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(Map of Ancaster)

The village of Ancaster got its name from the township, which in turn was named after Peregrine Bertie, the Duke of Ancaster, by Lieutenant- Governor Simcoe. In 1787, when the first Loyalists arrived to settle in the township, this was the frontier, the west. The nearest settlement of importance was Newark, now Niagara-on-the-Lake. These Loyalist settlers had been granted land but could only choose a plot of land hoping that they would be allocated the land after it had been surveyed. They had no idea where the eventual boundaries would be and could end up clearing land for somebody else. The area was finally surveyed in 1793.

The founders of Ancaster are acknowledged to be James Wilson and Richard Beasley. They owned adjacent lots and, with Wilson's skills as a millwright and Beasley's money, they built a grist mill in 1791 and a saw mill the next year. Wilson then built up an industrial empire, which he sold in 1794 to St John Rousseaux. Rousseaux had a general store and ran a hotel in his home on Wilson Street. Before that he had been a successful trader with the aboriginals at his Humber River store. Rousseaux in turn sold the mills to a group of men known as the Union Mill Company and from the profits built another hotel, which he named the Union Hotel from the Union Company money that built it. This was the hotel used for the Bloody Assize during the War of 1812.

In 1812, before the war, a group of people from Brant's Block (Burlington) petitioned for a new district to be set up between the Home District, with its County Town at York (Toronto), and the Niagara District, with its County Town at Niagara. The Brant's Block people felt that it should be the County Town of the new district. People of Dundas thought that Coote's Paradise was more suited so they petitioned too. Then the people of Greensville, Bullock's Corners, and Crooks Hollow sent in a petition for Crooks Hollow to be the County Town. A fourth petition arrived from James Durand's village on his farm. Then a fifth and final petition from Ancaster arrived. Before anything final could be done, the war had broken out and all plans had to be shelved. At the end of the war, when the matter came up again, things had changed. It had become apparent that the village on James Durand's farm was the most up-and-coming and it was named the County Town. Except that it was no longer owned by Durand. So, instead of becoming Durand, the new town was named after the new owner of the farm, George Hamilton, and so became Hamilton. And now Ancaster, Coote's Paradise, Greensville, Bullock's Corners, and Crooks Hollow are all part of Hamilton.

In 1820, Job Lodor bought the Union Mills and revitalized the industrial complex in the 1820s. In 1826, William Wiard started a foundry and this employed Harris and Alonzo Egleston when they arrived here in 1832. Eventually they bought out Wiard and started an industrial empire of their own, including a grist mill that is now the Old Ancaster Mill. But gradually, in the 1830s, Hamilton's position as a port on Lake Ontario took it beyond Ancaster as a centre for industry.

Places to see in Ancaster:

  • Ancaster Old Mill

    Ancaster Old Mill

    This mill was the fourth Ancaster Mill and has been considerably restored and changed since it was built. The first mill was built by James Wilson and sold in turn to St John Rousseaux and then to the Union Mill Company. The first mill burned down about 1812. The mill was rebuilt in stone and relocated to where the present mill is located. This second mill burned down in 1818. The third mill burned down in 1854. This fourth mill, the Ancaster Old Mill, was built by the Egleston brothers, Hiram and Alonzo, members of a second wave of entrepreneurs in Ancaster.

  • Site of Wilson's Mill

    From the traffic lights at the junction of Wilson St East and Rousseaux Road, if you walk about 25 metres along Wilson St East toward Dundas (that is, away from Ancaster) and across the bridge over the creek, then peer over the wall, you may be able to see the remains of the original mill built by James Wilson. The foundations are still there but the area is covered by bush and scrub so you may not be able to see anything.

  • 1812 Barracks

    1812 Barracks

    At 423-425 Wilson Street East is a building with a sign stating that it was a barracks in the War of 1812. No one knows for sure whether there ever was a barracks here but this building was never a barracks in 1812 because it was not built until after 1868.

  • Seymour Lodge

  • Seymour Lodge

    The Seymour Lodge building next door at 419 Wilson Street East may date from 1821 and may have been a wagon and carriage shop. It certainly looks old enough and once had a wide doorway in the front.

  • Moore Store

  • Moore Store

    At 413 Wilson Street East, next door to the Seymour Lodge building, is the Moore store and house, noted for its two huge windows and an extremely high step out of the Wilson Street door. Each window of the Moore store contains twenty five separate panes of glass. In the early 1800s, when glass was so expensive, it was smarter to make large windows out of smaller panes of glass because of the risk of breakage during transportation over bumpy roads. Originally, there was a wooden sidewalk in front of the store. The sidewalk was much higher than the present sidewalk and had a set of steps between the Moore store and the Seymour Lodge building. The building was built about 1820.

  • Alonzo Egleston House

  • Alonzo Egleston House

    On the other side of the road at 406 Wilson Street East is a 1-storey house built by Alonzo Egleston, who with his brother Hiram, came to Ancaster from New York State in 1832 to become industrialists here. Egleston built this house in 1846 and it has been considerably modified over the years. Note that the Eglestons built the Old Ancaster Mill in 1836. At the time of writing, there is a plan to move the building from its position fronting onto Wilson Street to a position at the rear of the lot, so you may find it at its new location.

  • Marr House

  • Marr House

    Just past the Egleston house is the Marr house at 400 Wilson Street East. The house was built about 1840 by a family of carpenters. There once was a workshop behind the house but that has been moved to Westfield Heritage Village. The Marr house has recently been covered with coloured vertical siding, which has managed to take away all of its character.

  • Phillipo House

  • Phillipo House

    At 398 Wilson Street East is the John Phillipo house. This fine stone house was built after 1840 because that was the year when John arrived here from England. Notice the quoined corners of the building and the transom light over the front door.

  • Old Union Hotel

    Old Union Hotel

    The Old Union Hotel was built in 1832 for George Rousseaux, St John Rousseaux's son. At least, the front part of the building dates from 1832. The rear of the building dates from about 1860 and was added during rebuilding after a fire. The building next door, now connected to the Old Union Hotel, was once the stables for the hotel. This is not the Union Hotel where the Bloody Assize was held in 1814; that was an earlier building built originally by St John Rousseaux and located on the other side of the street from the present building. The site is marked with a historical marker for the Bloody Assize.

  • Rousseau House

    Rousseau House

    On the right side of the street at 375 Wilson Street East is a grand stone building named the Rousseau House. (Note that Rousseaux is sometimes spelled with, and sometimes without, the x.) This is the house built by St John Rousseaux's grandson George Brock Rousseaux in 1838 as a present for his bride. It now houses a fine restaurant (see for more information).

  • Hammill House

  • Hammill House

    This was the home of Richard Edmund Hammill, a grocer and butcher. It was built in the 1830s. While the new Township Hall was being built about 1966, this house was used as the municipal centre, police station, and council offices. There could not have been much room.

  • Tisdale House

    Tisdale House

    This house was moved here from a site behind the Moore Store. It is reputed to be the oldest house in the village, having been built about 1806 by Samuel Tisdale, who moved here in 1806.

  • Fieldcote Museum

    This is a modern house and was built in 1948 by Tom Farmer, the editor of the Hamilton Spectator. It was donated by his widow to be used as a Memorial Garden and Museum.

  • The Hermitage

    The Hermitage

    The first owner was a Presbyterian minister, Rev. George Sheed, who built a house here in 1830. The land was bought in 1833 by Otto Ives, made famous by the tale of Lover's Lane. In 1855, the land was bought by George Leith, second son of Major-General Sir George Leith. It was George Leith who built the large house now in ruins on the site. The majestic house was struck by a fire in 1934 and was destroyed. A new owner sold what was left of the house to the Hamilton Region Conservation Authority, who looked into restoring the house. It was decided that it would be too expensive, so the ruins remain, propped up where necessary to preserve safety.