Home Social gathering An English gentleman’s mansion in Newmarket was renowned for its social gatherings

An English gentleman’s mansion in Newmarket was renowned for its social gatherings

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In this week’s Remember This column, History Hound Richard MacLeod tells the story of The Cedars, owned by merchant Robert Smith, who began building it in 1856.

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article on the historic home affectionately known as Maple Gables and now we’ll take a look at another property steeped in local history, The Cedars, located on what is now Victoria Street. As with Maple Gables, the property’s rich history is forever linked to that of its owners.

In the 1800s, it was the custom for British landowners to send one of their sons to the “colonies”, setting them up in the style they were used to. The protagonist of our account certainly fits this profile.

RH Smith, who came from England in the early 1860s, was known as a money transfer man, an individual who received money from the house to fund his way of life here in Newmarket. Smith purchased a large property on the west side of Main Street, stretching from Millard’s Lane to the south side of what is now Park Avenue and as far west as Lorne Avenue, a total of 16 acres.

It seems Smith was a bit of a wheel merchant, as he convinced the town to open a new road stretching from Main to Church Street and north from Church to Millard’s Lane. In return, Smith donated the property between Church and Main to the city. Right in the middle of this large estate, Smith began building a large Georgian-style mansion around 1856.

From the Stickwood Brickworks account books, we know that Smith ordered over 48,000 bricks for its construction. The house had a huge circular driveway as it approached Church Street. If you decide to visit the mansion, note the beautiful trees that still exist around the property. We are told it must have been a pretty impressive property with spacious lawns, flowering shrubs, and flower beds tended by its servants.

So where does the name Les Cèdres come from? There appear to have been cedar hedges planted around the property and dividing the estate into individual zones.

Smith had brought the whole house together. He had an English butler, cook and many servants, as well as grooms for his horses and the aforementioned field team. Smith may have had a rough time as he eventually cut off all the land between Church and Victoria Streets, extending the aforementioned new road all the way to Victoria. This new road was called New Street.

He also cut all the land from the west side of Lorne Avenue to the west side of Elm Street. Lorne between Millard and Timothy was then opened as a street. Lorne Avenue was named after the Marquis of Lorne, the fourth Governor General of Canada from 1878 to 1883.

The lots on the south side of Millard between Elm and Victoria were also cut, but one lot was intentionally left unsold to provide an entrance to the mansion and the property. Millard Lane was widened and renamed Millard Avenue.

In 1890, New Street and Louisa Street were merged, connecting Lorne Avenue with Main Street, and this street was renamed Park Avenue.

In 1903, the remaining parts of this once huge estate were sold. We see the separation of Elm Street and the lots on the east side. All lots on the north side of Park Avenue between Elm and Victoria were also cut.

Before the separation of the lots along the park, a long row of cedars partially obscured the mansion. Several of these cedars had grown from hedge to trees, some reaching 50 feet, over the years.

In oral history interviews I conducted, I heard about the fruit trees and bushes that covered the land, from the three varieties of grapes to cherry and plum trees. There were apparently two huge summer houses that local children were playing in at the time.

The mansion is still the same, I am told. Approaching the house, one remembers an old southern plantation house with a wide veranda surrounding three sides of the house and the roof supported by numerous cylindrical Corinthian-style pillars with a turned spindle balustrade.

There was a wide staircase and everything was painted white, forming an impressive approach. There were two sets of similar stairs, one on either side of the rear wing, leading to ground level.

Based on a description by Elman Campbell, we are told that one entered a main hall, larger than most living areas, with siding, and a fairly elegant curved staircase to the second floor. He noted the tall Florentine-style windows that were 2 1/2 stories tall. They are said to provide enough light for the ground floor and the second floor.

Campbell continues our tour through two ornate doors that open into the main hall, one leading to the front main lounge and the other to a smaller rear lounge. There were patio doors leading to the wide wraparound veranda at the front of the house.

Each of the living rooms had a fireplace and a pantry was located behind the back living room. On the ground floor there was a library or an office with patio doors to the veranda. Behind the library was the main dining room which also had a door to the veranda.

The second floor had six rooms and a long, narrow room that served as a sewing room. The third floor had only one room, used by the cleaning lady. A door from this room led to a storage area, an attic I guess, which contained a large lead-lined water storage tank with a gutter draining rainwater from the roof into the tank to fill it up.

We know the house had an indoor water system since Campbell mentioned a system leading to the basement where the laundry room was located. A large cast iron kettle hung where the water in the house was heated.

In addition to the utility room, there were six other rooms in the basement, including a wine cellar and what they called a cold cellar. The remaining rooms were reserved for the butler and his family. All the food in the house was prepared and transported to the dining room via a dumbwaiter, like in an English country house.

There was also a two-story wing that extended west of the main house, measuring approximately 25 feet by 60 feet. The second floor of this wing had five bedrooms and a large living room with a stove. This area with the stove was a common space for the servants. The ground floor of this extension housed a saddlery, a dining room, a kitchen, a scullery and a pantry used by the servants and a driving shed.

I know many of you don’t remember a time when there was no plumbing inside, but even the mansions had outhouse toilets and in this case it was in the rear of the extension wing. The description is quite amusing by Campbell who called it very elaborate, with hinged seats, one three-hole, two for adults and one for children.

Behind the building was a small smokehouse made of solid bricks. In the 1930s, this large area was demolished as well as the outbuildings and this magnificent veranda was removed.

If you’ve read my previous articles on Newmarket Today, you’ll notice that this house was famous for its hospitality and social gatherings in the 1880s and 1890s, with the whole town entertaining there from time to time. After an important local or regional event, everyone retired to Les Cèdres for refreshments.

If you are on the move, a walk in front of the house is a must. Located at 154 Victoria Street, it remains an impressive house and now that you know a little more about it, one can imagine witnessing an occasion at the mansion in the 1880s.

Sources: The Reminiscences of Elman Campbell; Newmarket Era Articles; Newmarket Stories – An Old Town in Ontario by Robert Terence Carter; The Story of Newmarket by Ethel Trewhella

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Newmarket resident Richard MacLeod the history dog ​​has been a local historian for over 40 years. He writes a weekly article on the history of our city in partnership with Newmarket Today, organizes local heritage lectures and walking tours, and conducts local oral history interviews.


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