But there is a Great St. James Street, and not long ago I came back from taking its picture.
I have often shared my appreciation of local histories.
Self-published. Photocopied photographs. Editing errors. Inexpert in many ways.
But what I value most about local histories is the writer's intimate knowledge of the subject, as he or she is usually trying to capture a time and a place important to him/her, in the face of change which is taking that history away.
This is so very true of a recent find, Great St. James Street: Graveyard to Grave, written by Allen E. Montgomery in 2007. "The stories were written as a tribute to the street where I first resided when I moved to Belleville," Mr. Montgomery states in the introduction.
Great St. James Street is snuggled under the edge of the great sand hill from which the neighbourhood above took its name: Old East Hill.
|Meyers' house stood here overlooking the river and his mills|
At the top of the stairs in the photo is the relatively affluent Mount Pleasant Road, the northern extremity of the posh OEH. To the right as you exit the steps is a lovely property. Here in the 1790s the founder of the city, John Walden Meyers, built what many call the first brick house in what is now Ontario. (I expect that lots of other towns make the same claim.)
The author recalls Mildred Baker, one of the good wives of Great St. James Street climbing the steps to do house-cleaning for a family above.
|the last Dafoe house standing|
Allen describes the old homes, some well kept with rose-bushes and tiny lawns, others not so much. The railway track directly outside his boarding house was notable: "...no more than ten feet from the front door of the house. There was only about six feet of lawn, a thirty inch sidewalk, two more feet of ground and then the raised track." This was Belleville's own Grand Junction rail line (begun 1872.) The tracks were the backgournd for the lives lived there; they appeared in photos with family groups, blushing brides and bicycling urchins with dogs. The writer describes the lengths to which neighbourhood wives went on laundry days to evade the rain of soot from passing locomotives. He writes: "often as one opened their front door they would face a passing steam engine pulling several box cars." But you get used to it.
|Mr. Stephensen, builder, early 1900s|
|75 Great St. James Street - greatly changed home |
of Elias Ruttan, blacksmith
|No. 78. Mrs. Alfred Harrow's house 1915 - brick beneath|
Humble. But you never hear this man complaining. Doubt there was much of it in the neighbourhood.
So, here's a sampling of what is there, and what is not. I am fascinated by the industrial and commercial enterprises operating at various times, which Montgomery mentions, all long gone. It's a thing I do. The Coca Cola plant (1922-53). Ives Pottery Works. The Lott flour and woolen mill on the river, the lumber mills "directly behind" No. 42.
|former Red Cross clearinghouse for demobbed troops 1945.|
..moved from CNR property to 7 Burrell St. around 1947
Cemetery Street, the overgrown eastern extremity of the street, was the route along which funeral processions used to travel to the now abandoned Catholic cemetery. Today you can see the green entrance to the trail, and the remaining business on the street, an auto electrics shop.
The book contains memories of the vegetable gardens and the fresh-water spring south of Stokes Street, where neighbours fetched water before the 1930s. Other neighbours, "the hillside mechanics" did their own car repairs under the trees. Horse-drawn milk wagons and ice wagons once kept the housewives happy.
|68-70 Great St. James Street.|
The writer challenges us to find traces of the old coach road that once angled up the overgrown hillside to service the neighbourhood above - and served as a lethal sledding run in the off season. I found it, but it would be invisible in summer.
I can't find anything about this surviving double house. It appears to have stood beside a fine brick home which was built for Mr. Lott in 1912 (now an empty lot.) I'm guessing it too has seen better days.
And then there's the story of the Tennant stone house, but I'll leave that for another time.
Thanks for the great read Allen Montgomery. And thanks to Gerry Boyce who introduced us.