from American invasion, the Rideau Canal ironically
transported vast amounts of produce from forest and farm to the United States,
especially to the North during the Civil War. In the latter part of the 19th century,
steam tugs towed barge loads of iron ore from local mines to smelters in the U.S..
Cottonbag miners sold their mica to General Electric. Returning barges loaded
with coal stoked local railroads.
Newboro became a thriving community at the toll ferry (later bridge) spanning
the Rideau. “Main Street” still hints of an era of travel and commerce, lodgings and
shops, a bustling streetscape that paralleled the Canal. Warehouses and wharves
lined the Newboro cut. There is still a cleat anchor beside the canal attesting to
bygone boats and business.
In 1888, the Brockville - Westport & S.S.M. Railroad added a new dimension to
Newboro life and commerce. Trade and travel were now year-round. Produce of
local farm and forest entered wider markets through Newboro’s cannery and mills.
From Newboro Station, local scholars went to and from high school in Athens
and Brockville. Soldiers went to far-off Europe to fight in WW I and II. For some
Newboro lads, this tragically was a one-way ticket.
Straddling the “town line” between North and South Crosby, feeling economically
and politically distinct from both Crosbys, Newboro declared its independence in 1876
and became an “incorporated village”. As such it was one of the smallest incorporated
communities in Ontario, small but with great potential and grand hopes.
Surrounded by lakes including the Upper Rideau and many-faceted Newboro
Lake, this hub of commerce became a popular vacation centre of the 20th century.
From across the world, some come to fish and many come to relax at Newboro’s
fine resorts including the Poplars, the Stagecoach, and Stirling Lodge. The
ambiance of our fine historic inns continues to attract people from near and far
for fishing in summer and dog sledding in the winter.
Like all local communities, Newboro has suffered devastating fires. In just one
day of devastation in 1874, the community lost 17 buildings. But many heritage
buildings have survived. Today they form the pride and character of this community.
The Municipal Heritage Advisory Committee of Rideau Lakes Township
endeavors with this Walking Tour to illustrate a selection of Newboro’s heritage
buildings that represent a variety of architectural influences. Where possible, we
have used the names of the original owners to identify buildings. Imagine the
welcome chime of steam boat bell, the rumble and clang of stagecoach, the toot
of railway whistle, the aromas of outer-world spices and local cheddar in grocer
shops, business being done, bands playing, sermons being spoken, the laughter
and tears of family and village life as it was ten and fifteen decades ago.
For more information on heritage life and architecturally significant buildings in: the Township of Rideau Lakes, visit any branch of the Rideau Lakes Union Library. Ask to peruse:
"Cranworth Chronicles" by Barbara Gibson (South Burgess)
"Hub of the Rideau" by Sue Warren (South Crosby Ward)
"My Own Four Walls" by Diane Haskins (Bastard & South Burgess)
"South Elmsley in the Making" by James Kennedy
"The Tweedsmuir Book of Newboro" in the Newboro Library
...and the many resources illustrating heritage life in North Crosby to be found in the Westport Library and the Westport Museum. Also ask about our video "Best Kept Secrets" highlighting some of the folks and facets of our Rideau Lakes Township.
Stop #1 - St. Mary's Anglican Church, 1850 (15 Brock Street) -
The devout of Anglican faith held their first meetings in an “upper room” of
Benjamin Tett’s home, 1 Main Street. A saddlebag preacher, Rev. T. Tremayn,
was their priest from 1839 to 1857. During the year 1849-50, the St. Mary’s
congregation built their permanent home of worship. Benjamin J. Tett purchased
of land and paid the wages of the workmen and when the last shingle was to be
nailed to the roof, the carpenter called for John Poole Tett, Benjamin’s son to
swing the hammer. Thus two generations of the Tett family worked on their church.
Built in simple Gothic Revival style, this church has high walls and a belfry with
a short spire on a square tower. Beautiful stained glass adorns its windows; one a
very unique Tiffany. Inside, there is a simple but beautiful altar with a communion rail
circling two sides of it. To the left front is a “rostrum pulpit”; to the right, the organ
and choir stalls. Beautiful woodwork attests to the dedicated craftsmanship of the
builders and the devoted care of its loyal congregation over the past fifteen decades.
Stop #2 - The Court House, circa 1840 (10 Brock Street) - The Newboro Court House,
built in 1840, retains its original
exterior design. Once used as a
school, separate entrances for
boys and girls can still be seen
on the front façade. Once used as
Town Hall, Court House and jail, the door to the cell was recently located and
rehung in the back room of the building. Interestingly enough, Newboro for many
years employed an executioner, although it is unclear if his services were ever
required. There was one addition to this building, evidence of which can be seen
along the west face.
In Newboro on Thursday, November 10th, 1842 Paddy O’Rourke was one of
the first persons to be tried in the newly-built Court House. Paddy was angry with
the magistrate who had fined him “seven & sixpence” for being intoxicated while
trying to board a steamboat without fare. During the night of Nov. 9th, Paddy stole
what he thought was a keg of blasting powder from Tett’s Warehouse on the canal
and hid it behind the courthouse. The next afternoon when court was in session
and the same despised magistrate presiding, Paddy, keg under arm and ambitions
of Guy Fox in mind, looked around the courthouse for a basement door. Finding
none (for there was no basement), he decided to set the keg against the end of
the building, light the fuse and run. When he knocked the bung from the keg, he
found to his surprise that it was a keg of rum. This was too good to “pass up”. So
sitting beside the keg, Paddy commenced drinking the demon spirits, the forgotten
fuse still sticking out of the barrel. Needless to say he was eventually found “passed
out” beside the keg, arrested and tried for theft. Each year for many afterwards
the youth of Newboro made dummies to represent old Paddy. Each November the
10th, they would wheelbarrow his effigy through the streets shouting “a penny for
old Paddy please”.
A popular rhyme of the day was:
Please to recall, the boozy downfall of Paddy O’ Rourke’s crazy plot.
We will remember the 10th of November. In Newboro, it won’t be forgot!
- Newboro Newsletter - Nov. 13, 1911
This site of rhyme and reason is now our Library.
Stop # 3 - The Richard Blake House, c1858 (14 Main Street) - The Blake House is just one of several excellent examples of “Ontario Cottages”
in Newboro. The Ontario Cottage is typical of many homes of mid-1800s; oneand-
one-half storeys in height and suggestive of frugal owners. Tax laws from
between 1807 and 1853 assessed houses as either one full storey or two full
storeys. Customarily, a gable window over the front doorway provided light to
a central hallway on the upper floor. Window designs could be pointed Gothic,
square-headed Tudor, round-headed, (usually shuttered), circular or large threesectional.
The decorative bargeboard, often called gingerbread, was usually
added in the mid 1850s when
more delicate woodworking
tools became available to local
tradesmen. The verandah
became an important feature of
Ontario Cottage, generally being
added in the latter half of the
nineteenth century to provide
for summer relaxation and to
enhance the appearance.
Stop #4 - The "Dominion House" Hotel, c.1865) (15 Main Street) - Thomas Kenny and his son, James,
constructed this fine building along
Main Street on property purchased
from Benjamin Tett. Originally an inn
on this busy thoroughfare, this site
once echoed the sounds of horse and
harness, the smoke of wood-fired steamers on the nearby canal, of apples being
processed in the nearby cannery, the whistle of the B. & W. slowing to station. It is
said that Sir John A. MacDonald stayed overnight here at the “Dominion House”.
Now a fine home, it manifests an interesting and authentic example of a semielliptical
or fan-tailed neo-classic (Loyalist) door. Such portals were popular in
houses built during the latter half of the 19th century. But this Adamesque entrance
is unique. Over one hundred similar designs have been recorded in the area.
Only four such doorways are identical. George Bolton bought the building for his
private residence in 1887 and it remained in the family until the 1990s.
Stop #5 - The R.O. Leggett House and Shop, c.1870 (4 Main Street) - Mr. R.O. Leggett, following his
father, Henry, owned a furniture and
undertaking establishment here.
This L-shaped structure is very
typical of late-nineteenth-century
Note the intricate treillage work on
the verandah posts of home and the
large windows of business. As in most local villages during the 1800s, the trades of
furniture making and funerary were closely allied; the skills and tools for making
fine tables, chairs and coffins were the same. Mr. Leggett also had a livery with
which he taxied travelers from village to village and dearly departed from church
to cemetery. For nine decades, the Leggett family served the Newboro community
from this home and business on Main Street.
Stop #6 - John Webster House, c.1860s (5 Main Street) - Prior to 1860, William Bell had a house
that was destroyed by fire. Indeed, Newboro
has lost many buildings to the ravages of
fire. Sometime around 1860, John Webster
is believed to have built this fine home
and provided lodging to travelers. This
frame structure contains excellent examples of Classical Revival architecture. The
entrance manifests a rectangular transom with sidelights. This feature was useful
as well as decorative for it let natural light into the central hallway in times before
electricity. The bracketed shelf above the door was probably a later addition as
were the Doric columns flanking the sidelights. The central window is of unusual
interest. Of casement variety with a fanlight transom above it, its style is completely
unconformable with the rest of the house. In times when masons and carpenters
carried their plans in their heads, they were very clever at mixing and matching. In
1903, George Wrathall purchased the home and operated a jewelry business from it.
Stop #7 - The Col. John Kilborn Home, c.1835 (2 Drummond Street) - This building of mixed styles is
believed to be a combination of
John Kilborn’s home and George
W. Preston’s “Ottawa Hotel”
which burned in 1903. The stone
component of the building is believed
to be material recovered from that fire. The frame structure was Col. Kilborn’s
home. A simple frieze runs under the eaves.
In 1828 while living in Brockville, Col. Kilborn was elected to Parliament and
when his term expired he declined re-election and moved to Kilmarnock. In 1852
he was appointed postmaster for Brockville from which he later resigned and
ran unsuccessfully for Parliament against Mr. Benjamin Tett. He then retired to
Newboro. Colonel Kilborn donated the site for the first Wesleyan Presbyterian
Church in Newboro in 1850 and he and the five Chamberlain brothers had the
church erected. Col. Kilborn and his wife Elizabeth Sherwood had nine children –
eight sons and one daughter. This eminent citizen
of Newboro died in his 94th year.
Stop #8 - The Stage Coach Inn, c.1855 (4 Drummond Street) - James MacDonald, an early merchant in
Newboro built this substantial home and business.
In 1872 William O’Connor purchased the building
and converted it into “The Ontario Hotel”.
Landons then became the owners, changing its
name to “Landon House” (1920-1966). In 1966
it became “The Stage Coach Inn”.
Its original design was Georgian. Although the front door has been replaced,
it is reminiscent of the original entrance. The transom and sidelights mimic the
originals and are most attractive. In the dining room of the Inn is a large painting
of “The Ontario Hotel” (1869-1920) as it once graced Newboro. The Stage
Coach still does. Still very much a meeting place of many functions, it is now the
community post office.
Stop #9 - The Block House, c.1832 - The blockhouse was built in
1832-33 to defend this very strategic
lock station. Located on this heightof-
land, then cleared of forest, it was
designed to withstand attack from
any direction. The lower section,
approx. 6m. x 6m., consists of
stonewalls 1m. thick. The top section
is constructed of squared timbers
(now clapboarded), dovetailed at the corners and with an overhang of 0.6 m.
Twenty-two such defensive fortifications were planned, but this is one of only
four completed. Only once was its militia called out for action, not to fend off a raid
by feared and foreign rebels but to quell a local riot. Now in a very different time,
peaceful boaters from near and far sail beneath this antique fort’s silent gun slots.
While here, stroll down to the Newboro Lock and watch the boats pass through
this, the keystone lock of the Rideau Canal. The Newboro Lock is one of only
three on the Rideau System that has hydraulically-operated steel gates. Concerned
community action preserved the other locks in the heritage mode of the 1830s.
Stop #10 - The John Poole Tett House, c.1896 (14 By Street) - Here Robert Leech’s furniture factory
once hummed with activity by the
lakeshore. Robert was one of ten Leech
sons who later were to found the town
of Gorrie, Ontario. Later, James Leggett’s
tannery was located here. By the late
1800s, change was coming to Newboro;
from industry to business, to residences and to tourists. Reputedly completed in
1886, this majestic home predicts the style of the early 1900s. In contrast, it has
brick trim characteristic of an earlier period. Note its tall imposing windows and
bays and its striking chimneys. From its uniquely-styled front dormer on the 3rd
storey, John Poole Tett and his wife Harriet (nee Hopkins) enjoyed a grand and
busy view across a lake of commerce and a land of resources. “The Manor” guests
of Stirling Lodge now enjoy a more relaxed view of blue water and green forest,
of nature recovering.
Stop #11 - The John Draffin House, c.1860 (11 New Street) - Walk around the bend of New
Street where it joins Ledge Street
and you will find a handsome and
imposing home, the first abode of
stone constructed in the village. At
the rear of this residence was the
original home, once a single-storey
farmhouse with ashlars of massive
sandstone. It later served as a back
kitchen. A fire in 1895 demanded
extensive renovations and a second
floor was added.
Born in Ireland in 1811, John Draffin came to the Canadas. Prospering as a
merchant family, the Draffins added this magnificent 2 storey stone residence
to the front of the original farmhouse. The corners of the building are quoined
with large ashlars. Elaborate Italianate details on the main house include wide,
bracketed cornices and decorative round-headed doors on the upper storey. Once
these opened onto a small balcony above a grand front porch. From this balcony,
recently rebuilt, Mr. Draffin, wealthy Newboro merchant and his wife, Margaret
Bell of Perth, could enjoy a magnificent view over Newboro Lake at a time when
intervening forest had succumbed to axe and saw. Grand pines and shrouding ivy
now restore nature and privacy to this site. Between 1895 and 1945 this was the
parsonage for St. Mary’s Church. (1)
Stop #12 - The J.T. Gallagher House, c.1885 (7 Drummond Street) - The Gallagher house was
constructed in Gothic Revival style.
It is an extraordinarily tall building,
being some two-and-one-half storeys.
The 1st storey was constructed of
5 courses of brick, the 2nd, four
courses, the 3rd of three and with
inner walls of lath and plaster. To
offset this dramatic perception of height, a two-storey bay extends out from the
front wing. Extensive dripped barge board (a popular addition to Gothic Revival
buildings) serves to lower the roofline. Locally-quarried sandstone lintels break
the vast brickwork. With stylized treillage, the verandah conceals the double-door
entrance. Also of interest is the distinctive ornate roofing of slate, unique in the
village. Local legend tells of an ostentatious contest between J.T.Gallagher and John
Poole Tett, who at the same time was building his home on By Street (10). These
two prominent citizens with family connections vied to see who could build the
tallest house. Gallagher won when he extended the height of his chimneys by 0.4
m. His son-in-law, Dr. Robert B. King, purchased the home in 1916 and lived here
until his death in 1942
Stop #13 - The Union Bank Building, c.1903 (24 Drummond Street) - Like many structures in the area, this
was built of local brick to house the Union
Bank. Now it houses the Royal Bank of
Canada. Constructed in 1905 by John
F. Graham, the building remains in the
Graham family. The interesting cornicing
and the flat roof are characteristic of
several contemporary banks erected in
the surrounding area. Its massive front
façade with large arched windows and
door imposed a sense of assurance and security to those who enter with surplus
shekels to save or loans to seek. This 2-storey building provides banking hall
and offices on the first floor. The living quarters of the manager and his family
were on the second floor where he could stay “on top of the money”. By the
early 1900s, Drummond Street was replacing Main Street as the focus of road
travel and parallel rail travel. For over a century this fine example of rural “bank
architecture” has served Newboro commerce and community.
This page has been adapted from a brochure published by the Township of Rideau Lakes Municipal Heritage Advisory Committee (2009 Edition #2)