Description of Historic Place
The building at 1444 Queen Street East, commonly known as the Jesse Ashbridge House, is situated on the north side of Queen Street East in the City of Toronto. A succession of homes existed on the property built by generations of the Ashbridge family. The house that survives is a two-storey brick house designed in the Regency style by architect Joseph Sheard and constructed in 1854.
The Ontario Heritage Foundation (now the Ontario Heritage Trust) acquired the property on October 26, 1972, however, Dorothy Ashbridge continued to live in the home until 1997, at which time full control over the property was transferred to the Ontario Heritage Foundation.
Located at 1444 Queen Street East, the Ashbridge property and surrounding landscape have evolved extensively over the last 200 years. In 1794, the land east of the Don River was covered in forest. Today the cottage is situated in an urban landscape. A number of homes and out buildings were built by the Ashbridges, although the log cabin dwellings, the 1809 Georgian home, and a 1913 house have been demolished. A sunken lawn and weeping willow mark the location of a former creek which the family used to paddle in to get to Lake Ontario. The family also kept beautifully landscaped grounds with an extensive flower and vegetable garden. In 1912 six acres of the Ashbridge property was sold and the Duke of Connaught School was built, which put an end to much of the farming activities.
The Jesse Ashbridge House so named for the Ashbridge family, the only family in Toronto to have lived continuously for two centuries on land they settled. Sarah Ashbridge, a widow from Pennsylvania, immigrated to York (Toronto) in 1793 with sons Jonathan and John, daughters Elizabeth Wilcot and Mary McClure, and their husbands and children. In the spring of 1794 they settled east of the Don River on lots laid out by John Graves Simcoe. They cleared Part Lots 7, 8, and 9 for farming and built a log cabin only 60 meters from Lake Ontario. Both Jonathan and John were farmers, and pathmasters (supervisor of highways), both married in 1809, and that same year, both built their families two-storey frame homes. Jonathan's son Jesse, a farmer and active in the Methodist Church, inherited Part Lot 9, the section of land to remain in the family until the 1990s. In 1853, Jesse commissioned local architect, politician and future mayor of Toronto (1871-72), Joseph Sheard to design his home, which still stands today. Jesse died in 1874, but his second wife Elizabeth continued to live in the house until her death in 1918. Jesse's son Wellington was educated as a civil engineer, and his work took him across the country. He returned to Toronto in 1913 to help his mother with the subdivision of their estate, which she had begun years before in 1893. Wellington's daughters, Dorothy and Betty donated the house, and property to the Ontario Heritage Foundation in 1972, however, Dorothy continued to live in the home until 1997.
The Jesse Ashbridge House is a simple Regency design with Neo-classical elements. The red brick is laid in Flemish bond and sits on a high stone foundation. The original five-bay cottage had a hipped roof and decorated chimneys. The arcaded treillage veranda is still intact, as is the front entrance's eight panelled door with moulded pilaster casing, the tooled limestone lintels, and six-over-one double-hung sash windows. In 1900 Elizabeth Ashbridge added a second storey, giving the cottage a Second Empire mansard roof, and in 1920, a two-storey addition to the north wall designed by Wellington Ashbridge gave the home its current appearance. Interior details include heavy architrave mouldings, and baseboards in pickled oak in the central hall. The kitchen's 1854 bake oven, cooking hearth and built-in pantry cupboards all survive within the basement walls of lake stone and original lath and plaster finish.
The Ashbridges owned such a large tract of land and constructed so many buildings on the property over a 200 year period, that archaeological excavations have uncovered over 120,000 artifacts. Archaeological evidence of the 1790s log cabin and 1809 frame house (demolished 1913) have been found on the property. Evidence of First Nation occupation has also been recorded, including hearth features and artifacts dating back thousands of years.
Source: Ontario Heritage Trust Property Files
Character defining elements that contribute to the heritage value of the Jesse Ashbridge House include its:
- Regency design with Neo-classic elements
- 1899 addition of a green mansard roof with dormers, giving it a Second Empire look
- arcaded treillage veranda that spans the entire length of the south facade
- front entrance's eight paneled door, imitating double doors, with transom above and moulded pilaster casing
- red brick (from a local brick yard) laid in Flemish bond, struck with joints of white mortar
- tooled limestone lintels
- six-over-one double-hung wood sash windows
- dark green wood shutters on ground floor windows
- basement kitchen's bake oven, cooking hearth and pantry cupboards
- original basement walls of lake stone with the original lath and plaster finish
- basement scullery with built-in dry sink
- central hall's architrave trim and baseboard of pickled oak
- front door's sidelights and transoms in grained oak
- shipping truck built into the attic containing 19th century clothing and Jesse Ashbridges' silk top hat
- 120,000 artifacts uncovered
- remains of the 1790s log cabin
- remains of the 1809 frame home demolished in 1913
- remains of First Nation occupation as seen in the hearth features
- landscaped grounds with extensive flower and vegetable garden
- location of the house on the original land deeds and home's permanency in an evolving context, from a country dwelling to an urban home