History of Ham House

To tell the history of Ham House is to tell the story of early Upper Canada following the War of 1812. An urban building, located in Bath at the dawn of the industrial revolution, it was supposedly built by George and Peter Ham for their store George Ham and Co. some time between April 1818 and 1825. However there is a reference to George Ham, storekeeper in Ernest Town (Bath before 1819) in a letter from James Booth to Reverend George Marsden dated around June 1818(1). A Royal Navy chart of depths in the bay compiled from the ice during the winter of 1816/1817 does seem to show a building on the site of Ham House. The find of a pristine Royal Navy Officer's button (used by the Navy between 1812 and 1825) under the front porch may directly connect the building to this survey.

Figure 1. Main Floor of Ham House 1817

Figure 2. Second Floor of Ham House 1817

Dendrochronology places the felling of all timbers to the winter of 1816/1817. Timber frames are constructed with green timber, and the foundation was constructed before the frame. In this time the property belonged to the Farmer's Store of which George Ham was a partner. Finally there is evidence that significant changes were made to the building during construction, including the last minute decision to forego a chimney column for stoves, closing in of a staircase, and the addition of the dramatic neoclassical exterior façade. It seems construction was begun by the Farmer's Store 1816 or earlier with the frame erected over the winter of 1816/1817 and completed by George and Peter by June 1818. Another recent find of '1818' and 'Ham' lightly scratched on a plank of the store near the name 'Ham' is consistent with this chronology. That plank had been covered by plaster since 1854. Two U.S. Springfield 1795 caliber musket balls were discovered near the SW corner of the building (one pocked for close-quarter combat) suggesting the foundation may have been constructed prior to the war and was perhaps present at the time of Chauncey's raid in November 1812.

George Ham was an important regional character in early Upper Canada, being a sergeant in the militia during the War of 1812 and rising to Lt. Colonel by the time of the Rebellion in 1837. He was a Justice of the Peace, and later in Cobourg a member (and at one time even the chair) of the Police Board. Most notable were several exchanges between he and Marshal Bidwell who was the 'brains' behind the Reform Movement. Probably George's political ambitions were scuttled by a family lawsuit brought by his father-in-law in 1826. Bidwell was Speaker of the House of Upper Canada for a decade, and coined the term 'Family Compact'. No doubt George was a primary model for the Family Compact.

In 1825, George sold out to his brother Peter and moved to Cobourg. Unfortunately, Peter died prematurely of Typhoid Fever in January 1829 leaving his widow Rececca who continued to live in the house until her death in 1886.

It is unclear what Rebecca did with the house after Peter's death. It is unlikely she continued the business as a women could not in those days travel alone to Montreal to make the necessary deals, but from graffiti in the store it does seem she profited by billeting the army during the Upper Canada Rebellion in 1838.

In 1840 a tavern license was issued to J.E. Hawley and in the 1851 census J.E. Hawley is living on the 'store' side of the building with the profession 'innkeeper'. The actual store seems to have been reconfigured with a partition in this time to create a tap room on the north side of the room, opening up one window to a larger window and inserting a door to Main Street. A large staircase from the south to upstairs appears also to have been added. The tap room is complete with a bullet hole shot from a pistol in front of the bar. The 2nd layer of wallpaper in the upstairs store is dated to 1840 and is consistent with the establishment of a Tavern in 1840. Finally, many tavern-oriented artifacts were found under the ash layer in the basement floor (such as spigots and broken whiskey bottles), and shelves of the original store reused elsewhere in the building have the marks of whiskey and wine bottles. The tavern appears to have been closed by about 1854 which interestingly coincides with the coming of the Grand Trunk Railway to the region.

Several minor changes appear to have been made to the store end of the building in the late 19th century, and Rebecca's son J.D. Ham inherited the property after her death. There is something strange about this relationship as the building was in extremely poor condition through the late 19th century (rotting heavy timbers and siding that had been bare wood for at least half a century), yet Rebecca's son had twice been Warden of Lennox and Addington County and was one of the wealthiest individuals in the region. We have no idea what J.D. Ham did with the house from 1886 to 1894.

With J.D. Ham's death, the property was sold to Ed Wemp in 1894. Wemp operated inns in the area including in Milhaven, and it appears Ham House was tasked to an inn at this time. In 1896 the building was re-sided, the east façade stripped off, presumably the windows replaced with 2 over 2 fenestration and all millwork within painted purple. Pottery finds in the basement include c. 1900 hotel pottery. In 1900 the building was sold to Marcelia and Theodore Edwards for the same price Wemp bought it from Ham's estate suggesting he was merely washing his hands of the building to the true innkeepers.

In 1897 William Hall purchased the NW corner of the Ham House lot (called Mrs. Ham's lot in the Registry Office) and built a tinsmith shop. In 1904 Hall purchased the rest of the lot including Ham House from the Edwards. Hall lived in the house with his family (including his mother-in-law and brother-in-law) until 1953.

In 1956 the house was sold by William Hall's estate and was radically modified. It was wired, indoor plumbing installed, the basement staircase moved and basement floor paved. The exterior foundation was parged and the interior broken up into 4 apartments.


1. Richard A. Preston, "Kingston Before the War of 1812. A Collection of Documents", University of Toronto Press, 1959.