39 Percy Street, Colborne

(c. mid to late 1800s)
Roll No. 1411-012-010-15300 – Cramahe Township Ontario

The New England Saltbox

The Saltbox is a Colonial style of architecture which originated in New England. Saltboxes are wooden frame houses with two stories in front and one in the back, with a steep pitched roof with unequal sides, short and high in front and long and low in back.

The front of the house is flat and the rear roof line is steeply sloped. The sturdy central chimney is a simple but effective focal point. The simplicity and strength of this design, first seen around 1650, continues to make Saltbox houses popular, though exceedingly rare in Ontario.

The flat front and central chimney are recognizable features, but the asymmetry of the unequal sides and the long, low rear roof line are the most distinctive features of a Saltbox, which takes its name from its resemblance to a wooden lidded box in which salt was once kept a century ago.

39 Percy Street in Colborne is thought to have been built in the mid to late 1800s and although it is hard to see the similarity to the classic saltbox design because of the large conifers on Park Street, (the cross street) it shares most of the Saltbox features.

It is a three bay facade with a Victorian vestibule, complete with dentil moldings and other decorative features. It has a deep rubble foundation and, uncharacteristically, a chimney on the end of the pitched roof, rather than the more common central chimney.

The Saltbox is not a common architectural style in Cramahe Township, in fact this may be one of the very few in the area. It is particularly gratifying to see that most families that have occupied 39 Percy Street have keep the deeds to the house, which tell a story of its origins.

History or Associative Value

In 1907 Martha Coffeen bought Lot 65. Three years later, he willed it to George Rowe “for his natural life”. Clearly they were linked though until the 1901 census there is no evidence. In that census, both were working for Susan Burnham Greeley, George as a farmer and Martha as a servant/cook. (see S.B.Greeley write-up). Curiously, George Rowe’s name appeared second only to his employer in a number of census and in the census of 1901, his name preceded hers, indicating head of household.

Additional Historical and Genealogical Information
39 Percy Street, Colborne, Ontario
Cramahe Township, Concession 2, Lot 32, Reid Lot 65

Nathaniel Gaffield (ca. 1755-ca. 1838) (LINK) was the first owner of Concession 2, Lot 32, a 200 acre parcel part of which would later become Reid Lot 65. Lot 32 is bounded on the south by King Street West, and on the north by Orchard and Purdy Roads. On the east it is bounded by the undeveloped road allowance running north from Ontario Street. On the west the southern half of the Lot is bounded by Percy Street. Percy Street angles northwestward in the northern half of Lot 32, and the western edge of the lot is along the line Percy would have taken if it had headed straight north.

Although he had probably lived there since at least 1797, Gaffield wasn’t officially granted Lot 32 until 13 May 1804. He sold it to Joseph Keeler (1763-1839) (LINK) on 23 January 1806.

Keeler transferred the southern third of Concession 2, Lot 32 to his son Joseph Abbott Keeler (1788-1855) (LINK) on 1 January 1824. This was the area now bounded by Ontario Street on the west, Percy Street on the east, and King Street on the south. The northern limit was along the backs of the modern properties along the north side of Park Street.

Over the next 30 years Joseph Abbott Keeler sold off bits and pieces of this land to a variety of people. By 1855 he had sold off most of his holdings in Lot 32, and when he died that year what was left was inherited by his son Joseph Keeler III (1824-1881) (LINK). Joseph Keeler III continued his father’s tradition of selling off sections of this property. On 9 February 1867 he sold Reid Lot 65 to William H. Campbell (ca. 1830-1903?).

No genealogies for William Campbell are available, but censuses had him in Haldimand Twp. in 1871 and 1881, and in Cramahe Twp. in 1891 and 1901. He is nowhere to be found in the 1911 census, but he’d have been about 80 years old, so he may have died before then. There is a death record for a William Campbell born in about 1830 who died of “senile decay” in Colborne in 1903. This may be our man, but it can’t be pinned down conclusively. In each of the censuses listed, William Campbell was accompanied by his wife Miriam (ca. 1838-?) and no children. Her presence in the censuses distinguished between this William Campbell from other William Campbells (it’s a common name). Campbell made his living as a carpenter.

On 16 April 1868 Campbell sold Reid lot 65 to William Higgins (ca. 1823-?), a wagon maker. Higgins was married to Caroline Sophia Payne (1823-1885) in Cobourg in 1847. Both he and his wife were born in England and they appear in Colborne censuses only in 1871. In 1861 they lived in Cobourg and in 1875 they were in Rochester, NY, perhaps having left Colborne when they sold Reid Lot 65 in 1872. The Higgins’s appear to have had a single daughter: Angelina (b. 1846). She did not appear with her parents in the Colborne census in 1871, but she did in fact move to Colborne with them, marrying Thomas Hooper there in 1869.

Higgins sold the property to Charles Pierson (ca. 1814-1883) on 20 September 1872. Charles Pierson was born in Prince Edward County. He married Mary (surname unknown, 1820-?) in about 1840 and Margaret Spencer (1824-1897) in Cramahe Twp. in 1867. He died of heart failure in Charlton, Massachusetts in 1887. Charles and his first wife had two children (Catherine, 1843-?; Fletcher, 1845-?) but neither of them accompanied Charles to Colborne. Most references list him as a farmer, but, interestingly, the land office record for the purchase of Lot 65 indicates he was a “stage owner”.

The next owner of Reid Lot 65 was George Platt Hinman (1850-?), who bought it from Charles Pierson on 1 March 1879. Hinman was born in Percy Township and married Mary Jane Kinney (ca. 1852-1933) in Colborne in 1873, when he was a resident of Grafton. He appeared in Cramahe censuses only in 1881; in both 1871 and 1891 he was in Haldimand Township. References exist for two children, both born in Colborne: Winniebelle Ethel (b. 1879) and Mabel Beatrice (b. 1880). George Hinman was a veterinary surgeon.

The Hinmans probably left Colborne when he sold Lot 65 to John Gummer (ca. 1832-?) and his son George Albert Gummer (1861-1926) on 18 October1884. Both Gummers were farmers. John’s wife, and George’s mother, was Amelia (surname unknown, ca. 1828-?) and George appears to have been their only child. George was married to Emily Sarah Cochrane (1863-1894, generally referred to as “Emma”, in Cramahe in 1884, and later to Annie Letitia Lancaster (1867-?) in Peterborough in 1900. There were two children by Emma (Ethel Elene, 1885-?; William 1888-?), and one by Annie (George Willis, 1906-?). George died of heart failure following chronic kidney disease in 1926. Emma Cochrane was postmaster Joseph Cochrane’s sister and therefore another cousin of Wallace Cochrane who later owned Reid lot 61 (see discussion for 27 Percy Street (LINK)). It would also make her a sister-in-law of long-time Colborne postmistress Eliza Padgington.

The Gummers sold Reid lot 65 to Bridget Lillis (ca. 1850-1895) on 11 April 1891. There are few available details about Bridget Lillis. She is listed as a spinster in the Land Office record for this transaction. She was born in Ireland. She appears in Cramahe censuses with her parents and brother in 1871, with her mother and brother in 1881, and with just her brother in 1891. There is no profession listed for her in any census, though father and brother were farmers. The executors of her will in 1895 were Hugh (1843-?) and Margaret (1843-?) Gilmurray of Haldimand Township. Margaret Gilmurray’s maiden name, it turns out, was Lillis, so she probably was Bridget’s elder sister. Margaret didn’t appear in any Cramahe censuses with the surname Lillis, so apparently she married Hugh Gilmurray before the family arrived in the township (or at least before the 1871 census, where she was listed as Margaret Gilmurray). The 1901 census lists the year Margaret immigrated to Canada as 1848. If she was Bridget’s sister, then likely Bridget came from Ireland at the same time.

James William Bradd (1853-1898) purchased Reid Lot 65 from Bridget Lillis’s estate on 30 March 1895. Bradd was a farmer and apple exporter. He married Florence Euphemia Irish (1861-?) in Brighton in 1878 and had four sons: Lewis (b. 1881), William John (b. 1887), Weller (b. 1887), and James B. (b. 1889).

James Bradd died of pleuropneumonia in Brighton in 1898. Joseph Williams (1843-1911), a retired farmer, purchased the property from his estate on 6 August 1906. Williams was born in Haldimand Township in 1843, and lived there until at least 1901. He died of stomach cancer in Colborne in 1911. His family is a bit confusing. There is a marriage record of Joseph Williams of Haldimand Township, born ca. 1843, marrying Ann Maria Fowler (b. ca. 1829) in 1863. The 1891 Haldimand census has Joseph Williams (b. ca. 1844) and wife Ann (b. ca. 1838) with child Olive (b. ca. 1870). There also are genealogies that list Joseph Williams (b. ca. 1844) with wife Ann J. Nesbitt (b. ca. 1848) and daughter Olive (b. 1868). Were there two Joseph Williams in Haldimand Township married to Anns who had daughters Olive? If so, which was our Joseph Williams?

Joseph Williams sold lot 65 to Martha Hannah Coffeen (1842-1912) of Haldimand Township on 20 May 1907 and she in turn willed it to George Rowe (1832-1912) on 22 July 1910 “for his natural life”. Coffeen and Rowe are inextricably tied together in the old records. He was born in England and first appeared in censuses working as a labourer in Cramahe Twp. in 1851. She was born in Cramahe and first appeared with her family in that township, also in 1851. At that point they don’t seem to have had anything to do with one another. In 1861 Martha was still with her family and no record for George is available. However, in the 1871, 1881, 1891, and 1901 censuses, both of them appeared in Haldimand Township working for Susan Burnham Greeley (1804-1904), George as a farmer, Martha as a servant and later as a cook. Susan Burnham Greeley has an extensive write-up in “How Firm a Foundation” (Argyris 2000). She never married, and George Rowe appears to have been her right-hand man, because in each census except 1901 his name appears second only to her own. In 1901 his actually precedes hers.

Like their long-time employer, neither Martha Coffeen nor George Rowe ever married. They both retired to Colborne and both died in 1912, only about a month apart, she of anemia and he of a stroke. Where did Martha live between willing lot 65 to George in 1910 and her death in 1912? Did they live together again, as they had for so many years? In the 1911 census his place of residence is listed as simply “Colborne”. Hers is “Percy St.” But the two census entries are adjacent to each other.

The executors of Martha Coffeen’s estate sold Lot 65 to James Arthur Corbyn (ca. 1876-?) on 8 June 1912. This was only a month after he had married Grace Matilda Graham (ca. 1888-?) in Toronto and six months before their daughter Martha Irene was born in Colborne. Corbyn was an Englishman who arrived in Canada in 1904. On the Land Office record, he was described as a painter. In the 1921 census, he was a decorator. Corbyn continued to own the property past 1921.

Here is a list of the sale prices through the years for Reid Lot 65:

Sale Price
Keeler to Campbell 1867 $120
Campbell to Higgins 1868 $400
Higgins to Pierson 1872 $775
Pierson to Hinman 1879 $600
Hinman to Gummer 1884 $600
Gummer to Lillis 1891 $1000
Lillis to Bradd 1895 $800
Bradd to Williams 1906 $1000
Williams to Coffeen 1907 $1200
Coffeen to Corbyn 1912 $1100

There was a 333% increase in price during Campbell’s tenure, a 194% increase during Higgins’s tenure, 164% during Gummer’s tenure, 125% during Bradd’s tenure, 120% during Williams’s tenure, and either no change or a price drop during the tenures of Hinman, Lillis, and Coffeen. The likely addition of a house to the property isn’t immediately obvious from these numbers. There’s no really big jump except perhaps the first one. If the house dates from the 1860’s, it therefore may have been built by William Campbell. But William Campbell just doesn’t feel right as the builder. He owned the property for only 15 months, and he doesn’t appear to have had a family to house. The longest tenure of ownership was that of James Bradd. He owned the property from 1895 until his death in 1898, then it was retained by his estate until 1906. He didn’t pay much for the property, but purchase prices from estates were often low, perhaps because the properties involved often went to people close to the deceased. Maybe that happened here.


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