The Carleton County Historical Society was officially formed on January 27th, 1960, at a meeting held in the music room of the Woodstock High School (now Junior High School), on the corner of Elm Street and Green. Enthusiasm ran high, ideas flew back and forth, a short pantomime called “Salesmanship Then and Now”, was presented and our evening closed with the serving of brown bread, cheese and coffee. Dr. George MacBeath came up from the New Brunswick Museum to offer advice if needed. However, the meeting seemed to roll on its own, and one of Dr. MacBeath’s fonder memories is the serving of brown bread and cheese.
(A little over 2 months later, the Society was incorporated on May 9th, 1960.)
A week before that January 27th formation date, a small informal meeting was scheduled to be held at our farmhouse on the banks of the St, John River. How did we get this small group of interested people together? There seemed only one way to us — personal contact. I well remember the day that Ken and I drove through town and into the country from one home to another. A storm was building up, the skies were heavily overcast, and a strengthening wind sent fine blowing snow in streamers across the roads. We called on Gladys Smith first, at 11 a.m. She was a local librarian, and a descendent of Richard Ketchum, who had donated the land for the County Court House at Upper Woodstock. She was so elated that she lit a fire in the grate and brought out fine glasses and the port. Her sister, Maud, arrived home from the library, and suggested to Gladys (and probably to us) that we control our elation and think in practical terms. Drinking port and reminiscing would not necessarily, she thought, form a Historical Society. But, in a strange way, it did.
We left the Smiths and drove out the Jacksonville road to see Jock Fraser, potato farmer and former Liberal M.L.A. for Carleton. We didn’t even know him; but we had heard that he admired the old Court House, and had wondered how on earth it could ever be saved. He and his wife, Dorothy, responded with delight and were willing to attend the small meeting at our farmhouse to discuss possibilities. We called on Harry and Dot Deakin — enthusiasm all the way! They would come. We called Bill Turney by phone. We didn’t even know him! But I had caught sight of him down town one day. He was broad shouldered and vigorous and wore dark glasses and sported a colourful Scotch tam, Music, I thought, — enthusiasm, professionalism — I had heard all this about him, and all of this was needed. He would come, he said. Olga Kirk was called and would come. Dr. and Mrs. George Frederick Clarke — of course they would come. Ken and Dees Homer, and lastly, and so important, Carolyn Chase. We had already met with her at our home by the river, as you will hear later.
As we’ve said, this small group was supposed to come to our farmhouse on the evening of January 20th. But the slighter disturbance that had been threatening grew to a full sized storm. The long driveway to our house was plugged in. The green station-wagon stood in snow up to the hubs, at the top near the gate,. I had cooked sugar-nut rolls, cherry bread, date bread, biscuits, etc., for the evening. A phone call to my parents, Dr. and Mrs. G. F. Clarke, promptly changed the setting to their home. Up at the farm we packed my cooking in a carton, strapped it to the toboggan, put young Stephen in another carton and strapped him on and plodded up through the deepening snow to the top of the hill; before long the station-wagon was dug out and we were on our way to my childhood home. Everyone we had asked came. A huge fire blazed in the fireplace, the smoke curled from my father’s pipe, my mother gathered tea-cups and helped serve my cooking. The pros and cons of formation flew back and forth, and it was decided, then and there, to call a meeting for Jan. 27, in the music room of the High School. For the next week the air-waves of CJCJ carried promos morning and afternoon. As our own history shows, on the night of Jan. 27, 1960, the people that came to that music room did not want to wait another day, or week, or month to discuss it all again. They wanted to form a Historical Society, then, on that night — and so they did.
That was the formal beginning. But tonight we are not going to continue through the years to 1986. Instead we are going to start with the present and go back in time and years, briefly, to our beginnings.
Time will not in any way permit us to deal with the events of 26 years — the all-important papers, the monthly meetings, the pantomimes, the fund raisers, the trips to Glassville and to Hartland, the stories behind the historic houses, the story of Ken Perley, Peter Stokes and all the others — the help of other communities and provincial projects; and all the efforts resulting in two Awards of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History, and one Heritage Canada Historical Award. Regarding the awards of merit from the American Association for State and Local History, one was presented in 1962 for Bringing History to Life; the other in 1978 (but not presented until 1979) for our restoration of the 0ld Court House. The Heritage Canada National Award was presented in Ottawa in the fall of 1977.
Tonight is February 28, 1986. Our meetings for many years have been held on the last Friday of the month (except for the Christmas meeting). But this Friday, this February 28,1986, will be remembered as special in that it is the night that David Bell of Woodstock and Carleton County, New Brunswick, receives a Certificate of Commendation from the American Association for State and Local History.
As this evening becomes part of our Society’s history, we must become aware that behind the award is the story of hours and months and years of research and dedication. This kind of work does not just happen. It is made to happen.
And there are other things that do not just happen. On my left you will see the Judge’s chair, a reproduction created by Luciano de Renzo, master carpenter at Upper Canada Village, Behind this beautiful, inanimate, but absolutely necessary furnishing is a story.
In all the years of researching and interviewing and digging here and there throughout the county, we could not find the Judge’s Chair. In the old shell of the court house there were bits and pieces of the Judge’s Bench; signs of the Jury Platform; in the cellar of Mrs. Brooks’ home on Broadway there was the upper part of a pillar and many spindles from the gallery; we found the Coat of Arms, and the original Coat of Arms, and the original court house chairs in the Woodstock Court House. But no Judge’s Chair! Every year, for years, we put in our estimate, the sum of $2,000.00 for the reproduction of this most important piece of furniture, if we could only find a model.
And then, at Christmas, 1983, David Bell gave us a gift — a book called “Cornerstones of Order” — Courthouse and Town Halls of Ontario 1784-1914. We hardly had time to peruse the book. But I (Dees) had noticed on page 197 a photo of a Judge’s Chair, 1869 period, from the Renfrew County Court House, in Pembroke, Ontario.
THIS WAS THE CHAIR!
By 1984 talks and letters with Peter Stokes were exchanged. By June, 1985, negotiations started in earnest — involved and complicated. It was Peter John Stokes that made the necessary contacts with the Ministry of the Attorney General, and with the Sheriff of Renfrew County — Sheriff Ivan Schimmens. Permission had to be granted to borrow the Judge’s chair from the Renfrew Court House and take it to Upper Canada Village. A certified cheque from our Society had to be sent to Sheriff Schimmens to be held for security while their chair was out of their possession. Peter Stokes made contact with Luciano de Renzo, the cabinet maker and his supervisors at Upper Canada Village to see if the chair could be reproduced on site at the Village. All systems were go — and then Peter Stokes in October of 1985, drove to Pembroke, personally picked up the chair, put it in the back of his car and proceeded to Upper Canada Village. He drove a total of 520 miles, a good portion of this with the hatchback of his car open to accommodate the size, and no doubt with cool winds hitting the back of his neck. Mahogany and leather had to be chosen, but finally all was completed.
On February 12, 1985, a Day & Ross Transport arrived from Montreal at the Workshop at Upper Woodstock with the crated chair — $95,85 for Day & Ross and $34.50 for Glengarry Transport to the Montreal depot. A flying trip had to be made to town to Fern Bell’s to get a cheque for $135.35 for Day & Ross before the chair could be released.
In the meantime the Renfrew County Judge’s Chair had been returned via transport to Pembroke, and a few days later the certified cheque we had sent for security was received by us.
The bill also arrived for the reproduction of this fine chair, $1,250.00 for labour and materials plus $80.00 for crating both chairs. (Two very fine letters came from Sheriff Schimmens, of Renfrew County, and from Upper Canada Village.)
In 1984 an incident occurred that resulted in the painting of the Connell House. The Town of Woodstock had put in for a Canada Works grant to help save the old Golf Club. It would be administered by the Town, but any extra funds would have to be raised by the Golf Club. Our Society did everything they could to encourage this project, but the Golf Club turned it down and the old building was demolished. Through the efforts of the Society and the Town and the pushing of Pat Karnes, the grant was switched for the express purpose of painting the Connell House. This was done in the summer of 1984, as this important building badly needed an exterior face lifting. In addition, I was able to persuade Historical Resources to grant the Society $15,000.00 to make basic architectural changes to the later addition.
In 1981, the Society was asked to create a drama for the Town’s 125th Anniversary. This was done through pantomime, narration, and costuming, and through participation of the mayor and councillors as the cast.
The kaleidoscope moves faster — there is so much to tell, and there is not the time. In the first half of the 1980s, intensified work, as long as there was money, continued on the Court House and Cluff House with some work on the Wright House.
By the 1970s the Society had expanded its holdings of historic houses — Canada Works projects had come in, and there was the skull-cracking work of making out applications and estimates.
In 1968, if we are correct, the Cluff House was bought by the Society from Lorne Simms; the decision was made at an emergency director’s meeting held at our farm house at around 2 p.m. in the afternoon.
Katharine Connell was there and Ken MacLauchlan, Carolyn Chase, and Lena Perley. The Cluff House stood dormant for several years and was used only for storage until our first L.I.P. Grant in February 1971-72. At that time you had to work in bad weather no matter what. The foundations were crumbling, so the little house was shrouded in plastic, and giant heaters rented from Fredericton to thaw the ground in the basement. Peter Draper was our foreman and every night someone had to watch the heaters. That was when Peter hired Gerald Sibley, who had since become our foreman.
The Wright House, circa 1835, was bought in 1971 by Peter John Stokes, in order to save this early and charming combination of general store, housing quarters and tavern. He paid $1,500,00 for it. He has been repaid the taxes but not the cost price. Since then the taxes have been forgiven.
The Sharp House, probably in many ways our most important and certainly our earliest house — circa 1810-1815 — was literally kidnapped by the Society on August 8, 1970. It had been sitting on blocks in the Power Commission yard in Grafton. We had made application to the government for this house, but it was turned down in a polite letter by W. W. Meldrum. It would, he wrote, be drawn up, taken apart and taken to King’s Landing for possible later reassembling. In one week we had it on blocks (with voluntary work) and on a Saturday night Cummings’s Construction big flat bed moved underneath it. In the meantime during that week, a young man by the name of Eugene Phillips had been sent up to make the drawings. He was upstairs; he didn’t know us, and while he valiantly drew and measured, our men jacked the house up, inch by inch, and of course he went up with it. Already we had contacted the N.B.E.P.C. through a Richard Sullivan, and the N. B. Tel, and they both agreed to lower all the wires necessary for its trip from Grafton to a lot behind the Hugh John Flemming house off the Jacksonville road. EVERYTHING HAPPENED! The road commissioner got in a fight with the N.B.E.P.C. supervisor, and called the thing to a halt just before it moved onto the bridge. Then, after two hours, it moved again; but mid-way through Upper Woodstock there was a terrific thunder storm and a transformer blew. Everyone’s freezers stopped, linesmen climbed off the poles, but finally at 8 p.m. in the evening, it moved onto its acre lot, donated by Mrs. Flemming.
The Connell House came into the Society’s possession in the summer of 1975. After 5 hair-raising meetings with the old Woodstock Museum Inc. (which was then dormant) the assets of the N.B. portion of the Myles Brown estate were handed over to the Society. The Connell House was bought by the old Woodstock Museum, and the deed handed to the Society. At the same time, Charlotte Winslow wrote National Historic Site & Monuments, making a plea to save the house. Their answer came back. They could not save the house, but would be interested in considering it for designation as a National Historic Site, if it was in the hands of a reliable historical agency. By 1976, it was already designated a National Historic Site, but it was not until July 9, 1979 that a plaque was unveiled in front of the Connell House. It was a hot, golden day, conducted with ceremony and dignity, and bits of humour. R.C.M.P. officers stood by in their scarlet coats; and afterwards delicious refreshments were served in the United Church hall.
I might say here that during the years between 1975 and 1984 considerable strengthening work was done on the Connell House.
I must mention the year 1970-71. We were advised to put on a fund raising night. So we did, We called it The Poverty Ball. It was beamed to the depression days of the ’30s. We were ahead of our time and it was not well supported by the public. The only thing was that our original date was for a November, and we had The Thomists lined up. The new furnace did not arrive so we had to postpone the ball and pay the orchestra half their fee. It finally came off in February or March, still not that well supported. The armoury looked marvelous; the Thomists were there, and those that supported it had a wonderful time. But, we had a bar, called the Harvester Special. Naturally, there was a lot of liquor left over, which we could not return. Those cases were stored with the Homers and one night T decided we had better find customers, which I did. I took off after freezing ice-storm, with the roads coated with ‘glass’ and several crates of Scotch, rum and rye on the back seat. How I got to the various destinations I do not know. I know I circled the main road several times and slewed into driveways. But we disposed of our cache. One week later I was looking over Treasurer Lena Perley’s accounts, and I saw — under The Poverty Ball: “Sale of liquor — 200 and something dollars” I said, “Lena, you can’t put that in there. I bootlegged that!” And she replied, “Well, it’s going to stay, because it happened.” And so it did stay.
It might have been easier to go forward, but I still must go back.
The 1960s were the years of the Salmon Fries, held from 1960 for eleven years, up to and including 1971. No one forgets the Salmon Fries. A wealth of stories are behind them. And again, they didn’t “just happen.” They were planned six weeks in advance.
Also, that were the years of pantomimes and papers, and floats and booths in the old arena at Island Park in the St. John River. And the special night for George Frederick Clarke at the Wandlyn Motel.
And back farther to early 1960s. The old Court House, derelict, but proud, with only one carrying beam holding it together became the dream, and an almost impossible task.
On November 8, 1960, the Agreement of Sale with Mr, and Mrs. Frank Hayden was set up for Ken MacLauchlan’s office. There was a photographer there, but much to Mrs. Hayden’s horror, there had been a mistake and the Hayden’s house and lot had been included in our Society’s deed, The phony photograph was taken, and the next week the mistake was rectified.
And in February, 1963 — the deed to the Old Court House was officially signed in Ken MacLauchlan’s office with all the executive present, and $5,000.00 was handed over to the Haydens in cash. $5,000.00 was literally counted three times. But the deed was done and we all shook hands.
Near the beginning of these reminiscences I mentioned an earlier meeting with Carolyn Chase at our home by the river. Ken had been approached early in 1959, by the N. B, Historical Society, to become a county representative and form a local Society. He dragged his heels for a year, another request came, and one night, we had a sort of a fight, in which I said, “Either say yes, or say no, one or the other!”
Ken said “yes” to the N.B.. Historical Society and particularly to Charles Foss.
We called Carolyn up on a cold and wintery night in that month of January, 1960. We discussed it with her, and Ken told her his decision. She listen intently, and then I said, “Carolyn, if people get interested, and a Society is formed, with your efficiency at hand and your past experience as a professional secretary, would you be the secretary of a new historical society?”
She gave us a level look, expressed some doubts, and then said, “Well, yes, I will!”
During the years following the presentation of Mr. Homer’s narrative, the Society divested itself of all other properties, concentrating funds and energy on the Old County Court House and Connell House.
Two years ago, the Society decreed the time had come to proceed with the restoration of Connell House. Original floor plans or blueprints do not exist, nor have any worthwhile pictures or drawings of the interior been discovered. It was necessary, therefore, to embark on a careful archaeological exploration of the main house, under the direction and guidance of Peter John Stokes, LL.D., F.R.A.I.C., restoration architect, to determine the original configuration of the building’s interior. Great care was taken to discover traces of the original partitions, doorways, wall coverings, wood finishes, decorative details, etc., in order that final restoration might be as true to the original as possible.
Finally, this year, 2007, the actual restoration work is in progress, and it is intended that the entrance hall, butler’s pantry and the double parlors will be completed well before the year end.