The Undertaker’s House – 116 Pine Street, Castleton

Roll No. 1411-011-050-05300 – Cramahe Township Ontario

Folk Victorian Vernacular

Determining the architectural style of this property is a bit difficult. The very wide gable end and the small “L” shaped wing would point towards a Folk Victorian, but it does not have the tall, narrow profile of the classic Folk Victorian (see 28 Toronto Street, 71 and 73 King Street East, Colborne).

It is a century building, witness the charming picture, taken in the late 1800s showing this house at its best, with delicate gingerbread in the gable end; a multi paned second story door giving onto a tiny decorated balcony – all of which has been restored today.

The full width arcade porch is a beautiful feature of the house in the old picture and it remains today though it has somewhat deteriorated in its long life.

The old photo shows a steep front yard with wooden steps down to the street level in the cut out style common to the era. (see 101 King Street East in Colborne). All that has disappeared today as has the massive central chimney at the apex of the cross gable, evident in the early days of the house.

There is a single story addition on the side of the modern day house but since the old photo doesn’t show the area, one cannot date it.

History or Associative Value

This house has a sign outside that says “The Undertaker’s House” (c. 1864) which gives some insight into its past. Apparently the actual “work shop” of the local undertaker in the late 1800s was across the street which might indicate that embalming and other aspects of the undertaker’s trade did not take place in the actual house.

Additional Historical and Genealogical Information

116 Pine Street, Castleton, Ontario
Cramahe Township, Concession 7, Lot 33, Castleton Lot 158

The 200 acres of Lot 33, Concession 7, which includes much of modern-day Castleton, were granted by the Crown to Catherine Williamson (1800-1879), Martha Byrns (1797-1870), Sarah Stevens (1794=?), Rebecca Pruyn (1809-?), and Jane Pruyn (1798-?) on 2 April 1832. These were the five daughters of Matthew Pruyn (1762-1813) an Empire Loyalist who settled in Prince Edward County. It is unclear why his daughters were granted this land. There is no evidence that any of them ever lived there.

Rebecca Pruyn sold the 200 acres belonging to herself and her sisters to Joseph Abbott Keeler (1788-1855) on 23 February 1833. Over the next several years Keeler sold of bits and pieces of this land, and what was left went to his son Joseph Keeler (1824-1881) on 23 September 1854.

The sequence of early land transactions involving this property are convoluted. Joseph Keeler and his wife Octavia (née Phillips, 1827-1899) mortgaged numerous properties, including several in Castleton, with the Commercial Bank of Canada on 29 March 1855. The Keeler family apparently didn’t repay the loan because on 27 October 1858 the Commercial Bank sold the Keeler properties to Robert Fisher, who turned around and deeded them back to the Bank on 23 May 1859. Robert Fisher was a merchant living in London, England. In fact, his address was Threadneedle Street, London, which sounds like something out of a Dickens novel. (Actually, the return of the property to the Bank happened the same year Dickens published A Tale of Two Cities….).

The Commercial Bank returned Lot 66 to Joseph Keeler on 14 April 1863. By this time Keeler had sold it with other land to Andrew Jeffrey (1800-1863) on 27 February 1857. The Northumberland County Sheriff got involved at this point. On 24 April 1865 he sold the recently deceased Andrew Jeffrey’s interest in this property to Andrew’s son William Jeffrey (1831-1908). The Jeffreys were Cobourg merchants who don’t appear to have ever resided in Colborne.

On 26 October 1867, William Jeffrey sold Lot 66 to Albert Washington Drinkwater (1838-1920). Drinkwater started out as a labourer (1861 census), then worked as a cabinet maker (records for 1871 through 1887). Later records generally refer to him as a merchant or general store operator (1895 through 1911), but a single record (1891 census) calls him a farmer and undertaker and another (1897 Land Office record) calls him a cabinet maker. The 1851 and 1861 censuses place him in Haldimand Township. Likely he arrived in Cramahe at about the time he bought this property in 1867. Drinkwater married Susan Priscilla Brintnell (1838-1925 in 1859 and had a daughter, Eunice R. (1868-1969).

Albert Drinkwater sold Lot 66 to Samuel Livingston McDonald (1844-?) on 15 November 1871. McDonald’s wife was Emma Jane Ingersoll (1847-?). There were at least eight children: Lennie E. (1868-?), Robert Arthur (1870-?), Harriet M. (1873-?), Catherine M. (1874-?), Harry Stanley (1876-?), Mary Jeannette (1879-?), Donald Gray (1881-1963), and Theresa I. (1886-1978). The McDonalds lived in Cramahe until sometime between 1882 (directory) and 1886 (birth of last daughter in Port Huron, Michigan). Samuel McDonald’s occupation has been listed as carriage and wagon maker (1871, 1881, 1882) or agent for the sale of agricultural implements (1879, 1881, 1882). The 1900 Michigan census lists him as a carpenter.

Lot 66 returned to the Drinkwater family on 1 February 1889 when Samuel McDonald sold it to Henry Drinkwater (1846-1937), Albert Washington Drinkwater’s brother. 1881 and 1882 records list him as a butcher, the 1889 Land Office record for his purchase of Lot 66 referred to him as a cabinet maker, and the 1891 census lists him as a farmer. His death certificate in 1937 states that he had been a resident of Parry Sound for 40 years, indicating that he moved there in about 1897. He died of influenza. Henry Drinkwater married Ella Gertrude Black (1854-1942) in 1876 and had two sons: George Albert (1878-?) and Claude Stanley (1881-?).

Henry Drinkwater sold Lot 66 back to his brother Albert Washington Drinkwater on 19 November 1896 and Albert sold it back to Henry’s wife Ella on 8 November 1897. Henry and Ella sold it to John Lawson Gerow (1821-1906) on 5 April 1900.

Gerow was a Percy Township farmer who retired to Castleton and appears to have been involved in land speculation there because he owned numerous properties for various amounts of time. On 8 May 1900 he sold Lot 66 to Elizabeth Emily Gerow (née Armstrong, 1857-1949), wife of John Gerow’s son Wilmot Allan Gerow (1855-1919). Elizabeth Gerow would own it until 1927. Wilmot Gerow was the onetime owner of the Oriental Hotel in Castleton.

Land transaction prices are of limited usefulness in establishing the time of construction of the house on Lot 66, because most of them involved other properties as well and because many of the transactions were between family members and such transactions often involve dollar amounts that are either lower than market value (one family member essentially giving the property to another) or above market value (transaction used as a mechanism for transferring funds). That said, purchase prices prior to 1889 were $300 or less, but starting with the sale by Samuel McDonald in that year, prices were $900-1000. This suggests that the house may have been built by McDonald between 1871 and 1889.

116 Pine Street is generally known as the “undertaker’s house”. The only mention of an owner prior to 1921 being an undertaker was the 1891 reference to Albert Drinkwater as such. However later records list Drinkwater as a merchant and there is no indication that he continued as an undertaker (though he may have done so on the side while his primary occupation was as a general store operator). Also, Drinkwater only owned the property from 1867 to 1871, before the hypothesized construction of the house, and again for a year in 1896-1897, when his occupation was listed as merchant and cabinet maker.


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