Home built by first St. Davids settler
Publication:
Niagara-on-the-Lake Review Weekly, 19 Apr 1994


Description
Full Text

THE ADDRESS has changed three times, but the historic Woodruff-Rigby house still stands on the same foundation.

No matter what number the municipality assigns, the York Road house will always be the dwelling built by the first official settler of St. Davids, Richard Woodruff.

Today, the current owners are working to preserve that important piece of the village’s history.

After nearly 20 years of restoration work, Rick and Barbara Rigby recently designated for preservation the exterior portions of the two-storey, L-shaped dwelling as well as the mantel pieces over the house's six fireplaces, under the Ontario Heritage Act.

"We really didn't know what we were getting into, but now we've got a lifelong hobby on our hands," Barbara says.

Childhood memories of summers spent in her grand-mother's home first led the couple to take Sunday drives looking at old homes.

The Ottawa natives hadn't heard of St. Davids, but when they drove down York Road from the site of Rick's new office on Taylor Road, the trip ended abruptly at 1835 (then 1873) York Road.

“The house had been for sale three years. We made this ridiculous offer and they jumped at it."

Woodruff descendants lived almost a century in the house, which was built circa 1815 to replace the original that was burned in the War of 1812. However, ownership changes meant building changes in the 1940s and 1950s, including separating the bottom floor from the top to create three apartments, filling in the 'L' with a first-floor addition, and adding on to the east side of the house.

The Rigbys took up residence on the main floor in 1976 with an 18-month-old baby, David, in tow.

The outside stairs to the second floor were removed and a replica staircase made the interior link in January 1977. Daughter Heather was born in February.

They concentrated on making the house liveable over the next decade, but the historic significance started taking shape through conversations with the Woodruff brothers, Wilfred and Paul, who have since died.

The former spiral staircase for servants and an old carriage stone were details which emerged from their own childhood memories.

When Rick took a hammer to some rotting stucco one day in 1984, he discovered the original clapboard was still intact underneath.

"We realized then we were getting in over our heads and asked for help" from the Local Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee (LACAC), including member and family friend, Frank Hawley.

With a LACAC grant, they spent the next few years removing stucco and then preserving the wood, one piece at a time, before painting and replacing it.

Although Hawley told the family to watch for the trade-mark coin — which a carpenter would place inside the wood above a door or window to mark the house's completion date — the worker who discovered it wasn't told.

"He saw something shiny drop. He took it to a pawn shop where they offered him money on the spot. He knew he had something, but we didn't know until a few months later when he gave it to us for Christmas," she says, referring to a framed and now-tarnished coin.

Although the designation papers place the house's construction between 1815 and 1820, the Rigbys are positive the coin dates to 1813 or 1815. The smudge around fourth figure could make it either number.

Rigby reasons that Richard, known in town as " King Dick," was a top resident who had eight children, so his would be one of the first houses to be re-constructed after the war.

Other information unearthed during research includes the story of the time when women and children left alone were briefly held hostage in the house by natives. The starving captors wanted only the pig that was roasting on the spit.

Over the past decade, the Rigbys preserved the pine mantels and fireplaces of the six original rooms.

"If we had brought Frank in from the beginning we may have done things differently, but with the cost and the time, I don't think we would have done it all," Rigby suggests.

The provincial government, through LACAC, also gave grants for restoring the kitchen hearth in the back room, now used as a family den, and the shutters.

Most of the preservation work took place on the first floor, since structural changes were made upstairs for the two apartments.

“We were trying to be pure but we had to do the work mostly with our own resources."

Although the second floor still contains extra walls and built-in bathrooms, several unique historic features remain.

A circular convex mirror is built right into the chimney of the fireplace in the parlor, and two second-floor chimneys have side cupboards.

Also surviving is a second-floor alcove with intricate carving on the wooden arch.

A look in the tiny basement reveals cross beams with the bark still attached.

The latest addition was a coach house, built in 1987 under the strict plans and guidance of restoration architect Peter Stokes.

Although they'd like it to be, the work isn't finished yet. The front entrance — a two-door Victorian piece added in 1879 — may get replaced with a Georgian replica, but replacing the roof with cedar shingles will probably be the next and last project.


Creator:
Mullin Carolyn, Author
Media Type:
Text
Image
Item Types:
Clippings
Articles
Description:
Full title: "Home built by first St. Davids settler. Current owners are restoring portions of Woodruff-Rigby home". Article written by Carolyn Mullin ("Niagara Falls Review" writer) and published by "Niagara-on-the-Lake Weekly", a community newspaper.
Photograph of the house interior with a caption: "Although the Rigbys only designated the exterior and fireplaces of their York Road home for historic protection under the Ontario Heritage Act, other unique features of the dwelling, built circa 1815, still exist. The second-floor alcove is complete with intricate carvings and an elaborate light fixture, believed to have originally been an oil lamp.".
Notes:
Woodruff-Rigby House was built in the village of St. Davids by Richard Woodruff (1784 – 1872), a merchant and political figure in Upper Canada
Current address:
1385 York Road
Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada
Publisher:
Thomson Newspaper Company Limited
Date of Publication:
19 Apr 1994
Subject(s):
Local identifier:
QC00353
Language of Item:
English
Geographic Coverage:
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.16682 Longitude: -79.11627
Donor:
Huggins, Jean A. E. (1895-1989)
Copyright Statement:
Copyright status unknown. Responsibility for determining the copyright status and any use rests exclusively with the user.
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905-468-2023
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Home built by first St. Davids settler


Full title: "Home built by first St. Davids settler. Current owners are restoring portions of Woodruff-Rigby home". Article written by Carolyn Mullin ("Niagara Falls Review" writer) and published by "Niagara-on-the-Lake Weekly", a community newspaper.
Photograph of the house interior with a caption: "Although the Rigbys only designated the exterior and fireplaces of their York Road home for historic protection under the Ontario Heritage Act, other unique features of the dwelling, built circa 1815, still exist. The second-floor alcove is complete with intricate carvings and an elaborate light fixture, believed to have originally been an oil lamp.".