by Donna Ross and Peter Szmidt
Spillway Farm ‘found’ us in September, 2016. It was everything we had been searching for: an old stone house on water, on a rural property, and located minutes from the historic Village of Merrickville. The house was tired, deteriorating in places, and in a partial state of renovation.
We saw potential. We saw a lengthy restoration project. But, most important, we saw an historic stone house c1835 needing attention, as one of the many beautiful stone cottages along County Road 23.
Heritage restoration experts, Hubbard & Co., were hired. We met with owner, Brad Hubbard, and immediately saw his passion for old stone houses, and his knowledge and appreciation for heritage buildings. We were confident that Spillway Farm would be returned to its former ‘glory’.
The restoration took six months. There was much to be done, but we trusted Hubbard and Co. to do it ‘right’. That was acknowledged by the numerous neighbours and strangers who have stopped to comment on the improvements made, and how thankful they were that Spillway Farm was restored. It was a landmark to many.
We decided to pursue heritage designation out of respect and appreciation for the house and the history surrounding Spillway Farm. The house and the property’s historical associations with the Rideau River, Clowes Lock, and McGuigan Cemetery, support conservation and protection of Spillway Farm for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.
Our research included visits to historical archives, genealogical museums, and land registry offices. We met with ‘locals’ in the community who were familiar with Spillway Farm and its history. It was wonderful to listen to their stories.
To highlight a few:
- In the fall of 2019, a car parked in front of McGuigan Cemetery, and the woman occupant asked if there had been a Horatio Chester that had lived in the house. Elizabeth Manshreck from Okotoks, Alberta, was researching her grandfather, Albert Manshreck’s roots (1867-1962). She was overwhelmed when we invited her into our home to see where her grandfather lived with his adopted family, Horatio and Yatty Chester. Elizabeth has since sent us copies of numerous letters written by her grandfather to his adopted Chester family in the late 1890’s. Horatio Chester, his adopted father, had loaned him money for a homestead out west (1897). Elizabeth’s family farm buildings are presently on this same homestead property.
- In February, 2020, we met with Golida Docter Tym, whose family had immigrated to Canada from Holland in 1957 and rented the farm from the Hilliard’s from 1960-1965. Golida’s family worked the apple orchard and sold the apples, while Lieut. Col. Jack Olive and family lived in Ottawa and Picton.
- In February, 2020, we met with Judy Hyland, a long-time resident of Burritts Rapids, who provided us with the history of the Kelly Family. Previous owners of Spillway Farm, Alexander and Laverne Kelly Jr., were Judy’s great aunt and uncle, and Alexander and Agnes Wilson Kelly Sr. were Judy’s great grandparents.
- A happenstance meeting with Michelle Wright, granddaughter of Olive and Jack Hilliard, occurred early in 2021. She had driven out to Merrickville from Ottawa to see the 25-acre lot that belonged to her mother, Jane Hilliard Wright. This property was the last of the Spillway Farm 100 acres that the Hilliard’s owned. It was sold in February.
Restoring Spillway Farm became a project of time and passion, with skilled builders, stone masons, and other trades on the job. With its completion, we feel a sense of pride and satisfaction, and know we have enhanced the historic Rideau corridor. It is important for us to preserve what our forefathers built; it is their legacy, and a bit of their character remains within the thick stone walls. We thank W. R. Nicholson Leahy for acquiring the Crown Grant in 1830, and the three principal families that shaped and played a part in the history of Spillway Farm: the Chester Families, the Kelly Families, and the Hilliard Family. In purchasing Spillway Farm, we benefitted from their toil and hardship, and inherited their dreams and joys that made this their home.
It is now our turn to carry on.