Description of Historic Place
The François Baby House is a two-storey, brick, Georgian Revival style structure located on the north side of Pitt Street, between Ferry and Chatham Streets, in downtown Windsor. The house is now home to Windsor's Community Museum.
It is recognized locally for its heritage value by the City of Windsor By-law 6659. It is also recognized by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada as a National Historic Site (1950).
The François Baby House had a role in the opening of the War of 1812. It also played a part in the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1838, and its location represents the earliest urbanization on the south side of the Detroit River.
The original François Baby House was built by François Baby, who was a magistrate of the Court of Quarter Sessions (from 1788), a member of the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada (from 1792), and a member of one of Windsor's founding and most influential families. In the spring of 1812, Baby began constructing the house, but was interrupted in July when his property was commandeered by General Hull, for use as a headquarters for the Americans, during the invasion of Upper Canada. This was during the opening of the War of 1812. It was later used by Major General Isaac Brock, as a British base, for an artillery bombardment that ultimately led to the surrender of Detroit.
Also historically significant is the François Baby House's involvement during the Upper Canada Rebellions of 1837-38. In December 1838, Patriots—Canadian rebels and their American sympathizers—fought local militia in the orchard behind the Baby house; this is known as the Battle of Windsor.
Since its construction in 1812, the François Baby House has undergone a number of structural modifications and repairs, and as a result, much of the original structure has been lost. All that remains at the present time is its rubble foundation, the back of the fireplace in the basement, two end walls, a majority of the north wall, and the supporting wooden timber under the north entrance.
The structure that stands today (facing south) is the result of major restorations and alterations undertaken according to the designs of the architectural firm of Sheppard and Masson, in 1948. It is a two-storey, symmetrical, Georgian Revival style home with a lateral gable roof clad in cedar shingles, which features partial English Bond brick, and a central hall plan. It is important to note that the front facade originally faced north toward the river.
At the time of its construction, the François Baby House was located in what was known as the Western District of Upper Canada. The Baby property was the focus of the hamlet that evolved into the present City of Windsor. After Baby re-occupied the house at the return of peace in 1815, he began to develop his waterfront property. He operated a ferry service from his river frontage. The site of the house and its association with the waterfront continue to represent development of the Canadian shore opposite Detroit in the 1700s and early 1800s.
Sources: Building Analysis Form, March 1997; François Baby House National Historic Site of Canada Commemorative Integrity Statement, April 24, 2002; Alan Douglas, Mansion to Museum: The François Baby House and its Times; Occasional Paper No. 5. Essex County Historical Society, 1989.
Key character defining elements that reflect the 1812 heritage value of the François Baby House include the:
- rubble stone foundation
- back of the fireplace in the basement
- two end walls
- north wall
- wooden timber supports under the north entrance
Key character defining elements that reflect the 1948 heritage value include its:
- two-storey structure
- symmetrical design
- cedar shingles
- lateral gable roof
- English bond brick (partial)
- twelve over twelve sash windows
- central hall plan