2 Cobourg Heritage Edition 2012 The owners of 447 George St. - Hal Cooper and his wife, Barb Shea - are very aware that they own an architectural memorial to the Canada's Golden Age of the Steam Railway. One of the leading lights of those days was James Crossen, a Canadian who once lived in a house that still stands at 465 George St., Cobourg. Crossen founded the Cobourg Car Works in the1870s. In its heyday, the company employed more than 600 people and manufactured "Sleeping Cars, Passenger Cars, Post Office Cars, Baggage Cars, Box Cars, Platform Cars, Hand Cars, etc." according to an advertisement of the time. Crossen made a fortune and assured his family a place among the wealthy gentry of Victorian-era Canada. The Marquis of Lorne, sonin-law of Queen Victoria and onetime governor-general of Canada, favoured the Crossen car when he travelled. Around the year 1900, on a rail trip to Washington, D.C., the Marquis was able to dazzle then-president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, and Mr. Roosevelt requested several Crossen cars for his personal use. In 1881, when Crossen's eldest son, William, married Minnie Victoria Howell of Cobourg, James Crossen had spacious home built for the couple at 447 George St. It was christened Fairlawn and was a wedding gift to William and Minnie. At its foundation, Fairlawn was a large, plain, yellowbrick, Ontario farmhousestyle dwelling, as illustrated by an early photograph. After James Crossen, the patriarch, died in 1890, his heirs took over the rail-car business, expanded it, and renamed it the Crossen Car Manufacturing Company of Cobourg. Upon the death of the elder Crossen, the fortunes of William and Minnie Crossen improved considerably. One of the first ways they celebrated
Cobourg: Creating the will
We must protect our heritage for the future
Inever thought I would one day own a heritage home, and because I moved to Cobourg from Toronto in 1992, I did. History has always fascinated me - the thought of lives lived before, of those efforts to create and build a community made me more aware of my surroundings. What brought people here, why did they stay, what did they contribute? And what contributions of theirs have since been destroyed? One of my favourite books growing up was Lost Toronto by William Dendy, an architectural historian who devoted several years to researching the building history of Toronto. This book presents one part of the history of Toronto as told through its architecture - the history that pertains to buildings that are no longer standing. For these buildings, most of which were demolished for new construction or even more commonly - parking lots - constitute a kind of family history and were once part of the image Toronto presented to the outside world, to its visitors. A new kind of historical study of the city emerged, on that strongly appeals to our pre- sent day interest in the appearance of the past, recalling the determination of another age to express corporate prosperity and pride, institutional traditions and personal self-esteem in architectural forms that would beautify the city. The results were often works of art - but not always see that way for long. In my 20 years in Cobourg I have been so struck by the same intent here. Can any of us who share efforts to con- their inheritance was by making a lavish expenditure on Fairlawn. In vogue in the late 19th century was the highly decorated Queen Anne-style house, characterized by decorated gables and turrets, towers, porches and multi-levelled rooflines - a very adventurous style of architecture. "Cobourg: A Closer Look," a pamphlet produced by the Local Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee (LACAC), describes 447 George St. as "the best Queen Anne style house in Cobourg." Although the exterior is not as highly ornamented as many Queen Annes (also known as "painted ladies") the interior is another story. After the Crossen years, the house was variously used as a rooming house, a home for the elderly, and a bed-andbreakfast called Greenbriar. It was in sad shape, inside and out. But, the 22-room, threestorey architectural and artistic marvel created by William and Minnie was lovingly restored by former owner Andrew Lawson, who bought it in 1969. By then, the golden bricks had been painted grey and had to be sand-blasted. One owner before Lawson was reportedly given to taking pot shots with a gun. The late Mr. Lawson had to replace most of the glass, but he preserved one of the bullet-holed panes of tribute to our community imagine Cobourg without Victoria Hall?! We now know how close we came in the 1970s to having this replaced by yet another parking lot. We have just recently celebrated the 150th anniversary of this magnificent building that has been, and continues to be, the beating heart of Cobourg for all those years. We are now so acutely aware of the efforts of Ms. Lenah Field Fisher to ensure its survival and the determination of countless others since. This, and the lessons from William Dendy's book, inspired me to help in the planning of this piece - our own "Lost Cobourg" if you will. I hope this will contribute to the rigorous efforts to stimulate an appreciation of our town's past and this evidence of our architectural past will I hope encourage an appreciation of what remains - and prevent further destruction. I felt in buying my 1850s Ontario cottage in 1999 the need to honour its past and ensure its survival. It had been abused for years as a rental property, deteriorating quickly. Having it so beautifully restored by Bryon McMillan for modern use helped the house once again be proud glass in the bay window of the parlour. It remains in place. Lawson once said this same woman had apparently been convinced that there was a buried treasure in the house, and she axed holes in the wooden floors and damaged many of the marble hearths in her search for it. Lawson set about restoring the house to its original glory. In the "billiards room," Lawson restored the handcarved quarter-cut oak paneling as well as house's nine working fireplaces and their marble and porcelain surrounds, the elaborate plaster mouldings and oak and mahogany beams around and across the lofty ceilings. The hand-wrought oak bannisters and spindles in the magnificent curving main staircase are illuminated from above by a crimson-gold-andcream stained glass skylight. The interior, as well as the exterior of the house have been designated under the Ontario Heritage Act, protecting (among other things) some of the earliest bathrooms in Cobourg. Immaculate porcelain tiles, marblecovered walls and what has been confirmed as the first shower in town, resembling a giant sunflower, display the grandeur of yesteryear. One real estate professional described the restoration as "museum quality." The aforementioned billiards room was built to replicate one of the most luxurious of the Crossen (comparable to Pullman) railway cars. Its dimensions are exaggerated, but the vaulted ceiling and walls, clad in a hand-tooled leather frieze held in place by great brass studs driven into the walls - recall the luxury of a bygone era in rail travel. A gigantic, genuine Tiffany light fixture, its great weight secured to a steel beam above the ceiling, once hung over the billiards table in the centre of the room. A Tiffany lamp (stamped New York, 1895) hangs above the table in the nearby Honduras-mahoganypaneled dining room. Other Art Nouveau light fixtures - and regain its rightful place on the street. When preparing my home for a summer house tour in 2002, I discovered that the late Bob MacCoubrey of Cobourg spent some of his formative years there growing up, and he and his wife Sandra insisted on being there all afternoon on the restored porch, welcoming guests, showing his old pictures of the property and delighting in the new life his old home now had. I was very happy to open my home to show people how mainly brass and etched glass, and all equipped for both gaslight and electricity - are still in evidence in virtually every room and hallway. The front porch, with its high-quality hardwood floor and its curved window, reminiscent of the back end of a railway car, are other notable features, as is the leaded glasswalled vestibule with coloured fleur-de-lis designs. Barbara Jean Neal, founding editor of City and Country Home magazine, once called this one of the two most important Art Nouveau houses in Ontario. The other is now a museum maintained by the City of Brockville. The Crossens went out of the railway car business when the luxurious wooden appointments of the early cars were replaced by steel. The former Crossen car factory, later a tannery, which stood abandoned behind a high wire fence nearby, has since been demolished. After Lawson reluctantly gave up the house, due to his advancing age and frailty, Bernard Torrance owned the home and did further maintenance and upgrades to wiring, a historic home could be made over for modern use. We never really own any piece of property - we merely look after a home until we pass it on to another. We are so blessed to live in Cobourg where history surrounds us - and it is our past, our heritage that defines who we are, and why we are different from every other community. We are not Belleville, Ajax, Napanee or Brooklin - we are Cobourg and we need a stronger voice to create the plumbing, heating and other mechanical areas. The current owners, Cooper and Shea, have done replastering and restoration to maintain all the interior features. "The thing that Barb and I love about the house is that there is a sense of serenity and peace here. Apart from its physical greatness, the house has an overwhelming sense of warmth. Although it is large, it has a real sense of intimacy," Cooper says. will to preserve and restore monuments of earlier periods so that they can be a vibrant part of our 21st century. This we see so vividly when we travel to cities as diverse as London, Paris and Leningrad. The only difference is they are a little bigger than Cobourg and have been around a little longer - their history no more important to their citizens than our history is to us. Help us create the will. Thank you. Lynn Hardy
Owners on right track with restoration of former Crossen home
EILEEN ARGYRIS Lynn Hardy Eileen Argyris Hal Cooper and Barb Shea enjoy a game of pinball in an opulent setting. Lynn Hardy's house was included in a summer house tour in 2002. Former resident Bob MacCoubrey and his wife Sandra welcomed guests on the porch that day. Barb Shea welcomes visitors in the front entry of her home at 447 George St. Barb Shea and Hal Cooper relax in their living room. "We are interested in preserving the heritage of the home for the next owner, detailing all of the stories we have heard about the house, and particularly those about Mr. Lawson," Shea adds. "We sort of feel that we are caretakers of the house and we hope that future owners will take care of it so it will always be here." Eileen Argyris is an awardwinning newspaper editor, now working as a freelance writer. James Crossen had Fairlawn built as a wedding present for his eldest son, William, and his bride Minnie.