Friday, July 8, 2011

Hamilton's history and my old house

For someone who grew up in the suburbs where most buildings dated from the 1970s or later, my recent move into a 100-year old Hamilton house has proved to be both exciting and daunting.

On the one hand, the house needs work, as most 100-year old houses do (and I’m sure this will never end!).

But my fascination for history and interesting stories has had me champing at the bit, since before we moved in, to find out more about this place – who built it? Who has lived here over the past century and what did they do for a living?

Essentially, I’m excited to discover more about Hamilton’s own history through my old house.

While we do have plans to research the house’s past properly through the city’s records, a quick walk around the place provides some evidence of the house’s (and Hamilton’s) evolution – a bricked-up old door to where we think the "service entrance" to the kitchen used to be, a conversion into apartments at some point, various additions and removals and now, big plans to eventually convert it back to its former glory.

Over the years, I’ve heard stories of people unearthing treasures and random artefacts from days gone by when fixing up houses like this. I was excited to start our exploration and see what we could find.

Fortunately, we didn’t have to renovate anything to get the first clues into the history of our house. This started on the day we moved in. Tucked up between some pipes in the basement, my husband found a little book on the history of the British Royal family, ending at King George VI and praising the power of radio communication for its impact and ability to broadcast the King’s Coronation ceremony around the globe. The book’s publication date was 1937 and it was perfectly preserved.

One day later, he was putting more things away in the basement and came across something even older – the top of a wooden crate, with someone’s army rank, name and our address stencilled on it. I knew it was ancient – the postal code was a different format than we’re used to.

As any amateur history buff might do, I instantly Googled the man’s name. It turns out he served in World War I – likely the first owner of this house, or their son. I find it absolutely fascinating that, through a century’s worth of owners, renters and renovations, these pieces of history have survived intact in our house.

I’m hoping these are just the first of many clues into our property’s past, and that we get a few more glimpses into early 20th century Hamiltonian life.

Have you found any interesting relics from the past in your old Hamilton house or apartment?

This post was originally published on OpenFile Hamilton's website.

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