The second part of Mr. Bob Lalonde’s research on the Davis Family who established a tanning business in Waterdown during the early years of the village’s industrial growth.
James Davis and his wife, Sarah Ghent, settled on Yonge Street in York County, near Cummer’s Settlement (present-day Willowdale) and bout 210 acres on 29 July 1825. Later this location became known as Finch’s Corners. Setting up a farm was the first priority that faced James Davis, but with a growing family he was soon looking to increase his income. To catch some of the increasing traffic on Yonge Street, he set up an Inn which became known as ‘Temperance Inn’, and to further increase his income he set himself up as a Tanner in 1834. Where his knowledge of the trade came from is unknown, but there is a reference to his father, Asahel, having had a small family tannery in Brant’s Block. James’ early tannery was probably very simple and business done on a barter basis, as he divided his time between inn-keeping, farming and tanning. He was involved in local politics, and an early councillor for York Township. James was an ardent Reformer and the Temperance Inn was often used as a rendezvous for the Reformers. While being a Reform supporter, he was against taking up arms, and did not participate in the 1837 rebellion.
All the children of James and Sarah Davis appear to have been born at their home on Yonge Street, although Nancy, their first child, may have been born before leaving Wellington Square. Their first son, Andrew, was born 20 July 1825, but about 1835, Sarah Davis died, leaving five young children, so James remarried Helen MacDougal on 7 May, 1842. Another daughter was born before Helen died in 1855. During this time, Andrew and his brothers learned the tanning trade from their father.
During this same period, a small tannery was started several miles south of James Dan’s, opposite the Golden Lion Hotel on Yonge Street. It was owned by Elihu Pease, and American who had been in Upper Canada for a time before the War of 1812, and had returned to settle on Yonge Street. These rivals eventually became friends, Elihu’s son Edward and Andrew Davis often visited and talked trade, and on 1 August 1848, Andrew Davis married Elizabeth Pease.
In 1848, James Davis sold an acre of land and the tannery to his son Andrew for £700. Andrew took full charge of the business on Yonge Street on 1 March 1849, and within four years he had developed a thriving business before operations ceased there in December 1853. Between the time Andrew Davis and Elizabeth Pease were married and the closing of the Yonge Street tannery, Elihu Pease gave his daughter a valuable piece of land in the village of Waterdown, bordering a stream of water on which was located a small tannery. Land deeds show that Henry Ferguson Graham sold 3 acres (except for 6 perches of land already sold to Read Baker)1 to Andrew Davis, and 25 acres to Elizabeth Davis on 2 November 1853. Probably Elizabeth’s father provided the cash as a gift for this purchase, but although it was a gift, Elihu Pease probably thought Elizabeth’s husband might be able to operate the tannery to advantage. Unfortunately, it was found that the water rights of the Grindstone Creek, on which the tannery was located, were divided between the owner of this land and the owner of the land above it, on which was situated Reed Baker’s Rake and Cradle Factory. So Andrew Davis, his wife Elizabeth, and two children, Elihu James and Asahel Ghent, born in 1851 and 1853 on Yonge Street, moved to Waterdown intending to take up the tannery business in the early spring of 1854.
Elihu Pease, who was a School Inspector as well as a tanner and farmer, became impressed with a piece of land on the east branch of the Humber River in King Township, while making the rounds of the district. This place, known as Kinghorn and now the west part of King City, had a good stream for water power and a good supply of hemlock for tanning bark. In 1847, Elihu Pease bought 16 acres of land for his son Edward as a site for a new tannery. So, Edward Pease was also in the business of tanning leather.
Returning to Yonge Street briefly in 1854, on the death of his father-in-law, Andrew looked after the winding up of Mr. Pease’s estate. At the same time it was decided to sell the Andrew Davis tannery (on Yonge Street) and a joint auction of both properties was held on 5 October 1854. James, Andrew’s father retired from the Temperence Inn, settling on the south part of his estate, in a new house, where he later died in 1864.
It appears that Andrew Davis felt it was impossible to obtain enough power to operate the Waterdown tannery without the full water rights on the Grindstone Creek. He was unsuccessful in persuading Read Baker to sell out his interest in the water rights — this being the case he temporarily gave up the idea of continuing his chosen trade as a tanner. From Andre Davis’ cash book for January 1855, it appears that he set himself up as a General Merchant, and from that time until July 1856, he appears to have been a country storekeeper. As well, Andrew invested his money in mortgages (a common practice at this time). Among the transactions recorded, Andrew took a mortgage of £100.0.0 on 7 February 1856 from a John Graham and his wife Mary for ½ acre of property in Waterdown. This ½ acre of property was Village Lots 1 and 2 in the Absalom Griffin Survey, being the north-west corner of Dundas and Main Streets, Lot 2 joined Lot 1 on Main Street, and appears to be the present land of the Kirk House and parking lot. He also held a mortgage from Absalom G. Smith and his wife, Henrietta, for £200.0.0 in the same year, for land by the Bell House on Dundas Street. Being a land owner, mortgage holder, storekeeper and living in a fine house on Mill Street (Maplebank, presently owned by Mr. and Mrs. J.B. Clark), Andrew and his family must have been well known in Waterdown.
Editor’s Note:The Kirk House became the The Royal Coachman in 1995.
Originally published in Heritage Happenings, October 1984.
© The Waterdown-East Flamborough Heritage Society 1984, 2020