Cobblestone Buildings in Canada
Learn About 52 Grand River St. South, Paris.
With the exception of one or two, all cobblestone buildings known to exist in Canada are located in the vicinity of Paris, Ontario. They were mostly the work of master stone mason Levi Boughton who came to Paris in 1838 from Stephentown, Rensselaer County, in eastern New York State. These structures span a period of time between 1839 and the the early 1860s.
Houses, churches, garden walls, basements and a smoke house reflect the touch of Levi Boughton's trowel and that of stone masons who were trained by him. Those who lived or worshipped in these structures felt a sense of pride and respect. This sense has become tradition among those who continue to be caretakers of the cobblestones.
Cobblestone Buildings in Paris, Ontario
By Kay Tew Marshall
Whatever claim Paris may have to architectural merit in Ontario, today, exists in twelve houses and two churches built of masonry broadly termed “‘cobblestone.” The art of cobblestone masonry was brought to Paris by an American, Levi Boughton, who came here from Normandale, Albany County, New York State, in 1838, with his wife, Sida Mann.
Mr. Boughton’s craft was very far from new, having been introduced into Briton nearly 2,000 years ago, by the great Roman builders. Cobblestone construction survived in England and one or more masons are believed to have brought it from there to New York State, where several hundred cobblestone houses are still extant.
Intricate in design and expensive to build because of the time involved, the masonry consists of horizontal rows of small, round, smooth, glacial-deposit stones set in mortar with a line of mortar in between the rows and often points of mortar between each stone. This facing is tied into a solid rubble wall by every fourth or fifth stone, which is longer.
These cobblestone walls are extremely pleasing in their textural quality and happily coincided in popularity with the best building period of the last century when the Greek revival house with its Farge windows, fine cornices and well-proportioned roofs was in vogue.
In the eastern United States, mainly around Rochester, New York, cobblestone houses were built over a period of about 60 years beginning in the early eighteen hundreds, However, Boughton's arrival here was toward the end of cobblestone’s popularity so the building period in Paris and district lasted a scant 20 years.
The houses were too expensive to build as it took many months to size the stones and lay the courses (rows) on the walls, so they were soon supplanted by the square-cut, stone houses built by a group of Scottish masons of this district.
In and around Rochester, cobblestone houses are regarded with pride and provide one of the attractions for tourists. They have been a subject of study by architects and artists and several are State owned and preserved. In Ontario, where Paris has the largest single known group of these houses, they are relatively unrecognized for their beauty and rarity.
Fortunately, the better ones locally, notably Hamilton Place, on Grand River North, the Montieth House, on Broadway, and Levi Boughton’s own original home on the corner of Queen and Ball Streets, have fallen into good hands and are in an excellent state of preservation.
Of particular interest is St. James’ Anglican Church, which was the first cobblestone building in Paris, and the Paris Plains Church, north of the town, built by a group of pioneers from stones gathered from the fields of their own farms.
Of Levi Boughton, himself little is known except that he lived out his life in Paris, becoming a man of property. He had sixteen children, yet curiously, not one of his descendants now lives in Paris.
Boughton is forgotten; but his houses still stand firm, a memorial to his fine craftsmanship and a reminder of the early cultural development of the town.
The vast majority of people who live in cobblestone houses is they are just the current caretakers. They feel it is a privilege to live in such a dwelling. There is a feeling that one never truly owns the house but watches over it and strives to maintain it in its original condition as much as possible for the next generation who will take up residence therein.
There is a respect for the original builders and owners who ventured to use the local ancient cobbles in building these structures. This particular style of cobblestone veneer is unique in Ontario thanks to Levi Boughton. He was born in May 26, 1805. He was one of nine children of Ira and Anna Dean Boughton. He eventually became a mason. He married Lydia Mann on September 2, 1827. They first settled in Brantford in 1835. They eventually had 16 children. At the time this area was booming and there was plenty of work for a skilled mason. They later moved to Paris.
[Note: He has frequently been confused with a distant relative of the same name who lived in Victor, Ontario County, New York, also reputed to have built cobblestone buildings in that area. He was born Aug. 13, 1811 and lived there all his life, where he died on Aug. 13, 1886].