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Tales of Newmarket's taverns, hotels include murder, circuses, Morse's telegraph

In this week's Remember This?, Newmarket History Hound Richard MacLeod highlights how the early establishments provided weary travellers a warm meal and bed, and were the place for a drink, company, entertainment and even murder

At one time, Newmarket had more taverns and hotels per capita than any other place in Canada of its size!  One need only to read my article on Prohibition locally to appreciate fully how much we loved our drink locally.

The first tavern in the area appeared in Armitage, a small hamlet at the corner of Mulock and Yonge. Records show that from 1800 to 1811, only one inn licence had been issued in all of Whitchurch Township, to Nathaniel Gamble, who had settled on Lot No. 89 on the east side of Yonge Street, just south of Mulock Drive.  

The first tavern in what was then the village of Newmarket still stands at 471 Eagle St. on the curve headed west. Structurally it has remained the same except for a veranda, which was added onto the south side. 

The beams in the cellar are one-foot square and were hewn by axe and adze. The foundations of the old stables were discovered to the south of the house. They burned down in the latter part of the 19th century. Dye’s Inn, as it was called, is a stop on my ghost tour walk and you can get more information on that angle from my article on Newmarket Today.  

The actual date of the establishment of this roadhouse is not certain but the first known proprietor was Daniel Dye, who located there in 1819. At that time, the property was owned by Elisha Beman, but in 1820 he sold all of Lot No. 97 to Michael Dye for $40. Dye held the property for two years. After having various owners over the years, Donald Sutherland sold it to a Mr. John Bentley for $800 in October 1863. 

We know that Elisha Beman presented a petition to the Executive Council in 1798, promising to establish public accommodation somewhere in the area, his application being refused for obscure reasons. Strange, given that taverns, roadhouses and inns were essential in the settling of the wilderness. 

Travellers never knew where they might be compelled to spend the night and so these establishments were a virtual licence to print money. Perhaps Beman did indeed build this early tavern, standing as it did on the land he had obtained from Joseph Hill, and was actually operated by the Dyes before selling it to him. 

You will remember that Newmarket’s first murder was committed at this inn during a charivari in the spring of 1819. A shot from David Cummings through the door of the tavern killed Robert Selby of Sharon who was just passing by on his horse. He also wounded Thomas Webb. 

The Colonial Advocate of March 30, 1829 contains a notice that “William Garbutt, having taken contract for carrying His Majesty’s Mails between York and Newmarket for the next four years, respectfully informs the public that a mail stage will start from Joseph Bleur’s hotel, York (Toronto), on Mondays and Thursdays at twelve o’clock, noon, and will arrive at nine o’clock that same evening at Newmarket and will leave Mr. Barber’s tavern, Newmarket, for York (Toronto), on Wednesdays and Saturdays, at five in the morning, and arrive in York at two p.m.  the price per passenger between York and Newmarket, set at six shillings and threepence currency.  Mr. Barber will accommodate passengers and they will be comfortably conveyed to Holland Landing or other directions as required”.

William Barber, landlord of this tavern, had taught in the first school in Newmarket, located in the basement of William Roe’s house. Another reference to this place is quoted from John McKay and published in the Globe. It states that when he arrived at Newmarket in 1820, only one hotel existed and was known as “the notorious Barber House”. 

The next public house established in Newmarket was by Borland and Roe on the site now occupied by the King George Hotel. In 1819, Elisha Beman sold to David Cummings for $80 a portion of Lot No. 93, described as all of town Lot No. 65, on the southwest side of Main Street at Timothy. 

Cummings soon sold the property to Borland and Roe. In 1825, these partners secured an adjacent portion of the same Lot No. 93. The hotel built there was kept by George Playter, who also operated the line of stagecoaches between York (Toronto) and Holland Landing.  

There is a reference from 1833 to the hotel proprietor, David Hart. This must be referring to either the Roe hotel or Barber House as in 1837 one of the four hotels in Newmarket was operated by Richard Wayling and Son and the other two were operated by the owners. These early hotels in Newmarket were all of frame construction.  

The third hotel was constructed in 1826, by Joseph Hewitt, a captain in the Glengarry Regiment having taken an active part in the War of 1812 and was named the North American hotel.  

Joseph Hewitt had purchased the property from Timothy Millard and, at that time, it was all forest except for a narrow clearing on each side of Main Street. He engaged in the hotel business here in Newmarket for 45 years, one of the richest old landlords of the stagecoach days.  

The Hewitt tavern was widely known as the headquarters for the old four-horse mail coach that left Toronto every other morning and returned the following evening, changing horses here before going on to the Landing to meet the boat.

Passengers always stopped at Hewitt’s for breakfast or supper. The stage route was owned by Hewitt and Weller, who did a profitable business until the arrival of the railway, the first in Ontario, was put into service through Newmarket. 

You will remember that It was from the balcony of the North American hotel that William Lyon McKenzie delivered his famous speech to the people of the area, resulting in the involvement of my family, along with hundreds of others in the 1837 Rebellion. 

An ambrotype portrays the appearance of this hotel in 1856. The shed and barroom stood at the corner of Botsford and Main streets beside the main building to the north. It was a three-story building of frame construction and seems imposing with a broad veranda at the front with a balcony above. High on the front of the third storey, the words North American Hotel were conspicuously painted, thus travellers experienced no difficulty in locating it.  

The first fair in the County was held in this building and on the grounds and public entertainment took place in the large dining room. The horse sheds stood at the back facing Botsford Street, and a portion of the yard was enclosed by a high fence. Circus performances were advertised to be “held in Hewitt’s Hotel yard”. 

In his memoir, Mr. Bogart states that his mother, Sarah Jane Caldwell, along with her father attended an entertainment in the old dining room, where Morse, the inventor of telegraphy, was demonstrating the possibilities of his then only recently invented telegraph. The line he used was coiled around the room, and ran into the barn at the back, where his assistant was sending Morse telegraph messages.This was before the whole scheme was commercialized”. Pretty cool, eh?

The hotel operated as a tavern until 1898, when it was demolished, and the Bank of Toronto built a branch on the (see my article on Newmarket banks).   

South of the Borland and Roe hotel and next to the Cawthra building at the foot of Main Street stood the Mansion House kept by Thomas Mosier. Little is known about when this hotel was established or about the establishment except that it was prominent in 1837 and still flourishing in 1854. 

It is said that where the Bank of Montreal stood, James Forsyth operated an inn in a long, low, log building, until 1845. In April of that year, James Forsyth purchased the property on the southwest corner from William Roe, erecting a brick building, the Railroad Hotel, later to be known as the Forsyth House. In succession it was the Pipher House, the Proctor House, and finally the King George Hotel. After the death of Forsyth, his wife capably carried it on with the old stagecoaches clattering and rumbling up to these various inns on Main Street. 

The most important of them was run by William Weller, purchased in 1832 to run in connection with the steamers that plied Lake Simcoe. Weller’s coach, drawn by four pure-bred horses, transported Her Majesty’s Royal Mail, and its arrival was heralded by a toot of a horn, rattle of harness and a last crack of the whip that sent the high-stepping horses sweeping around the Cawthra corner and up the street to halt with a magnificent flourish before the wide open door of the Hewitt tavern.  

The luggage was deposited on top of the old-time coaches and at the inns, where stops were made to change horses, they were met by a line of men and boys eager to assist the passengers and attend the horses.  

From the springless vehicle, stiff and weary after jolting over the miles of rough road from York, the hungry passengers descended, women in swirling cloaks and bonnets, men with sideburns, wearing Prince Albert coats and topped by enormous Beaver hats. If the trip was made in cold weather, the men were well wrapped in heavy wool shawls, described as “plaids”. 

There are descriptions of the host appearing, beaming with hospitality, brisk maids bustled about, lights from the many candles reflecting off gleaming copper pots and pans and softer pewter tableware. The air would have been full of the fragrance of roast beef and tender mutton, the savoury stuffed fowl, and the game - bear, deer, partridge and pigeon so abundant in the woods, and the fish from the river. 

In 1862, the Black Horse Inn on Mill Street was operated by G. Bell. Next year, Bell applied for a liquor licence for the Commercial Hotel on Mill Street, probably the same location. The hotel stood a little east of Main on the south side near the railway. Across the road stood the hotel sheds. For many years, this hotel remained vacant, said to be haunted due to a murder supposedly having have been committed onsite.

At the northeast corner of Main and Huron streets, a hotel, the Union, was run by a Mr. Sharpe and Mr. Flanagan. The latter afterwards was landlord of the Eagle Hotel across the road.  

The Royal Hotel at the top of the Main Street hill has long been used for dwelling and commercial purposes. It was a popular public house for the travelling public and coaches drawn by a team of spanking horses met the trains at the north-end station.  

Further south on the east side of Main stood the Central Hotel built by John Davison, a member of the first town council. It was initially a shoe and grocery store with living rooms above. A mansard roof was added to provide a third story and the name was then changed to the Central Hotel.  

The front room was used as first a shoe shop, then a barber shop and then in August 1853, the first telegraph office. During the big Main Street fire of 1862, all the buildings from this hotel south to halfway between Timothy and Water streets were destroyed. In September 1916, Charles Macauley purchased the hotel and demolished it to make way for three brick stores. 

In the early days, wherever waterpower was available, there were breweries and distilleries. Liquor was sold over the counter as a common commodity, its cheapness proclaimed by the advertisements prominently displayed in the newspapers of the day, whisky at 25 cents a gallon.

In Newmarket taverns, it was six drinks for 25 cents, sometimes seven, sold over the bar. The hotel landlord fed the man and the hosteler fed and cared for the horse, both for the sum of 50 cents, often a drink thrown in.  The woman sat in the buggy or cutter while the man went inside to have his glass of toddy. 

Prior to the adoption of Prohibition, there was the Dominion Hotel built by Thomas Flanagan on the site of the early market house. Two liquor stores were situated at the south end of Main Street, owned by Ingham Sharp and J. G. Parker.  In the building on the northeast corner of Timothy and Main was Mr. MacAleer and at the north end was a liquor store operated by P. J. O’Malley. 

Now you can properly appreciate the background around which Prohibition arrived in Newmarket.

Sources: The Newmarket Era, The History of Newmarket by Ethel Trewhella, The Eli Gorham Journal, Stories of Newmarket by Robert Terence Carter, The Yonge Street Story 1793 – 1860 by F. R. Berchem, Accommodations: The Old Hotels of Newmarket by Wes Playter 




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About the Author: Richard MacLeod

Newmarket resident Richard MacLeod — the History Hound — has been a local historian for more than 40 years
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