CLOSING OF AN ANCIENT TAVERN
According to announcement in the daily papers, the New American hotel, corner of King and Charles streets, will close its doors and go out of business, for the present at least. That old hotel is one of the ancient landmarks of Hamilton, dating back seventy or more years. At one time it had a reputation for its excellent cooking that drew a large and paying patronage. Who the original proprietors were there is no record, but about 1850, we find that E. W. Berman was the smiling Boniface that gave cordial greeting to travelers as they alighted from the stage coaches. It was called the American in those days, but later the prefix of New was added, and from that time to the present, it has been known as the New American, except for a time when the name was changed to the Phoenix. It was the New American in 1855 when the printers of Hamilton celebrated Franklin’s birthday, on the 17th of February, by a banquet. The printers had organized a union on the 6th of March 1854, and this was the first opportunity that presented for the members to invite their employers to a social gathering. The names of the men who then controlled the destinies of the printing business in Hamilton may be of interest to the old-timers, not one of them living now. The Spectator was represented by John Smiley and William Gillespy; the Banner by William Nicholson, Thomas Like McIntosh and John Hand; the Gazette by Harcourt B. Bull; the Christian Advocate by the Rev. Gideon Shepard; the Canada Evangelist by Robert Peden. Hamilton then had two daily papers, one semi-weekly, and three religious. About seventy-five sat down to that banquet, of whom only three are now living – A. T. Freed, Reese Evans and Richard Butler. It was a night long to be remembered. What changes have taken place in this old town in the last sixty-two years! The second banquet of the union was held in 1857 in the Anglo-American hotel which was quite a tony affair. Substantially the same party, with a few additions to their number, partook of the feast. The announcement that the American closes its doors on next Saturday night awakens many recollections of the times when Hamilton looked forward to bright prospects in the future. The Great Western railway was just completed, and the army of men employed in the shops and in the offices of the company gave promise of a greater Hamilton, but no one dreamed that it would ever reach a population of 100,000, and become a city of nearly 500 factories. With all its wealth and numbers, it is nothing like the home town of fifty and sixty years ago. The old-timers live in the past.
Across the street, facing Charles, stood Cook’s hotel, now called the Dominion. Here was where Nelson Abel and Mr. Lee, the proprietors of the rival lines of Dundas stages, arrived and departed. Both were colored men and very popular with their passengers. Really there was no rivalry between them so far as business was concerned, for one stage would not have been sufficient to accommodate the local travel between the two towns. Passengers were charged fifteen cents for one way, or twenty-five cents for the round trip. Able and lee drove their own stages, and were the purchasing agents for the Dundas people who wanted small articles from Hamilton. The stages made two trips a day, coming to Hamilton in the morning in time to connect with the Toronto and Niagara boats, and again in the evening for the return of the boats. They were always prompt to the minute in the accommodation of their passengers. They were a fat and jolly pair of drivers, and never got out of patience. Lee had one or two daughters who were handsome-featured girls, and had it not been for the dark tinge that betokened negro blood, might have passed for distinguished foreigners, for bot were highly educated and accomplished musicians. The oldest girl was of marriageable age, but the thoughts of having to marry one of her own race was gall and wormwood to the accomplished young lady. Lee was naturally proud of his handsome daughter and desired her marriage to some white man who was above prejudice of color, and, at the same time, who would treat her as an equal. The story was that he offered a purse of five thousand dollars in gold for such a man, but there were no takers. Rather than become the wife of one of her own race, the young lady remained single. Better that than become the bride of a fortune hunter.
FORTY YEARS AGO YESTERDAY
In the daily Spectator of August 16, 1877, was a local item which will be read with interest by the Masonic fraternity of the present day. “We were today shown the silver trowel to be used tomorrow on the occasion of laying the cornerstone of the court house, and without doubt it is one of the finest pieces of workmanship which has been turned out in this city for many years. The trowel is of solid silver, and with ebony handle, mounted with silver, with a five-pointed gold star in relief. On the trowel are raised emblems in gold – the square, the level and the plumb. The inscription on the trowel is ‘Presented to James Seymour, Esq., Past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge, A. F. and A. Masons of Canada, by Thomas Stock, Esq., Warden of the County of Wentworth, on the occasion of laying the cornerstone of the new Court House in the city of Hamilton, on the 17th of August, A. D., 1877.’ Mr. Thomas Lees, who manufactured the magnificent implement, certainly deserves praise for the taste, elegance of design, and superiority of workmanship.” The civic holiday in Hamilton was on the 17th day of August, 1877, and that day was made the occasion of laying the cornerstone of the present court house. The ceremony had an added interest in being performed by James Seymour, an old Hamilton printer, who had risen to the honorable office of Past Grand Master of the Masonic fraternity. Mr. Seymour was foreman of the Gazette office in the early ‘50s, but had left Hamilton some years later to publish a newspaper in St. Catharines. Twice has the honor of Grand Master of the Masonic order in Canada been conferred on Hamilton printers, the latest being Mr. A. T. Freed.
It may be interesting to repeat a bit of history of court houses in the old Gore district, of which Hamilton was apart. The first court house was a good-sized log building in Ancaster township, on the Dundas and Ancaster road, built in the year 1816, the first in this part of Canada. George Rolph was the first clerk of the court, and the first quarter sessions and surrogate courts for the county of Wentworth were held there. Richard Hatt, a man of wealth, presided as chairman of the first quarter sessions, there being no regularly appointed judge, and while he had no legal education, his decisions gave universal satisfaction. Col. Thomas Taylor, of the Forty-First Highlanders was dispatched from his regiment and sent To Canada to organize and lead the militia in the early part of the War of 1812. He served on the staff of General Vincent, and at the battle of Stoney Creek, received seven bullet wounds in his body. After the war, being unfit for further military duty, he resigned his commission and located in Hamilton. He devoted himself to the study of law, and in the year 1819 was appointed judge and held his first term of court in the log court house between Dundas and Ancaster. Judge Taylor was a graduate of Oxford university, and was an accomplished scholar, in addition to being an artist. Some of his pictures still hold a prominent place in the Royal Academy in London. In all the years from 1819 to the present, there have been only eight judges to preside over the local court – Judge Taylor, Judge Miles O’Reilly, Judge Alexander Logie, Judge William Ambrose, Judge James Shaw, Judge Colin G. Snider, Judge Monk, and last, but not least, Judge Gauld.
In 1822, the first court house in Hamilton was built. Like its predecessor, out on the Dundas and Ancaster road, it was built of logs. In this building, court was held and the business of the county transacted till the year 1830 when the first stone court house was erected on Prince’s Square. When Thomas Stock was warden of the county in 1877, it was decided to raze that stone court house that had done duty for forty-seven years, and in its place build one of more modern architecture, in keeping with the growing importance and wealth of the county. The result is the present handsome building, of which the cornerstone was laid forty years ago yesterday. August 17, 1877 was the day set apart as the civic holiday, and advantage was taken to perform a ceremony that is a part of the history of Wentworth county. There was a fountain in the old square that was removed years ago, and in its place is a handsome flower bed. The first log court house built in town was on the east side of John streets. When it was torn down, a stone tavern was built on the site.