Benares House

Sunday, November 21, 2021

In 1835 Edgar Neave took possession of two lots just north of the hamlet of Clarkson. He built a house out of fieldstone that he named Benares and then in 1836, he sold the property to Captain James Beveridge Harris. His family had a long history of service in the British Military and James sold his commission and used the money to buy Benares and move his family there. His wife, Elizabeth Molony, gave birth to eight children although three of the boys died in their youth. Arthur Harris inherited the farm and eventually it was passed on to another two generations of the family. The map below is from the 1877 county atlas and shows the Harris farm occupying the northeast corner of the intersection where the Clarkson post office stands on the northwest corner. Benares House is circled in green.

There was a fire in 1857 and much of the original home was destroyed. The replacement was built in the Georgian Style and made of honey-coloured bricks. The two-story home has five bays with a central doorway adorned with sidelights. The open veranda presents a touch of Queen Anne styling and features no balustrade. Above it is a small balcony with turned balusters, lattice, and spool work. The fifth generatiom of the Harris family decided to donate the house and its contents to the city of Mississauga while the surrounding property was developed into subdivisions.

The inside of the house is filled with all the things that a family could collect over a four-generation period. Throughout the GTA there are several historic homes that have been turned into museums and each is furnished in the style of a specific era. Benares House recreates the typical family home during World War One. Included in the collection of personal belongings that the Harris family donated are many early family photographs. Some of these include pictures of the house over the decades. The one below includes a few of the cars that were at the home sometime in the 1930s.

The house has four unique chimneys, two on each end, that are internally bracketed, and double linked giving them eight outlets. The house still features its original shutters and the mysterious name that Edgar Neave gave the single-story stone home. In the early 1800s, it was common to name your house after some exotic place that you had traveled to. Varanji (also Benares or Banaras) is a city in northern Inda and is the holiest of seven cities that were important in the development of Hinduism and Jainism. They also feature in Buddhism.

At the rear of the house is the old family dairy. This is thought to be part of the original 1835 section of the house and is built of stone rather than bricks as was used on the main block of the house. In the mid-nineteenth century milk was not a drink of choice and farmers who had milk cattle would consume the milk almost immediately or turn it into butter or cheese as there was no effective way to store milk for extended periods. Prior to the invention of pasteurization and homogenization drinking milk was a risky business because of bacteria and “milk sickness”. Pasteurization heats the milk up and kills the bacteria that are present while homogenization takes milk from many sources and mixes it together. This reduces the risk of people getting sick from milk tainted by poisonous plants, such as white snakeroot, that the animal has eaten.

The family photo below shows a horse and sled in front of the old barn sometime in the early 1920s.

The barn is believed to date to the 1830s and has been kept well maintained over the better part of two centuries. The farm was mainly used for produce and so the Harris family didn’t keep a lot of livestock. The barn was used to house their carriage and the horses that pulled it. They adapted it for the family automobile as the years passed and their mode of travel changed dramatically.

Although the house has five bays on the front there are only three sets of openings per floor on the rear. The stone extension of the earlier house can be seen at the back of the newer block and stands out as being only a single story. It’s interesting that they chose a shade of bricks that matches the stonework so well.

The 1835 bake oven could still be used to turn out a loaf of bread or a fresh-baked apple pie. The county atlas above shows the house surrounded by two rectangles of little dots. This is the way orchards were represented and I can imagine a fair amount of that fruit was baked in this oven over the years.

At the rear of the outdoor oven is the old well pump. The modern convenience of hot and cold running water makes us tend to forget that at one-time water was pumped by hand from a well and carried into the house in buckets. Early pumps had a single-cylinder that brought a sudden gush of water when the lever was activated. When dual cylinder pumps were invented they doubled the amount of water delivered because as one cylinder was emptying into the bucket the other was refilling. Once as common as the kitchen faucet is today, there are still lots of examples on farms and around older buildings. Many of them are still in working order while others have been repurposed as lawn and garden decorations.

Benares House sits in a park-like setting and was opened as a museum in 1995. The original 190 acre site has been reduced to just 5.7 but the home still sits among lots of mature trees. It’s certainly worth checking out if you are in the area.

Google Maps link: Benares House

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2 thoughts on “Benares House

  1. Pingback: Time Travel in Toronto | Hiking the GTA

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