Tuesday, 12 March 2013



          How few of the present generation know anything of the early history of Hamilton; and, indeed, but few of the old-timers can tell you much about it. It is only the old musers who dig into ancient history and gather up bits of the past here and there who manage to keep in touch the past with the present. Many years ago as one of the ancients, gifted as a poet and in literature, wrote a very interesting sketch of Hamilton for an historical atlas of the county of Wentworth, and although that atlas was published only forty-four years ago, it is doubtful if many of them have been preserved, and yet it tells more in brief of the early history of Hamilton than can be gathered from any other source. To gather up the threads will be one of the pleasures of the Saturday Muser and we will make good use of the atlas to while away an hour now and then in telling the present native generation something of the early history of the town in which they were born.

          The old-time muser from whom we quote tells us that Hamilton was originally covered with a dense growth of tall, rank, coarse, serrated Indian grass which, when drawn the reverse way across the hand, cut like a sharp saw. Between the mountain and the bay was cut here and there with deep ravines and dotted with patches of swamp or swale – a favorite haunt for quail, rattlesnakes and frogs . On the spot now occupied by the market square was a dense growth of shrubbery which formed a safe shelter for wolves. This same market square was later a fine orchard, planted by Andrew Miller, and he kept a tavern on the corner of Macnab and Market square in the building now owned by Parke and Parke, druggists. When the first settlers came into this part of Canada, a deer trail extended over the brow of the mountain brow, from where the reservoir of the waterworks is now situated down to the bay. A well-beaten Indian trail extended from the Indian villages near Lake Medad and the Grand River, through the valley of Dundas, down to the bay near the foot of what is now Emerald street, where the Indians had a burial mound, evidently used for the internment of the chiefs. This mound was fifteen feet high and fifty feet in diameter. The sides were quite steep, and there was a dip or slight hollow in the mound on top. The mound was covered all over about two feet deep with cinders and ashes, the remains of funeral pyres which the Indians had built in honor of the dead and for the purpose of destroying the scent of the dead body, and so prevent the wolves from desecrating the tomb. The remains of the mound could be seen at the foot of Emerald street as late as the year 1874, though almost leveled by nearly a century of cultivation. The early settlers turned up with the plow great quantities of arrow and spear heads, detached skulls and bones, pieces of pottery, wampum, stone hatchets, etc. giving evidence of a probable Indian battle having been fought in that locality at some remote time.


          There are two families who claim this distinction for their ancestors – the Beasleys and the Lands. This muser has heard both sides and told the story in the Spectator. Here is the story as told by the Khan, the ancient muser of the Wentworth atlas.

          “In the part of the year 1778, Robert Land settled on three hundred acres of land, stretching from the bay to the foot of the mountain. It is on about one acre of the original farm, on the corner of King and Wellington streets, that Richard Springer and his fellow trustees built the First Methodist church in Hamilton – and, indeed, it was the first church building of any denomination erected in this old town, That was in 1823. Robert Land was born on the banks of the Delaware, in the United States, and on the breaking out of the Revolutionary war, he took sides with the British. One night, while carrying dispatches for his general, he was fired upon by the enemy and was struck on the back by a spent ball, knocking him down. In falling he cut his hand on a sharp stone, and the wound bled profusely. He was too much hurt to get on his feet, but he succeeded in creeping on his hands and knees into the underbush, where he hid till morning. That same night, while he lay helpless in pain from the wound in his hand, the Indians burnt down his cabin, driving his wife and family forth homeless, his wife believing him to having been murdered by the Indians followed the retreating British into New Brunswick.

          Not being able to any tidings of his family, Mr. Land came to Canada and settled on two hundred acres of land near Niagara Falls. Later he moved to the Head of the Lake, the present site of Hamilton and located on three hundred acres of land. Seven years afterwards his family, not liking New Brunswick as a home, came to Niagara Falls with the intention of settling on a farm in that locality, where they heard that a man named Land, who had formerly lived there, was living at the Head of the Lake, they walked all the way from Niagara Falls on foot, carrying their personal effects with them, and the long-separated family were agin happily reunited. Mr. Land sowed the first bushel of wheat on the soil of Hamilton. The house in which the family lived was a little log hut with a mud floor, on the corner of William and Barton streets. It had a birch bark roof, and the logs that composed the wall were neither hewn nor finished, but were cut in irregular lengths. The chinks in the wall were stopped with swamp moss. A huge fireplace extended across one end of the house. Dried venison hung from the ceiling at all seasons of the year, and the trusty rifle was suspended above the fireplace. There was but one window, a dried wolf skin being stretched as a substitute for glass. After Land and his family settled here, others followed, but immigration was very slow, especially to the present site of early Hamilton, the early settlers preferring the higher land in Ancaster and Barton. It was her geographical position at the head of the lake that built up Hamilton, and not the inviting character of her soil for agricultural purposes. The immigrants for a long time shunned the swampy margin of Burlington bay some going east of Hamilton, where they built up Stoney Creek long before Hamilton had a name. Others settled on the rolling lands of Ancaster, and Ancaster village in 1825 was nearly as large as it is now.


          The first lodge of the Masonic order (The Barton No. 6) was organized in 1795, the meetings being held in Smith’s tavern, which stood at the corner of King and Wellington streets, the members attending from Ancaster, Barton and Saltfleet. Ancient history tells us that Davenport Phelps, a Connecticut Yankee, was sent as a missionary and lay reader to the Niagara district from the Trinity church in New York city, in order to establish and organize branches of the English church. Being a member of the Masonic order at his old home, he naturally made the acquaintance of those brethren who had settled at the Head of the Lake, and in 1795, The Barton Lodge was instituted. Smith’s tavern was the first tavern built on the site of Hamilton. In later years, it was known by the name of The Poplars from a grove of poplar trees in front yard facing King street. It is now the site of the east end branch of the Bank of Hamilton.


          Here are the names of a few of the early settlers who owned and occupied land on the site of Hamilton in 1812. Abel Land lived on two hundred acres of land north of Barton and east of Wentworth streets. Colonel John Aikman occupied the next farm and his log house stood on the corner of Burlington and King streets. Ephraim Land owned four hundred acres east of Wellington and south of Main streets. Robert Land’s farm was north of King and east of Wellington streets, and his house stood on the southeast corner of William and Barton streets. Peter Ferguson, after whom Ferguson avenue was called, owned two hundred acres of land east of Mary and north of King streets. His house stood on the street near the corner of Robert street and Ferguson avenue. Nathaniel Hughson, after whom Hughson street was named, owned two hundred acres east of Mary, west of Wellington and north of king streets. Captain Durand occupied the only farm south of Main street. His house stood on the middle of Upper John street. He sold the farm to George Hamilton, who laid it out into town lots in the year 1813, and from which Hamilton dated its first centennial anniversary in June, 1913. George Hamilton donated the court house square and Gore park to the city in consideration of the town being called Hamilton. Richard Springer owned a farm of one hundred acres from Main street to the mountain, bounded by Wellington street and the line between Walnut and Catharine streets. It was in Richard Springer’s log house that the first Methodist church was organized in 1801, and where Nathaniel Bangs, one of the early circuit riders, reached his first sermons in 1802.

          A man named Barnum kept tavern on the northwest corner of James and King streets, the present site of the C. P. R. ticket office. Barnum also owned a farm extending from James to Merrick streets. Daniel Kirkendall owned a farm of two hundred acres north of King and west of Bay. His house stood above the hollow near the Grand Trunk shops.

          Here are a few of the first men who laid the foundations of Hamilton as an industrial city. “Black” Carpenter and Knight and Shute were the first cabinet makers. Knight and Shute’s factory was King Street, about where White’s block stands. There were no undertakers then, but the cabinet makers supplied most of the coffins. Colonel John Aikman was the first wagon maker, and Edward Jackson was the first tinsmith. Their shops were on the south side of the Gore on King street. The first foundry was started by John Fisher, on the corner of James and Merrick streets, on the lot now occupied by the old Royal Hotel. He was later joined by Dr. C. McQuesten, a practicing physician from the State of New York. And it did not take this man many years to make a fortune, when John Fisher retired and returned to his home in the States. Dr. McQuesten remained in the business a few years longer, when he turned it over to L. D. and Samuel Sawyer. The old foundry and agricultural implements are now doing business at the old stand, northeast of the Grand Trunk tracks under the company name of Sawyer Massey. John Fisher built the first threshing machine made in Canada. The first blacksmith shop was owned by John Reynolds and it stood on the southeast corner of King and Ferguson avenue. The first district school in Hamilton was kept by John law said to be in a building on the First Methodist church lot and was occupied by the janitor of the church as a residence till recently when it was torn down, thus removing one of the ancient landmarks, but its removal has improved the appearance of the church lot. The old town began with six industrial shops and one tavern. It now has over 400 industries, the largest ones furnishing labor for 2,500 to 3,000 men and women. The nearest saw mill was on Big Creek in Barton.


          In 1813, George Hamilton bought from Captain Durand his hundred acre farm, running from Main street to the base of the mountain on Upper John street, for which he paid 3,000 pounds. Hamilton was the member of parliament for this district, and was a man of energy and public spirit. The lots were slow of sale, and the population of slower growth, for twenty years later in 1832, the whole town could not muster two thousand people. There were only 841 acres of cultivated land in the town and 1,357 uncultivated acres; the assessed value of property was $71,928. When it came to the christening of the town, a large number wanted to call it Burlington, but the majority was in favor of Hamilton, for the reason that Mr. Hamilton was liberal in donating land for the court house square and for Gore park. Unfortunately, there are no attainable records of Hamilton for its first twenty years. The first sign of progress was when parliament, on the 19th of March, 1823, passed an act to authorize the construction of  a canal between Burlington bay and Lake Ontario. The canal is three-quarters of a mile long. It was commenced in 1823 and completed in 1832, when Hamilton became the head of navigation. The Desjardins canal was chartered on the 30th of June, 1826, and was completed about the same time that the Burlington canal was opened for navigating. Prior to that time, the entrance to the bay was at the north end of the beach.


          Since the old market-house was destroyed by fire about a year ago, there has been talk of building a new one to cost $100,000 or more. It has only been talk thus far, for there is some opposition to erecting a new building on account of the cost and the scarcity of money. Here is a bit of ancient market house history. On the 12th of February, 1833, and act was passed “on account of the great increase in the population of the twn,” to define the limits of the town of Hamilton and to establish a market house. The town was laid out into four wards, and it was decided to put an assessed valuation of $1,000 on each lot. The corporation was also authorized to fix the location of the market and power given to borrow $4,000 for the purpose of building a market house, and for purchasing one or more fire engines as might be deemed necessary. In 1832, a considerable portion of the business part of the town was destroyed by fire. That same year, cholera swept off a large number of the inhabitants. A history of the fire and the visitation of the plague was published in the Canadian Wesleyan and the Western Mercury, the two papers published in Hamilton at that time. The post office consisted of one room in the second story of the building over the Mercury office and only one man was employed to handle all the mail.

          In 1839, another act was passed giving the corporation the authority to build a second market not to exceed three acres in extent, and power given to borrow $4,000 with which to build a market house. A bylaw provided that no butter, meat poultry, nor fish should be exposed for sale except in the market on John street, with the exception of Tuesdays and Saturdays when farmers were allowed to carry their wares about the town for sale. The market fees were 12 ½ cents.

          On the 24th day of July 1850, an act was passed to incorporate the Hamilton Gaslight company, the capital to be $50,000 in shares of $40 each, but with power to increase it to another sum not exceeding $50,000. The city of Hamilton might, in fifteen years, assume control of the whole property on paying back the sums expended.

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