Monday, March 17, 2014

Dr. Elijah Duncombe's Home

St Thomas Times Journal, 9 April 1955, Second Section, Page 13, c1

Interesting Pioneer History Surrounds Residence Built by Dr Elijah Duncombe,
by Gladys E. Elliott

            The decision of the Women’s Institutes of Elgin County to purchase the historic home of Mr & Mrs Bramwell Saywell at 32 Talbot Street for an Elgin County Museum is reviving much interesting pioneer history.  There is widespread general interest in the project and a particular interest on the part of descendants of the pioneer families who resided in this beautiful old home.
            Among the latter is Mrs John Butler Wilkinson of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, whose mother, the late Mrs Ida Morris of Madison, Wisconsin was born in the old home in 1858, when it belonged to the latter’s grandfather, Dr Elijah Eli Duncombe.  That is going back to very early history indeed, for according the to the first book of records in the Registry Office here, it was on Sept 19 1833, that Elijah E. Duncombe bought for 125 Pounds, two acres of Lots 1 and 2 commencing on the south side of Talbot Road and the North West angle of said Lot 1, thence south on the Western limit of the township of Yarmouth 8 chains 50 links more or less to the North limit to Walnut Street.  Thence Easterly along the North side of Walnut Street 2 chains 95 links more of less to Talbot Road. Thence Westerly along the South side of Talbot Road three chains more or less to the place of beginning.
            Mrs Wilkinson happens to be collecting material at present for a history of the Duncombe family, which she plans to write, her research going back even to the tracing of the family history in England.  From information given her by her mother and also by her aunt Mrs P. M. Thompson of Windsor, the former Clara Moore, Mrs Wilkinson gives a good picture of the home many years ago.
            It is understood that Dr and Mrs Elijah E. Duncombe first lived in the home just west of the present 32 Talbot Street, the house now occupied by Mr and Mrs S. A. Hammond and also a historic residence.  There, their three older daughters were born.  Dr Duncombe later took over the practice of his brother, Dr Charles Duncombe and Dr J. D. Curtis in his history ‘St Thomas Medical Men of the Past.” Records that at that time he also acquired his brother’s home and office.  The fourth of the Duncombe sisters, Mary was born in 1836 at 32 Talbot Street, states Mrs Wilkinson.
            Mary Duncombe was married to Nelson Whitney Moore in 1856 and they lived for a time at the home of her parents and it was there that their daughter, Ida, was born in 1858, and also several other of their children, it is believed.  Dr Elijah Duncombe died in 1870, is wife, Catherine Bouck Duncombe having predeceased him in 1863 or 1864 while on a visit to a daughter in Racine, Wisconsin.
            Ida Moore Morris, who lived in Madison, Wisconsin after her marriage, revisited St Thomas frequently, as have also her daughters, Mrs Wilson, (the former Kathryn Morris) and Miss Margaret Morris who resides with her sister in Milwaukee.  They have always maintained a keen interest in the city and in the old home.  There, an interesting record is still to be seen in the front upper east room, where Mrs Morris was born, for while living there, she scratched her name and those of two of her brothers on the glass of a window with a diamond of her mother’s .  Part of that inscription is still clear on the original glass and the ‘engraver’ was apparently very young at the time for she chose the lower middle pane for her writing.
            From her mother’s description, Mrs Wilkinson pictures the old home.  When Mrs Morris was a girl, there were two kitchens extending to the south of the house, a summer one and a winter one; also a woodshed.  There seem to have been many buildings in the spacious grounds too - a privy, chicken coops, huts for ducks and geese, pig pens, cow shed and a barn for saddle and driving horses.
            Also, in those days, there was a quite large one room playhouse, built for Mrs Morris as a child, which stood on the west side of the yard.  A considerable part of the garden and farmyard was sold to the railroad, when the Canada Southern went through.
            As for the house itself, as Mrs Wilkinson remembers having heard about it and seeing it, she believes the back room on the east to have been the doctor’s consulting room.  This always had an outside entrance for patients, on the east side, and there was a porch over it.  Later the steps were removed and a ramp built when the room was occupied by Charles E. Moore, who used a wheelchair after the loss of both legs in a railroad accident.
            The front east room, where the doctor mixed and dispensed drugs, is described as having a bay window near the front corner, which held large bottles of green and red fluid and bottles of live leeches.  The colored bottles at night had candles behind them to guide persons seeking the doctor, as the streets were not lighted.  Twice, four years apart, reports Mrs Wilkinson, runaway horses raced down Talbot Street and plunged through the window, wrecking glasses and supplies.
            It is possible that the rear west room was the doctor’s bedroom when he was in active practice as is had easy access to the consulting room.  The front west room is described as the parlor.  Dr Elijah Duncombe retired from active practice about six years before his death in 1870 and about that time, the east rooms were changed, the bay removed, and a partition removed between the front and back rooms, making another large living room.  The partition was later restored for a room for the use of Charles E. Moore.
            After the Duncombes, and Moores, the Thornton family, also very well known in St Thomas resided in this historic home until it was purchased in December 1921 by Mr & Mrs James Saywell and their son and daughter-in-law Mr & Mrs Bramwell Saywell, who took up residence there in January 1922.
            Formerly residing near Talbotville, Mr & Mrs James Saywell must have known this lovely old home well even before they moved into the city, when they lived for a short time on Wilson Avenue.  They would pass it every time they came into town, and Talbot Street was then practically on a level with the house.  Later too, they would pass it whenever they took the street car, which went around that corner, and when it was offered for sale, Mrs James Saywell knew it was a place she wanted to make their home.  She still resides there with her son and daughter-in-law, but Mr Saywell Sr. passed away a number of years ago.
            When the family took over the old home, it still had the two big kitchens and woodshed, extending to the south.  This old wing was forty-six feet long, longer that the main house was wide in fact, and part of it was two storeys high.  The east side of the first kitchen, which was about a third of the forty-six feet, came within a few feet of the hedge which bounded the east side of the lawn.  The entrance was from the east, while the second, summer kitchen, had an entrance to the west.  A giant Dutchman’s pipe vine covered the south and east sides of this wing.
            Not being needed for its original purposes and as it was falling into a state of disrepair, this wing was torn down shortly after the Saywell family moved into the home, clearing away what seems obviously to have been an addition to the original home, and making place for an attractive lawn and garden.
            At the back of the present lot there used to be a barn, which Mr Saywell was told might at one time have been a parochial school in connection the Old English Church.  It had a wainscoting of very wide horizontal boards and was plastered above that.  A house has replaced this building a few years ago.
            The Saywell family has been appreciative of the historic interest of the house and its pioneer architecture and have avoided major changes in the main structure of the house.  A window or two have been added for needed lighting and a partition that had been taken out previously has been restored.  The present porch was put on about twenty years ago about the time the Talbot Street hill was cut and the present permastone covering was put on about seven years ago, adding much to the comfort of the old house, which has been made a very attractive home.

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