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Brockville’s First Court House…….1809-1841

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built 1809-1810


Map of Village of Elizabethtown (later Brockville) 1811 (by Doug Grant)

I drew this map based on the earliest discovered map of Brockville. At that time, in 1811, the village was officially known as Elizabethtown by the government of Upper Canada.

I would like to try to tell the story of the development of the District of Johnstown Court House in Brockville from the earliest period, using what information has been discovered to date.

For many years, I believe, we have been told a mistruth by earlier compilers of Brockville history. The story has been reprinted over the years that there have been three court houses build in Brockville. This cannot be substantiated by facts and I have come to believe that what was thought to be a second building was simply a renovation and addition to the first building.

The story goes back to about 1805 when a petition was first circulated in the central part of the District of Johnstown. This document asked the government to consider moving the Courts from the village of Johnstown to a more central location. Later in December of that year, having been signed by “William Buell, Daniel Manhart and 107 others,” this petition was submitted to the government at York.

The end result was to convince those in power that moving the Court House and Gaol to a more central location “near or about Mr. Daniel Jones’s mill in front of the 1st concession of Elizabethtown” was a good idea. This decision was made in 1808 and an act was passed on March 16th of that year, in spite of counter-petitions from the residents at the Edwardsburg end of the District near the village of Johnstown who were very upset with the suggestion.

The decision being made, a high piece of land offered by William Buell was chosen in June 1808, and plans were drawn up for the new Court House.

The cost for the new Court House was to be paid by canvassing the residents of the area for subscriptions. The job of collecting the subscriptions and the contract for construction was placed in the hands of Charles Jones (1781-1840). Jones was still just a young man at this time, but had lots of Loyalist and “Family Compact” connections.

A contract has been found made between the two representatives of the District Justices of the Peace, Solomon Jones and James Breakenridge, and Charles Jones. It is dated November 9, 1808 and describes the proposed building in these words: “sixty-three feet long by forty feet wide, the foundation are to be of stone and raised four feet above the ground, the wall of the first story to be twelve feet high of brick, and of the length of two bricks in thickness, the second and third stories to be twenty feet high, and the length of one brick and a half in thickness”. Also mentioned is the fact that they will pay Jones so much of the 800 pounds for the building as he could collect from the subscribers to the project, and after that they will pay the remaining amount outstanding.

The nine District Magistrates meeting in Quarter Sessions in May 1810, and led by chairman Joel Stone, ratified the deal and placed the funds in the hands of Charles Jones.  For a nominal twenty pounds in consideration, Mr. Buell drew up a deed on May 16, 1810 to give to the Crown all the required land for a square (about four acres) and a wide road leading down to the river.

Another interesting document, dated January 13, 1809, has been found in the Archives of Ontario which describe the sub-contract for the new building. It was a contract made between Charles Jones, the general contractor, and Joseph Bryan a carpenter living in Augusta Township to perform the “carpenter and joiner work” involved in the “new brick Court House to be erected on the site in Elizabethtown” (at that time the government name for Brockville). The building was described as being “63 feet long and 40 feet broad, and in shape agreeable to the plan drawn by the said Bryan.”

Furthermore, Joseph Bryan was responsible for “framing all the timbers and joists and scantling for the support of the floors and roof, the making of all the window frames, the putting up of the cornice, boarding the roof and shingling the same, and covering the Octagon”. He was also to make “the outside doors and window sashes, and put up the columns in front”.

Charles Jones was responsible for the masonry work, stone foundations and brick walls which were to be completed by September 10th. Jones would also supply all the wood materials and nails needed by Bryan and his crew. The contract promised to pay Bryan a total of $984.00, in three instalments ending the following June, the proposed time of completion.

These two recently discovered documents provide much important details to give a description of this first Court House. It was to be a long three-storey rectangular brick building with windows on the sides, topped by a gable roof covered in shingles. In front of the entrance doorway we would see a number of columns, and it will be topped by a octagonal shaped tower. That is what has appeared in numerous drawn views up until the time it was replaced by the present Court House in 1842.


1816-Map of Brockville Court House area (by Doug Grant)
The area around the first Court House was used during the War of 1812-14 to house British troops and militia. This map shows the general placement of the various structures that were built in the Court House Square area. It is based on a plan from the period.


Old Brockville Court House ca1840

The only picture ever found of the exterior of the renovated old Court House, as it may have looked between 1824 and 1841. This drawing was one of a number of engravings of Brockville buildings in a special section of the Canadian Illustrated News on May 3, 1879.  The first Court House shown here was replaced by the present one in 1842.


part view of Brockville ca1840 by Holloway

A notable artist who lived and worked in the Brockville area in the 1840s was Frederick Holloway. In this drawing done about 1840, he was able to accurately capture the town of Brockville, with the first Court House and the first three churches on the highest points of land.


Sources: History writing is problematic. It only works well when the true facts can be discovered. Otherwise myth may creep into what is passed on. I would like to thank those people who labour in Museums and Archives where insignificant scraps of information are filed and stored. The details I have used here are possible because of what was not thrown out in the past.


Benjamin Chaffey – John McMullen Houses

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30, 32 Apple Street

built about 1834



This picture comes from the collection of the Lorimer family. Shown is a pair of attached stone homes which date from about 1834. The photograph was taken in 1911 during the period of ownership from 1908-1920 of James Lorimer, the father of Hal Lorimer.

This empty lot was acquired in 1833 by Benjamin Chaffey (1806-1867) for 75 pounds from Sabina Buell (1786-1859), the unmarried daughter of William Buell Sr. The home in which she lived for over thirty years is located to the north at 36 Apple St.


Benjamin Chaffey


Builder, Contractor and Engineer

taken in the 1860s

It is very likely that Chaffey, a young building contractor, erected these houses on Apple St., and that he lived here in the 1830s and 40s while engaged in building many of the stone buildings in Brockville.

The property changed hands in the 1840s and was later acquired in 1856 by the tempestuous Irish newspaper publisher and writer, John M. McMullen (1820-1907). McMullen’s book, The History of Canada from it’s First Discovery to the Present Time, was first published in 1855 and filled a need for a Canadian history book. Subsequent editions came out in 1867 and 1892.

He also edited and published the local newspaper, The Brockville Monitor starting in 1857, but to less favourable response. McMullen and his wife Sarah Nesbitt lived here along with their 6 children. He died in 1907. In the next year it became the property of Jim Lorimer, and when he married Mae in 1910, No. 32 became their first home together.


John M. McMullen


Historian, Newspaper Publisher, and Town Councillor

Source: The Building picture is from a photograph loaned by Hal Lorimer, Anchorage Bay, west of Brockville. The two portraits are from my collection.


Word Press

William Buell’s 1816 Map of Brockville

This is one of the earliest maps of the Village of Brockville and shows many of the early details upon which the later Town, and then the City of Brockville have been superimposed.

The War of 1812-15 has just been over for a short time. The area around the first Court House shows the wartime accommodations for soldiers, with barracks, cook house, and hospital still in place.

The waterfront shows the original shoreline characterized by “Oak Point” on the left, a natural landmark known by Indians and French voyageurs. Here, where we stand, is the small bay and beach where landings were common. This is the origin of the possible early name of the settlement, “Buell’s Bay.”

William Buell (1751-1832), a disbanded Ensign in the Loyalist regiment, the “King’s Rangers,” arrived here in 1785 and took up his Crown Grant of land. He took advantage of the situation, and developed his land into a town site for the settlers who arrived in subsequent years.

From this location northward runs the present Apple Street, which was opened through the middle of Buell’s early apple orchard.

Reference to initials and abreviations on the map:

P.C. – Presbyterian Church
C.H. – Court House
A.S. – Adiel Sherwood
S.F. – Sabina Flynn
E.H. – Elnathan Hubbell
A&W M. – Alexander & William Morris
W.B j. – William Buell Junior
R.E. – Roderick Easton
B.F. – Billa Flint
L.P.S. – Levius P. Sherwood

S.C. – Stephen Cromwell

P.W. – Parker Webster
C.J. – Charles Jones
H.S. – Hiram Spafford
S.B. Sabina Buell
A.P. – Andrew Prevost
W.C. – Hon. William Campbell

C.D. – Charles Dunham
A.Sm. – Anna Smyth
S.R. – Stephen Richards
N&D – Northrop & Dean
A&D McD. – Alexander & Donald McDonell
J. McD. – John McDonell
S.S. – Stephen Skinner
A.C. – Allan Curtis
R.S. – Ruben Sherwood
A.K. – Archibald Kincaid
C.C. – Cesar Congo


B.Y. – Barrack Yard
H. – Hospital
c. – Cook House
b. – Barracks
m. – Meadow
O’d – Orchard
o.p. – Oak Point
R.Isl. – Refuge Island

Court House Avenue, Brockville – ca.1898

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Court House Ave., Brockville - ca.1898

The wide open vista of Court House Avenue looking south towards the river was a view familiar to Brockvillians for over 100 years. But when this photograph was taken, four of the six buildings in view here were relatively new. Starting on the left is the Comstock Building (1887), the Flint Block (1830s), the Jones-Harding Building (1832), the Dunham Block (1893), the Fulford Block (1889), and the Dominion Post Office & Customs House (1885). This photographs appears to have been taken about 1898.

Brockville’s Early Development

The layout of Brockville’s major downtown intersection, King St. W. and Court House Ave. was determined quite early in our history.

The King’s Highway which ran parallel to the river was planned at the time that government surveyors came to this area in the spring of 1784. Their initial job was to stake out the front corners of the 200 acre lots which were to be given to the U.E. Loyalist settlers.

William Buell, a 33 year old former Ensign, was a native of Connecticut and a resident of New York State at the beginning of the Revolutionary War. He arrived here in the summer of 1785 with his young wife, Martha (Naughton), and their newly born daughter, Anna.

He secured a grant of land which included the west half of present day Brockville. Over the years as new settlers came to this area he began to develop his land near the natural bay on the river into a town site which may have been known as “Buell’s Bay” for a short while.

In 1809 the residents of the central section of the District of Johnstown began to pressure and petition the provincial government to move the district court house from the village of Johnstown to a more accessible location such as in the Township of Elizabethtown.

Their wishes were granted, and when Buell’s offer of a site was chosen, the plans for a new court house were finalized. For a nominal fee of 20 pounds, William Buell signed over a deed to the Crown for sufficient land to include a large square and a wide road running down to the River St. Lawrence. The new District of Johnstown Court House was finished in 1810 and the broad thoroughfare was opened to the river.

Less than ten years after the above photograph was taken, in 1916, the street was paved and a landscaped boulevard featuring the white glazed terra cotta fountain dedicated to the memory of former mayor, John H, Fulford would further transform the vista. Transportation in those days was strictly horse-drawn and traffic lights, a thing of the future.


[These photographs can be viewed full size in a separate window by double clicking on the picture on this page until you reach the enlarged version further in the system]

Court House Ave. 1928

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