The Old Waterdown Post Office at 31 Main Street South

This Heritage Paper looks at the architecture and history of one of Waterdown’s older buildings.

The old Post Office at 31 Main Street South is the only significant mid-19th Century store of frame construction in the village of Waterdown. It has undergone very little major alteration and stands today very much as it did in 1857 or 1858, the possible date of its construction. This large frame building is a very fine example of the buildings constructed in the 1800s as combined place of business and residence. It was the site of Waterdown’s first telegraph office and, for many years, part of the downstairs served as Waterdown’s Post Office — because of these functions, it was an important building in the lives of the early villagers.

The old Post Office is situated at the corner of Main and Griffin Streets. It is a two-storey rectangular plan, horizontal clapboard structure with a rubble and concrete foundation. The post office and telegraph office were located on the ground floor on the left-hand side, and on the right-hand side was a store and later a business office. The bedrooms were on the second floor, while the single-storey addition at the rear of the building housed the parlour and kitchen.

Symmetry is the most appropriate word to describe the Main Street facade of this building. The ground floor is highlighted by a central double leaf door with moulded panels, each leaf inset with a six-paned window or sash. Above the door, a four-paned rectangular transom. On either side of this door, a pair of large windows. These are set into moulded casements and fitted with lugsills. Each window or sash is glazed with sixteen panes, and below, rectangular panels which repeat those on the door.

At one time in the history of this building there was a ground floor verandah that extended the length of the Main Street facade. This has now disappeared, but it recorded for posterity by a photograph now owned by the Waterdown-East Flamborough Heritage Society. Such verandahs were typically features of 19th century commercial buildings.

On the second storey the windows are centered over those on the ground floor. They are quite widely spaced, but at one time this appearance was softened by shutters. The removal of the shutters has upset the balance, for they provided an important counterweight to the large bays of the floor below.

At the apex of the gable, and centered over the doorway, is a small window called an oeil de boeuf. The roof is a medium gable with returns and has a boxed cornice with an undecorated frieze. The remaining sides of the building lack the symmetry of the Main Street facade, and features are less noticeable. The ground floor of the south wall at some time between 1910 and the late 1950s included a verandah that ran the length of the facade. At the end was a three-sided bay with a doorway that procided access to the parlour and kitchen. A picture of this feature is reproduced in ‘Ontario Towns,’ (Fig. 40) by Douglas Richardson. It appears to be of squared posts with Doric capitals, trimmed with moulded bargeboard, and fitted with a trellis screen, probably for reasons of privacy.

The property on which the old Post Office presently stands originally formed part of a grant by the Crown to Alexander MacDonnell who received 200 acres on Concession 3, Lot 7, August 23, 1796. MacDonnell appears not to have settled the land, and sold the entire parcel to Alexander Brown Sr. in March 1805. E. C. Griffin purchased 155 acres of the property from Alexander Brown in November 1821, and the land remained in the Griffin family until 1848. After Griffin’s death in 1847, his executors sold three-quarters of an acre, on the corner of Main and Griffin Streets, to Matthew Burnes in May 1848. Sometime between 1854 and 1857, he probably erected the building at 31 Main Street. In 1858 he sold one-quarter acre to James B. Thompson, the purchase was valued at $600., an appropriate price for such a piece of land and a two-storey frame structure.

By the early 1860s, J. B. Thompson is listed as post master, holding the position for over forty years. Although Waterdown had a postal service from 1841, there is no record of the building at 31 Main Street housing the service until the 1860s. In 1853, Robert Lottridge is recorded as a General Merchant and the Postmaster, and in 1858, Henry Edwards as a General Storekeeper and Postmaster — so James Thompson must have assumed the position after this date. Besides being a post office, the building was also an important retail outlet. “The County of Wentworth and Hamilton City Directory for 1865-66,” lists Mr. Thompson as both postmaster and grocer.

With his death in 1908, the property passed to his younger brother, Hugh, a saddler and harness and trunk maker. When the C.P.R. came to Waterdown between 1912 and 1914, Hugh rented the rooms on the upper floor to railway workers. As Hugh was a bachelor, the property passed to his spinster sister, Mary E. Thompson, in 1916. After the Thompson family sold the property in 1946, the building was used for a variety of purposes, and was badly run down when it was saved from demolition a few years ago and structurally restored by the present owner, Mr. J. Robertson.

Restoration Architect, Arthur Wallace, after careful inspection in 1976, stated that “the building is structurally sound. Men must have put time and care into constructing it, nearly 140 years ago.” This prompted Mr. Robertson to renovate the building and discover many interesting examples of early construction — opening up the attic revealed beams, great hand-hewn 8 by 8 inch beams, that stretched across the structure, with the lengthwise struts soundly mortised into them.

Today, after much hard work, the building is again an important part of the village community, serving as a Tea Room,Gift and Pine Furniture Shop, and so ensuring its continued existence as “a distinguished example of a class of buildings now nearly vanished.”

References:

Article by Mrs. E. B. Kennedy, Flamborough Review, March 16, 1977.
The Flamborough LCAC File on 31 Main Street South, Waterdown, by Charles Pinch, Summer 1978.
“The Canada Directory” 1853, 1857-58.
“Ontario Towns,” Douglas Richardson, Toronto 1974.
“The County of Wentworth and Hamilton City Directory 1865-66”

Originally published in Heritage Happenings, March 1982.

© The Waterdown-East Flamborough Heritage Society 1982, 2020

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