Description of Historic Place
The property at 1754 Old Mill Road, known as Homer Watson House, is situated on Mill Road, west of Roos Street in the City of Kitchener. The one-and-a-half-storey brick building was designed in the Gothic-inspired vernacular style and was built in c. 1850.
The heritage character and integrity of the exterior of the property and parts of the interior of the building, including the frieze on the interior studio walls, painted by Homer Watson, are protected by an Ontario Heritage Trust conservation easement (1991). The property is also designated by the City of Kitchener under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act (By-law 80-197).
Backing onto the Grand River Valley, Homer Watson House is in a residential neighbourhood on a spacious plot of land that is enhanced by mature trees, English country gardens, a stone coach house and three wooden structures that provide studio space. To the northeast of the property is the historic Doon Presbyterian Church. The house is built on land that was part of the Doon Mill run by Adam Ferrie Jr. (1813-49), the founder of the community of Doon. Although the modern Doon Heritage Crossroads is located 1.5 km upstream from Homer Watson House, historically the house was considered part of Doon.
Homer Watson House is associated with Canadian artist Homer Watson, who was born in Doon, now part of the City of Kitchener, in 1855. The Doon landscape is the theme of the majority of Watson's art. As a boy he showed artistic potential and left to study art, in Toronto, in 1875, working for the Norman-Fraser Photographic Studio. Watson did not receive any formal artistic training but associated with fellow artists John Fraser, Henry Sandham, Henri Perré and Lucius O'Brien.
Watson married Roxanna Betchell, in 1881, and they settled in Doon, purchasing the house at 1754 Old Mill Road in 1883. In 1887, through the benefaction of Oscar Wilde and the Marquis of Lorne, both admirers of Watson's work, Homer and Roxanna Watson went to England where Homer Watson would develop his artistic skills, including dry point etching, which he learned from James Whistler. After returning to Canada, in 1890, Watson's pastoral style was almost exclusively Canadian and most of this work was inspired by the landscape within a few miles of his house. Watson exhibited his art at the prestigious Cottiers Gallery in New York, in 1906 and in 1907, and became the founding president of the Canadian Art Club. Watson also served as the vice-president of the Royal Canadian Academy, in 1914, and, from 1918-22, he was president of the Academy. Watson painted at the house on Old Mill Road for 47 years, until his death, in 1936. In 1947, the house was sold to Ross and Bess Hamilton and, in 1948, they started the Doon School of Fine Arts, which operated in the house. Federick Horsman Varley (1881-1968), a member of the Group of Seven, taught at the Doon School of Fine Arts from 1948-49. The house has an enduring relationship with artists and the study of fine arts. Homer Watson was recognized as a National Historic Person of Canada by the Federal Government in 1955.
Homer Watson House has a unique gallery space, added by Watson, with an unusual combination of Flemish and English Common bond on all the exterior walls and paired windows. It is notable that the house was built in a vernacular Scottish style with Gothic Revival details, rather than the Late Georgian style used more extensively, in the area, at the time of its construction. Watson had an extension built onto the studio, at the back of the house, in 1893, and, in 1906, an exhibition gallery was added on the south side that more than doubled the amount of floor space. The gallery has a square clerestory-lit space with an unusual cove ceiling. In the two rooms of the studio, Watson painted a 0.8m high crown frieze on the walls. Rendered in brown and ochre, the frieze spells out the names of 11 European artists: Turner, Constable, Corot, Rousseau, Gainsborough, Daubigny, Diaz, Millet, Ruysdael, Rosa and Bastien-Lepage. Small landscape panels in the style of each artist are painted adjacent the letters of the artist's name. On the exterior, the buff-coloured brick with pink mortar compliments the reddish-coloured brick of the original house.
Source: OHT Easement Files.
Character defining elements that contribute to the heritage value of the Homer Watson House include its:
- Gothic Revival details of the vernacular Scottish style
- large gallery wing (added by Watson in 1906)
- fish-scale shingles on the portico
- bay window on the west side of the front façade of the main floor
- window well bay in the basement at the front of the house
- medieval revival dormer on the second storey on the south east side of the house
- French casement windows on the second floor of the north side of the house
- brick quoins on the corners of the house
- brick window surrounds
- jack arches over the windows in studios A and B
- 12 over 12 double hung wood sash windows in studio A
- 4 over 4 double hung wood sash windows in studio B
- clerestory windows on the lantern above the gallery wing
- paired wood columns on both sides of the front porch
- studios A and B (added by Watson)
- frieze painted by Watson in Studio A
- tin ceiling tiles in studio B
- egg and dart moulding in the studios
- broad pine floor boards in the studios
- high ceilings in studios
- Victorian faux finish wood graining on the door surrounds in the studios
- painters' trunks in the studios
- high baseboards in the pre-1883 part of the house
- gallery space added by Watson
- cove ceiling with tin tiles in the gallery
- low, elaborate baseboards in the gallery
- barn timbers that were re-used under the gallery as supports
- tongue and groove pine floor boards
- faux-marble fireplace on the west side of the pre-1883 ground floor
- box locks on the second floor
- picturesque view from Watson's studio window into the landscape
- picturesque view from the stone pillars towards the stone coach house and gardens
- picturesque view from the south west corner of the property to the northeast corner
- coach house
- stone walls and stone pillars on the property
- small wood-framed studios on the property
- broad spacious lawns
- fountain ruins
- mature trees, shrubbery and other major plantings
- English-style gardens
- stand of native trees that frame the at the north side of the property along the edge of the Grand River valley