Tag Archives: Ghost Town

Ringwood – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Jan. 21, 2018

George Fockler bought 200 acres of land at the intersection of the Markham-Stouffville Townline (Stouffville Road) and the 8th concession (Highway 48, Markham Road) and moved his family from Pennsylvania in the late 1790’s.  George owned the northwest corner of the intersection and later his son Sam bought the north east corner lot and built a hotel there.  Revere House opened in 1809 and stood until the 1957 when it was demolished to allow for road widening.  The original crown survey created a system of road allowances that were 1 chain (66 feet) wide and this was suitable for the horse and buggy system that was in place at the time.  Stores and hotels were often built close to the road and countless numbers of these structures have disappeared across Ontario as roads get widened to four lanes.  This late Victorian house is for sale and looks like it wouldn’t take too much to fix it up and make it livable again.

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Ludwig Wideman arrived in Ringwood along with his parents in 1805.  Thirty years later when William Lyon Mackenzie was fomenting rebellion, the area of Whitchurch Stouffville was firmly on Mackenzie’s side.  Ludwig joined up with the rebels at Montgomery’s Tavern and became one of the casualties there when the rebellion failed on Dec. 7, 1837.  The picture below shows one of a dozen abandoned homes in the former core of Ringwood.

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George Sylvester came from Ringwood, England to the growing community and opened a general store on the north west corner of the intersection.  In 1856 the new post office in town was located in his general store and he named the town Ringwood after his hometown.  The name stuck but the residents took to calling the town Circle City in jest.  The post office survived until 1970 when the population had decreased to just 40 and it was replaced with mail boxes, one of which stands where the Revere House used to be.

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According to the Annual Report of the Bureau of Industries for the Province of Ontario, A. B. Grove operated a cheese factory in town in the early 1890’s, one of two at the time.  A Chevrolet dealership was established in town by 1928 and was run by the McKenzie family and employed 7 people.    This barn still stands in what was once downtown Ringwood and would have been behind the Revere House Hotel, before it was demolished.  It may have served as stables at one time.

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The Lehman house was built around 1870 and there is most likely is a patterned brick house hiding behind the veneer of siding that was been added at a later date.

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At the peak, Ringwood had two of many of the standard small town professionals, 2 hotels as well as two general stores, shoe shops, carriage makers, cheese makers, sawmills and blacksmiths.  By the 1850’s a plank road had been built between Stouffville and Richmond Hill and it was served by a stagecoach that would stop at Ringwood to take on passengers.  This sprawling Victorian house once stood among these vanished businesses on the main street of town.

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One of the last businesses to close in Ringwood was the diner.  It is reported to have become a biker hangout in the last days of operation.  It stands at the corner of Markham Road and Stouffville Road, which used to have a slight jog in it.  This was where the surveys in the two townships on either side of the road didn’t quite align and an adjustment was made.  When the roadway was widened and straightened in 1957 one of the hotels, a harness shop, several homes and two garages were demolished.

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The one room Ringwood school was built in 1838 and was known as a union school section because it served students from two townships.  This is because Ringwood sat on both sides of the town line.  As the town grew the school became too small and was replaced with this dichromate brick building in 1887.  The town population had swelled to 300 by this time.  Twenty years later there were less than 200 people in town and by 1939 there were just 13 students enrolled in the school.  That was the year that the school trustees voted against installing electric lights or hiring a dedicated music teacher.  The $1200 salary for the one teacher was already more than the budget would allow.  The school closed in 1971 and then was used by the Bethel Pentecostal Assembly as a church building.  Today it sits empty with an unknown future.

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With the arrival of the Toronto and Nippising Railway and also the Lake Simcoe Junction Railway in Stouffville, the decline of Ringwood began.  The railway provided access to markets and the businesses of Ringwood packed up and moved down the road.  The picture below shows the view looking from the main intersection into Ringwood where the once bustling main street now has only a few boarded up houses.

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West of the main intersection a strip of original Ringwood remains in use, although there is a development sign here too.    The Christian Church was built in 1868 but has recently been converted into an interesting looking residence.  This lovely little 1860’s house should be preserved, in my opinion, along with several others that are still inhabited, but endangered by the Ringwood Secondary Plan.  It calls for mixed use commercial / residential in this area.

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There is a new master plan for the redevelopment of Ringwood that will likely see the removal of most of the buildings in this post within the next two years.  I’m glad I got to visit before this happens.

 

Google Maps Link: Ringwood

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Palermo – Ghost Towns of the GTA

Saturday, November 25, 201

While investigating The Devil’s Cave we had the opportunity to drive through the former town of Palermo.  Today there are several historic buildings left but they are being threatened by the expansion of Oakville.  Widening of Bronte Road and then a bypass when highway 5 and 25 were moved has left the town with mostly empty buildings.

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Lawrence Hagar arrived in 1805 and founded the town which was named Hagartown after him.  In 1836 it was renamed Palermo after Horatio Nelson,  Lord of Palermo.  The Lawrence Foundry and Agricultural Works was founded in 1842 and became the main employer in the new community.   The town grew quickly and by 1869 there were three hundred people living in the community at the intersection of Bronte Road and Dundas Street.   In addition to the usual blacksmith shops and hotels, they also had a harness shop, a wagon shop, and a brick schoolhouse.  Later the town included a telegraph company office as well.  The picture below shows the town around 1900.  The house in the foreground on the right remains but little else still does.  The foundry is on the left but it burned down in the 1950’s.

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Lawrence Hagar built his original log home in 1805 and replaced it with a two-story Georgian home in 1848.  That home was listed as vacant in 2008 but has since been removed.  The third Hagar house was built in 1870 by Jonathan Hagar.  Jonathan had moved out of Palermo when he was 25 in search of fortune in gold mines in Australia and California.  When his father Lawrence died in 1857 he returned to Palermo to take over the family business.  The house also features a small barn that was constructed around 1900 to house the family horses.  The Hagar General Store stood just to the west of the house until it was removed for the widening of Dundas Street.  This property is currently being rezoned for a 10 story apartment building that appears to incorporate the house in the main entrance to the tower.  The house is registered with the historical society but does not have protection as a designated property.

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Lawrence Hagar was a devout Methodist and the first worship services in town were held in his home.  In 1824 land was deeded for a chapel on a property that had been used for a few burials beginning in 1813.  A chapel was built but when the Methodist Episcopal Church of Canada and the Wesleyan Methodist church of England merged there was a split in Palermo and for a while two chapels existed.  One was located on either side of the cemetery.  In 1867 work began on a new church to house both congregations.  The brick church was opened in 1869 with a steeple that has been removed since then.  The church is still active under the name of the United Church of Canada.

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The cemetery has a surprising number of pioneer stones in it.  The first burial was in 1813 and we found this stone which reads in part: Alexander Rose who departed this life September 27th, 1813 aged 44 years.

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The present school is the fourth one to serve the community.  As early as 1819 there was a one-room log school in town.  It was one of only 3 schools in Trafalgar Township.  A brick school was built in 1842 and then replaced in 1875.  In 1940 this third school was damaged in a storm and many of the original materials were incorporated into the new building that opened in 1942.  The school building has the 1875 date stone incorporated into the back of the building.  It was closed in the early 1960’s and converted into the Palermo Police department.  Today it houses the historical society and has been registered but not given a historical designation.

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Dr Ansun Buck served the community for over 40 years.  He built a surgery in his house in the 1860’s and from there took care of the medical needs of Palermo and surrounding area.  Buck also designed one of the early bridges over Bronte Creek.  When he died in 1919 he was buried in the Presbyterian Church cemetery.  His house is an excellent example of Italianate architecture with a few Gothic touches to make it stand out.  This is one of only two houses in town that is designated as a heritage structure

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H. M. Switzer purchased 24 acres of land in 1861 and built this Italianate house in 1868. Switzer was the postmaster and a merchant in town.  This is the other house in town to have a heritage designation.

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Caleb Smith built this house in 1875.  His father was Benjamin Smith who was the town carriage maker in 1806.  Smith built a large Georgian style house in 1822 that was the oldest home in Palermo.  It was allowed to deteriorate and it finally collapsed in 2007.  Caleb’s house is currently empty as are all the other original homes on the south end of Old Bronte Road.  I hope they restore it because it has some very interesting bracketing on the front porch.

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This gothic revival style house was built in 1880 beside the Methodist Church (now United Church).  It served as a parsonage for the next 32 years with one of the ladies groups being charged with preparing it for each new minister.  It was moved from the original location on Dundas Street to the present one on (old) Bronte Road around 1912 when the church sold it.  There appears to be a plan to restore and move some of the homes to save them but it is unclear which ones.

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This house on Dundas Street is one of the few that really look like they should be decommissioned.  Rather, it looks to be in the process of collapsing as several other original structures in town have done.  The cover photo shows the front door to be off centre, perhaps it was some kind of store at one time.

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A park has always been central to Palermo life.  The park used to be on the west side of town but was in the way of the revised intersection for highway 5 and 25.  A new park with ball diamonds was created on the north side of Dundas Street.  There is a pond that stands between the schoolyard and the new park.  I imagine that there is no shortage of waterfowl in the summer months.

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It remains to be seen what will come of the original community of Hagartown which flourished under the name of Palermo.  I hope they don’t allow it to become a name on a signpost on a cemetery, commemorated by two or three original structures scattered among the new urban sprawl.

Google Maps Link: Palermo

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