||November 7, 2007
Heritage House History
An interesting category of historical research is the
history of a building or home part of which is, of course, the people who lived
there. A recent issue of the Globe and Mail had an interesting story "Does Your
House Tell a Story?" by Wency Leung.
The article focuses on the desire of people who have bought
or own a heritage home and want to know its history. You can do the research
yourself or if you live in a big city you can perhaps find a professional who
will do it for you for a fee. The history of people who lived in the house or
events that took place there certainly became a part of the story if not a story
Leung wrote about a couple who bought a 108 year old Queen
Anne style house and wanted its history. They went to house historian James
Johnstone. Johnstone has done histories of over 500 homes over the years. For
$500-$2000 he provides a genealogy of the home and the surrounding area. These
researchers are sometimes referred to as house genealogists.
Johnstone has occasionally found some fascinating facts but
the history is usually a series of ordinary profiles of families that lived
there and moved on. Genealogical skills are part of the qualifications for the
job. The people profiled in the article found that their basement had been a
bootlegging depot for a period. Johnston has found some gruesome and disturbing
details sometimes and in one case a man refused to tell his wife about a double
murder in their new home.
Many communities like North Bay are involved in the Doors
Open project looking at heritage buildings which I wrote about in Community
Voices on May 11, 2007. In this case people visit the houses, schools,
churches etc and see the space and learn about the history. The North Bay
Museum also has a separate walking tour which features old buildings.
I will share some house histories here in the future and
suggest some techniques to help with the process. In each case different
circumstances apply. Today I will look at an old abandoned house that would be
a Halloween heaven. I will follow with an old home that has become a bed and
breakfast and later an old pre-motel complex that served North Bay for years.
Tricks of the Trade
What you do to find the history of the house is to go with
what you know. If you know who lived in the house try to find a surviving
family member or go to the genealogical society and do a search like you would
do on your own history. There is lots of online help. Mr. Johnstone recommends
Automatedgenealogy.com or Ancestry.com. The Nipissing Branch of the Ontario
Genealogical Society in the North Bay Public Library allows you to search or for
a small fee will search basic documents for you and give a report. There is
also a professional genealogist who will do a search for you for a fee.
For a house history the Registry Office for Nipissing
District is in the Court House where you can have a look at information and get
copies for a small fee. The Parry Sound district office is in Parry Sound. The
tax history which provides different information is available free to the
property owner only. The boundaries for tax assessment are different than the
Registry boundaries. The Assessment office is in Northgate Square upstairs.
For an interesting website with more details on searching a home is http://www.nwheritage.org/heritagesite/homes/content/research.htm.
||Abandoned Spetz House
The Annie Spetz House
Jamie Toeppner from Powassan has an interest in local and
family history and is an excellent photographer with a fascinating website worth
having a look at. www.toeppner.ca. He recently tracked down the abandoned
house of Miss Annie K. Spetz, a nurse who lived on the Alsace Road in Nipissing
Township near the old Alsace Church. (see photo of the church in my article
online July 5, 2002 - note the Toeppner name on the gravestone). The church has
an interesting local History room.
The Spetz family had an original house that was moved to be
a part of the church. The second house shown here was built in 1909 by two men,
one of whom was Jos. Livingstone who is the grandfather of my next door
neighbour Joe Livingstone. (I wrote about the Livingstone family in an article
on December 5, 2003).
||Inside the Spetz House
Gladys Piper who knows the Spetz family history was
visiting a friend of Annie long after Annie had died and received a silver
candlestick of Annie's as a gift. It is in the history room at the church.
When I wrote about Mailman Fran Young in an article in July
2000 I mentioned Annie. She got lost in the bush for a couple of days on one
occasion picking berries and survived quite well. People found her because she
hadn't picked up her mail. In the article I mentioned a lady who had a lot of
cats and gave them to Fran Young to take care of while she was away for a month
putting Fran on the spot. That was Annie.
There are other abandoned buildings on the Alsace Road,
including one in the Fran Young article and they all evoke a sense of history.
With Halloween just passed I thought for a minute that the Jamie Toeppner photo
had picked up a ghost of Annie Spetz by it turned out to be Jamie's shadow.
What was that hole in the floor - a trap door to the cold cellar?
Watch for more house history stories.
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