Sunday, January 31, 2021 (pictures taken July 24, 2020)
St. Marys was founded in 1841 when Thomas and James Ingersoll bought 400 acres of land near the junction of Trout Creek and The Thames River. They dammed the Thames River just below the confluence and built mills on the south side of the present Queen Street. The mill race that fed their mills was incorporated as an integral part of the Victoria Bridge when it was built in 1864. The mill race was restored in 1980 and now has its own heritage designation. I visited here in July when the first wave of Covid was just relaxing and took these pictures that I present now that travel is once again restricted due to the pandemic. Hopefully we’ll get back to newly explored material before too long.
By 1845 there were a number of small limestone quarries operating in the area and many of the early homes and buildings were constructed from this material. The town had already attracted several stone masons and had three stores to serve its 100 inhabitants. The number of stone buildings that survive in St. Marys makes it a beautiful place to visit when safe to do so. The stone mill still stands beside the river where it sparked the community that has such an interesting heritage to share.
The Millers Residence was built in 1858 beside the mill race and across the street from the mill. An entire commercial block has been added to the original two and a half story home but it can be seen in the left of the picture below. The gothic influenced gabled roof sets it apart from the three story Georgian commercial block in the middle and the mansard roof of the Queen Anne styled section on the end.
The Grand Trunk Railway split in St. Marys with one line headed to Sarnia while the other went to London. Both required high level bridges that were built in 1857-1858. The London bridge is seen below as it crosses over Trout Creek.
The Imperial Order of Oddfellows in St. Marys had been expanding and had outgrown their original frame building. They commissioned a new hall and opera house which they envisioned to be the finest Lodge anywhere in the Dominion. When the building opened in 1878 they occupied the third floor which used to have a central gable. The Opera House occupied the second floor and three retail businesses operated between the gothic entrances below the spires on each end. The building lost money for the Oddfellows and they were forced to sell it in 1904. For three years it was home to a harness maker before being converted into a mill that operated until 1973.
The limestone block to the south of the Opera House was built in 1868 to serve as a store for Theodore Hutton with his residence above. Starting in the 1930’s it served as as a drill hall for the local militia and is also known as the armouries building.
St. Marys post office and customs building stands across the street from the Opera House. It was built in 1903 and was replaced with a newer facility in 1956.
As St. Marys grew the original town hall on Water Street quickly became obsolete, being small and located away from where the town was now developing. In 1859 a new location was chosen on Queen street and a two story town hall was constructed which housed the town clerk, police, jail and several butchers. The smell of the slaughter and preparation of meat permeated the building and it was quickly deemed to be a problem. The picture below was taken in 1865 and is from the book Early St. Marys by L. W. Wilson and L. R. Pfaff.
By 1889 when the frame town hall was destroyed by fire no one considered it to be much of a loss. Plans were put in place to build a grander structure, this time from stone. It was completed in 1891 and remains one of the signature buildings in the community.
James Ingersoll donated land for churches including the Presbyterian Church in 1849. They built a frame church in 1852 which was replaced with the present stone building in 1879. The congregation had been split over the appointment of a certain pastor and Knox Presbyterian also operated in town. Both congregations survived the United Church movement in 1925 but continued to operate separately until 1964 when 46 year old peace talks finally mended the rift in the Presbyterian congregation in St. Marys.
The Catholic congregation in town is aptly named the Holy Name Of Mary Catholic Church. Their second building still houses the congregation in a stone structure dating to 1893. Unlike the smaller stone church that formerly stood on this site, this one has an impressive tower. An 18-metre steeple stands on top of the 21-metre tower.
St. Marys features some very interesting stone houses dating back to the earliest one which was built by the Ingersolls in 1843. Some are simple Georgian cottages while others are mansions built later in the 1890’s.
By 1899 the Thames River and Trout Creek were both polluted and the citizens approached the town council to call for construction of a waterworks system. This would include waterworks buildings near the Grand Trunk Trestle over Trout Creek, a stone water tower for storage and pipes running throughout the town. The system was completed and put into service in May 1900.
Andrew Carnegie was an American industrialist who had a passion for funding libraries. Originally he built libraries in his home town in Scotland and his adopted town of Pittsburgh. Eventually he spread his influence founding 2509 libraries between 1883 and 1929 of which 125 were in Canada. In 1904 he donated $10,000 for the library in St. Marys which was built in the Grecian style which was his personal preference.
Andrews Jewelers has been a fixture in St. Marys since 1869. The Andrews family had arrived in town in 1857 when Henry Andrews came to lend his stone mason skills to the stone abutments of the London Bridge. William Andrews replaced his original frame shop with a building that was considered to be architect and mason William Williams’ masterpiece. Opened in 1884 it is a rare example of a building that is essentially unaltered inside or out. The side and rear walls are made of St. Marys limestone while the front is made of bricks with finely worked stone dressings. The clock is 4.5 feet in diameter and cost over $1,000, about $25,000 in modern currency.
The Grand Junction Depot was built in 1907 to supplement the Junction Station and replace the earlier frame station on Elizabeth Street. It was built from a brown glazed brick known as Logan brick and is a departure from the stone architecture in town. Slated for demolition in the 1980’s it has been preserved and restored.
St. Marys is a unique town because it’s stone buildings have survived the test of time. There are many other examples that can’t be presented in this length of an article but are equally interesting.
Google Maps Link: St. Marys
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