Sunday, October 8, 2017

Despair on Richmond Road: The 1890's story of John Barton

In 1890, a gentleman from a happy-sounding hamlet south of Ottawa known as "Pleasant Valley" decided he wanted to spend the last years of his life on Richmond Road, just east of Skead's Mills (the future Westboro). Sadly, this period of his life would be short, sad, and end in tragedy.

John Barton was a 58-year old farmer, who had been residing in this section of Goulbourn Township for many years, on a fairly large 75-acre farm. His brother Benjamin farmed on the adjoining piece of land, and it appears Barton was very popular amongst his neighbours and friends. He was a long-time councillor for Goulbourn Township as well. His home was in "Pleasant Valley", which was an early name given to this community of farmers south of Stittsville and Hazeldean. What is now the street known as "Faulkner Trail" existed as far back as at least 1879 and probably many years before that. It was along this roadway that the farmers of the area built their houses. The Belden Atlas map from 1879 shows the 15-or-so farmhouses on Faulkner Trail, including the Bartons. Some prominent names in this area including the Bradleys, Argue, and Faulkner.

1879 Goulburn Township map, showing the "Pleasant
Valley" area, or what is now Faulkner Trail Road, just
south of where Terry Fox intersects with Eagleson.

For reasons lost through the passage of time, the newly-retired John Barton and his 49-year-old wife Mary Ellen, along with their 15-year old niece Miss Mildred Mooney, decided to move to Richmond Road, many kilometers from his long-time home. Though the couple did have friends in Skead's Mills, it is a bit odd that they chose this spot. On April 29th, 1890, Barton acquired a 6-acre piece of land from Ottawa lawyer Frank R. Latchford (who owned pieces of land throughout the area which he had acquired from the Hon. James Skead estate a few years earlier). Patricia Avenue did not exist back in 1890 (even Island Park Drive was still 30+ years in the future), but if it had, it would have marked the eastern edge of the property. Barton began construction of a modest brick house on his new property, which stood until the late 1950s. (To place it, the house would have stood in the parking lot of the old Canadian Tire). 

Late in the fall of 1890, the Barton's friends held a large goodbye party for them in their home. 75 people attended to wish them well, and present them with gifts. John Barton was presented with an easy chair, Mrs. Barton with a rocking chair, and Mildred Mooney with a "music rack". Incredibly, the speech presented to honour the Barton's that night was printed in the newspaper a few days later.
Ottawa Journal
October 8, 1890

Sure enough, the newspaper reported on December 1st that the Barton's had moved into their new house on Richmond Road. (Birchton being another old name for the area of Westboro east of Churchill Avenue). 

Ottawa Journal, December 1, 1890.

I've found only one photo of the house the Barton's built, and it can be seen just in the background of another house. Here it is, in behind the Selwyn Hand house at the corner of Richmond Road and Patricia (which is now 333 Patricia Avenue, having been impressively moved north down Patricia Avenue in the 1950s). This photo dates to about 1940.

Barton house in background, behind the Selwyn Hand house
on Richmond Road, approx. 1940.

All seemed well for the Bartons in 1890, as they began to enjoy their retirement on the quiet Richmond Road strip. The 1890s were particularly quiet on Richmond Road, as there was a bit of an economic depression happening. The mill had been destroyed by fire for a final time in 1888, and there was little business in the area. The streetcar was still 10 years away. 

Over the following year and a half, John Barton fell into a depression. He was seen by all he associated with as moody, restless, and in low spirits. Perhaps it was regret in his decision to relocate from his familiar homestead and many friends and family. Or perhaps it was a mental breakdown which had been developing over years. His physician, Dr. Potter, had been treating him for "brain trouble". Around ten years prior, Barton had been assisting in the construction of a large barn when he fell from its roof. Family later recounted that he was never quite the same following that incident, his wife stating that he was never again "quite right in the head". Whatever the cause, his condition had deteriorated during his days on Richmond Road. Friends stated they worried about him, and that his mind was going. 

It all came to a sad conclusion on the morning of April 7th, 1892. His wife Mary Ellen discovered his lifeless body hanging from the roof of the layloft of their barn after returning from visiting the Cowley family next door. The full details of the unfortunate event can be found from the newspaper's detailed account below (the level of detail and frankness to the story was common for news accounts of the era):

Ottawa Journal, April 7, 1892

At 3 p.m. that same afternoon, a jury inquest took place on site to officially review the case. Dr. Mark, Coroner, called 16 citizens, a veritable who's-who of Kitchissippi society in the 1890s, to sit on the panel. They included John McKellar, Thomas Cole, John Fee, James C. Murphy, Charles Hopewell, Dnaiel Shipman, William Lowry, and Robert Barry. Barton's wife and niece gave statements, as did his brother-in-law David Manchester, his friend (and Skead's Mills postmaster) John Falls, neighbour Captain Daniel Keyworth Cowley and Cowley's son John (who had cut him down), Dr. Potter, and several other neighbours and friends. The jury deliberated briefly and then stated "the deceased came to his death through strangulation by hanging, and we are also of the opinion that he caused his death by his own action while laboring under a fit of temporary insanity brought out by an accident that happened to the deceased several years ago, by his falling from a barn that was in course of erection."

His official death registration was confirmed with this fact as well. "Hung himself while temporarily insane", it states, while providing oddly little other information, including date of death ("not stated"), birthplace or really any other useful information.

From F.W. Harmer's Carleton County
Deaths register (source: Ancestry)

Barton's funeral was held on Saturday April 9th, and his body was taken from his home on Richmond Road out to Pleasant Valley. John Cowley was one of his pallbearers, no doubt a difficult week for him, being the one to remove Barton from the barn, serve on the coroner's jury, and then carry his body to rest.

Ottawa Journal, April 11, 1892.

Later in 1892, the property was transferred into the name of his widow, Mary Ellen Barton. Mary Ellen and her niece continued to reside in the home. On the 1894 property assessment roll, they are listed as owning one cow.

The story takes an interesting turn (and a significant one, for the future history of this parcel of property), in that on September 11th, 1895, Mary Ann Barton remarried, to a widower, Mr. Thomas Hand. The two were in fact already related through marriage. In 1891, Mary Ann's nephew Alfred James Barton (son of John's brother Benjamin) had married Sarah Jane Hand, daughter of Thomas Hand. And in fact, on the 1879 map above, Thomas Hand's farm was next to Benjamin Barton's, a short walk from John and Mary Ellen's. So it appears the Hands and Bartons were well acquainted, and as both were widowers, decided to marry and live together on Richmond Road.

Thomas Hand had lost his wife in 1891. The couple had 10 children total, but by 1895, only his youngest son Selwyn (born 1883) was under the age of 16. Thomas and Mary Ellen lived alone in the house on Richmond Road; Thomas had left the Hand homestead in Pleasant Valley to his eldest son William Pittman Hand, and several of his other children continued to reside there as well. In 1900, Selwyn would move out to Richmond Road (perhaps for proximity to Ottawa, where he had obtained employment as a civil servant). He resided there until 1912, when he was engaged to be married. His wedding gift from his father was a gift of half of the parcel of land on Richmond Road! Thomas Hand parcelled off the eastern half of the property, and gifted it to Selwyn and his new wife Stella Agnes Pedley. The couple built the new brick house (pictured above) and resided in it until 1953, the year Selywn passed away. That summer, the house was moved north up Patricia Avenue to make way for the new Canadian Tire store.  (full details of that story at:

1 comment:

  1. I grew up on Faulkner Trail, next door to the old Barton Homestead. I have a picture of what I believe to be the Barton Family taken on the front lawn, which was found in the attic of the Barton House. If anyone in the Barton Family is interested, please email me. Ellen Faulkner: