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Three early Newmarket business 'survivors' thrive today

In this week's Remember This?, History Hound Richard MacLeod highlights several of Newmarket earliest and long-surviving businesses
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Over the last year, I have written about the effects of fire and flood and other misadventures that have altered the landscape of Newmarket, as well as highlighted businesses and merchants of old and their contributions to the growth of our community.

This week I want to take a brief look at three survivors, companies that are still going strong despite having their issues over the years. Let us call these three companies ‘the survivors’.

Over the years, the landscape of Newmarket’s businesses changed dramatically — for instance, we no longer have blacksmiths or livery stables. However, there are still three businesses that continue to endure, having made it through some form of fire or flood damage and simply rebuilt and soldiered on. I recommend reading my articles on the scourge of fire and flood in Newmarket over the years on Newmarket Today.   

The passage of time has a way of causing local enterprises to close, but for these three companies, neither natural disaster or time have seemed to affect them they are still thriving in our community today. The three companies I wish to briefly highlight are Roadhouse and Rose, Luesby Memorials and the Newmarket Era.

The oldest of these appears to be Roadhouse and Rose, if one considers continuous operation in one product or service.  As was generally the case back in the 1800s, cabinet making and the funeral business seemed to go hand in hand. The same operation could manufacture the coffins and perform the funerals, keeping it all in-house.  

In 1838, John Botsford, a local cabinetmaker and undertaker, was to take on Samuel Roadhouse, a young man of only 14, as his apprentice.  At that point, the location was at Botsford and Main, though it did burn down, only to be replaced.  

When Botsford died in 1842, Roadhouses assumed control of the business, moving north on Main to Mill Street (now Queen Street), on the northeast corner, in 1853.  Samuel’s son, N. John Roadhouse, began helping out at an early age, just as his father had done years before. It is said John conducted his first funeral at the tender age of 14.

Both father and son were involved in local affairs, Samuel serving as a school board trustee twice and John serving twice as mayor. Both served on the roads and bridge committee.

When Samuel passed in 1890, John continued on his own until about 1921, when he decided to take his son-in-law, Lyman Rose, as a partner. At this time, they moved south on Main to the current location at 157 Main St. and the business became known as Roadhouse &  Rose.

John Roadhouse passed in 1932, leaving the business to Rose, which he ran solely until 1953, when he sold it to Rodney Ecobichon, Wray Playter and son Donald Rose.  Eventually, Glenn Playter and Donald Rose began running the firm.   

In 2009, Glenn’s son, Wes, and Gregg Davey became the owners of the business and it thrives on Main Street to this day.   

The second of the survivors is Luesby Memorials, on the southeast corner of Main and Queen streets. An interesting fact is the marble shop of Reid and Seevey operated in John Botsford’s cabinet shop at Main and Botsford in the mid-1800s before moving to its current location after the fire of 1870.

Mr. Reid took James Cassidy as a partner and they moved their operation to the Main and Queen street location Cassidy owned. Cassidy became the sole owner upon the death of Reid around 1876.  

In the early 1880s, William Allan emigrated from Aberdeen, Scotland, where he had apprenticed as a marble and granite cutter/designer. He became Cassidy’s partner in 1889, a partnership that would last until 1907.

And this is where it gets interesting for me. My Grandpa, George Luesby Sr., became an apprentice to Cassidy and Allan in 1894, at the age of 14. The task of working with stone was an arduous line of work, with everything being done by hand the arrival of pneumatic tools and the sandblasting booth. Luesby proved to be not only an excellent stonemason but a talented artist who did customized work, creating his own designs for customers. Many of those designs are still used today.

When Allan died, the firm became Cassidy and Luesby, until Cassidy’s death in 1911 when it became Luesby Memorials. My grandpa took over and managed the firm alone until my uncle, Jack Luesby, returned from the war. At that point, it became Luesby and Son.  

In 1975, the firm was sold to Reginald Tomkinson, whose family is still in ownership of the company although the Luesby name remains on the door, given the long association of our family in the business.

Our last survivor company is the Newmarket Era, the only newspaper between Toronto and Barrie when it published its first edition in 1852 to the delight of the 500 residents of the town. Initially called the New Era, it was launched by G.S. Porter, a printer by trade, who an it for a year before emigrating to Australia.

Porter sold the newspaper to two newcomers to the village, E.J. Jackson and E.R. Henderson. They established their offices on the southwest corner of Main and Mill (Queen) streets in 1854. In 1861, they officially changed the paper’s name to the Newmarket Era.

It initially provided not only local news but news of the world.  I use the Era archives daily it seems, and I can tell you the old Era was an excellent publication. We must remember, back in the 1800s, the paper was the only link to the outside world for most of the population. There were less sensational headlines back then, local poetry and prose and, of course, gossip was the main fare of the day.

One of the most interesting features of those old papers was the advertisements, which reflected the state of our community, and in many cases, more accurately than any editorial could. It seems tonics, pills, vitamins, wood stoves and kitchen conveniences were the most popular ads of the day. A year’s subscription was a mere $1.50.

Erastus Jackson resigned as editor in 1893 in favour of his son, Lyman George Jackson.  Both father and son were active in community affairs. Erastus was an elected official when Newmarket became a village in 1857 and he was still there when we became a town in 1880.

The Jacksons held control of the paper until 1931, when Lyman sold it to Arthur Hawks and family. However, he took back control of the paper in 1932, keeping it until 1934 when he passed and the paper was purchased by Andrew Hebb, who remained editor until 1944, when John Meyer succeeded him.  

In 1942, the Era amalgamated with the Express Herald, becoming the Era and Express.   After Hebb’s ownership, the Era had many owners. Some of you may remember the Era office on Main burning down in 1956, the same fire that damaged Roadhouse & Rose that was its neighbor to the north. It didn’t miss one issue, and it immediately relocated to Charles Street.

In 1965, the Toronto Telegram purchased the paper, its ownership listed as Inland Publishing.  In 1971, the Telegram folded, and the Era remained part of Inland Publishing. Today, it is part of Metroland, a Torstar company, and relocated to Steven Court, off Mulock Drive, in the 1980s.

Terry Carter, who is the best of our local historians was editor of the Era for many years, and during his tenure he ensured the Era was instrumental in keeping our history alive.

Sources: The History of Roadhouse and Rose – Official Website;Newmarket Ontario 1857 – 1957 by Jack Luck; The History of Newmarket by Ethel Trewhella; The Stories of Newmarket by Robert Terence Carter; The Newmarket Era; Recorded Oral Histories Collection; The Memorable Merchants and Trades 1930 – 1950 by Eugene McCaffrey and George Luesby   

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NewmarketToday.ca brings you this weekly feature about our town's history in partnership with Richard MacLeod, the History Hound, a local historian for more than 40 years. He conducts heritage lectures and walking tours of local interest, as well as leads local oral history interviews. You can contact the History Hound on Facebook or at thehistoryhound@rogers.com.
 



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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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