by Renka Gesing
108 Ramsay Street (now 273)
of the oldest houses in one of Ontario’s oldest towns
was once threatened with destruction in the name of
“progress.” When this Georgian style solid red
brick home was built on 108 Ramsay Street (now 273) in Amherstburg
in 1849, there were barely 900 souls in the town. By the late1960s
the town had grown considerably and developers were looking
for places to build.
William Carter, who owned the residence and was attempting
to sell the home, realized its great historical value to the
town and agreed to postpone the sale if a buyer could be found
who would not destroy that worthiness. Since any interested
purchasers either wanted to modernize or remove the building
for commercial purposes, Carter contacted the curator of the
Fort Malden Museum for suggestions.
David Bernhardt. Co-owner of O'Neil Bernhardt, a fine furniture
store in Olde Walkerville in Windsor. Evidently Bernhardt
realized the potential of the somewhat dilapitated home and
purchased it for his residence. He quickly initiated major
renovations, including exposing the old pine floors. A back
room was used to warehouse unique architectural fixtures of
the home, including a set of wooden spindles over one of the
doors. According to Jim O'Neil (the other half of O'Neil Bernhardt)
his daughter fell in love with the spindles and convinced
her husband to make a table out of them, still in use in her
shop (Bedazzle) on Pelissier Street in downtown Windsor.
1973, Berhnardt decided to sell, as he was weary of the long
commute to Windsor. Fortunately, the next owners, Stuart and
Teddie Keith, were drawn to the home’s style, history
and solid construction, and purchased the house for $37,500.
Copies of the first building specifications for the house,
were sent to the Keiths by the grandson of the builder, John
Henry Abel. These diagrams emphasized good-quality workmanship.
Handwritten in polished, artful script, the specifications
of materials, and the carpenter and joiner work of a brick
dwelling house to be erected for James Dunbar and Samuel R.
McGee on the ground belonging to them down on the river bank
covered such careful details as:
The floors to be of one inch and a quarter pine, planned,
tongued and grooved, blind nailed, with heading joint broken.
• Roof to be covered with one-inch board and shingled
with good pine shingles laid
four inches to the weather.
• Cornice to be on front and back of building to be
plain and in proper dimensions and to be put up in a substantial
and workmanlike manner.
• The whole of the doors and windows to be free of
unsound knots and other defects.
• Mantle pieces to be in proportion and harmony with
the rest of the work.
to information from Amherstburg Heritage Designation files
and the Amherstburg Echo, the house was one of three brick
buildings built in 1849 (the others being the Solmoni Hotel
and the Paxton Building).
original property owner was William Mickle, born in Scotland
and a resident of the United States who married Hannah Turner
in Detroit in 1792.
April 15, 1799, Captain Hector Mclean assigned Lot #21 to
Mickle, who was the Ship Carpenter. Called Second Street in
1800, there was a frame house on the lot (now lot #8, as it
is still known today) by 1820. James Dunbar had the frame
house replaced by a fine red brick home 29 years later, though
records show that the property was still owned by the Mickle
family in 1861 (Wm Mickle died in 1814 of “Lake Fever”).
Dunbar had the house built as a bakeshop and his residence.
the residence was the site of the Amherstburg library for
about 20 years, until the Carnegie Library was opened about
1911. Next, a machine shop occupied part of the building,
the remainder being used by the Pineau family, which was well
known for having 12 beautiful daughters. The Keiths met a
few of the daughters during an open house when the house was
showed us the third step on the stairway where they got their
spanking,” said Mr. Keith.
About 1917 the Amherstburg Continuation School occupied the
building until the General Amherst High School was opened
in 1921. In 1925 Lewis Goodchild purchased the home from the
town and lived there until 1965 when he died at the age of
94 years. William Carter bought the house from his widow Emily
Goodchild in 1966 for use as a residence and an antique shop.
Keiths, particularly Stuart, who is an accomplished renovator,
have put a lot of sweat equity into the house. When they moved
in, the entire top floor was one big room, probably, surmises
Mr. Keith, from the time it was used as a school. He has taken
great care to bring the house back its 1840s appearance. The
lost interior doors, for example, were replaced with doors
taken out of the Solmoni Hotel.
used to find a lot of stuff people had thrown out,”
said Mr. Keith. The six foot by three foot windows –
all 18 of them – are original.
Keiths are most impressed by their home’s central hall
and the six-foot wide stairway going up the middle of the
house. The attic, which remains empty, “has big square
beams with tree nails, [which are] big wooden bolts; it’s
built like a barn, must be 13 feet from the floor to the peak.”
time to time, the Dunbar home reveals historic secrets to
its present owners. For example, when crawling under the house,
which stands 15 to 18 inches off of the ground, Mr. Keith
found a clay pipe and a little cannon ball about two inches
the home is “right on the borderline of the commercial
area,” says Mr. Keith. “We’re safely in
the residential part," and is designated under the Ontario
Heritage Act. Thanks to the Keith’s care and respect
of this historic treasure, and because of the foresigtedness
of William Carter, the home should be around for many more
years to come, perhaps revealing even more secrets to future
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