Description of Historic Place
Erchless Estate, at 8 Navy Street, is located in the Town of Oakville overlooking the north shore of Lake Ontario and is adjacent to Oakville's harbour and Sixteen Mile Creek. The 1.6-hectare estate, now the Oakville Museum, consists of a number of structures, including a group of connected brick buildings, that create a focal point – 'The Big House', an 1858 Italianate style residence; an 1856 Classical Revival style 'Customs House'; and the 1835 brick 'Store' (with 1839 extension). Also on site is a significant 1898 Arts and Crafts style coach house known as the 'Lodge'. Landscaping on the property represents a variety of periods and includes stone walls and rock gardens.
The entire property, and specifically the exterior of the three clustered brick buildings, is protected by an Ontario Heritage Trust conservation easement agreement. The property is also designated by the Town of Oakville under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act (By-law No. 197).
Located on the shore of Lake Ontario and adjacent to Oakville's harbour on Sixteen Mile Creek, the property recalls the town's original Customs House location and Port of Entry status. Set on a knoll above the harbour, and now amidst the town's historic residential section know as Old Oakville, the property dominates the immediate area and serves as a park-like feature for the neighbourhood with its mature trees, broad lawns and period plantings. On the grounds are landscape features from a variety of periods including the 1921-24 re-design by the important landscaping firm of Dunnington-Grubb.
Erchless Estate is historically significant as the home to six generations of the Chisholm family, and from the 1830s to 1910 was the site of Oakville's Customs House. Col. William Chisholm (1788-1842), a prominent Burlington merchant and shipbuilder, purchased the property as part of a 388.5-hectare tract from the Crown in 1827 to establish a port, shipyard and town. Chisholm soon developed the port as the first privately owned harbour in Upper Canada, handling substantial trade from Hamilton, Toronto and foreign ports. Chisholm's harbour led to its designation as a Port of Entry in 1834, establishing the first permanent government presence in Oakville. Chisholm was appointed to the post of Customs Collector while also serving as Oakville's first postmaster. In 1835 Chisholm built a brick structure on the estate, which initially functioned as a general store, and with an 1839 addition, later as his residence. As the estate's oldest building, the brick store may represent Oakville's earliest masonry building. In 1856, a Classical Revival style customs house was added to the property under the supervision of Robert Kerr Chisholm who had assumed the role of Customs Collector after the death of his father, Col. Chisholm. The rear portion of the new Customs House housed a branch of the Bank of Toronto. Construction of the Big House in 1858, completed the cluster of brick buildings which now forms the focal point of the estate. Erchless Estate, named after the Chisholm's clan seat in Invernesshire, Scotland, remained in the tenure of Chisholm family until the 1960s.
Erchless Estate reflects a variety of architecture dating from the 1830s to 1898, providing the property with an evolutionary quality. The focal point of the property is a cluster of high-quality brick buildings, now joined. The earliest of these buildings, is the two-storey, gabled brick structure, known as the 'Store' which later served as a residence for Col. Chisholm. Though restrained in design with few stylistic pretensions, it was undoubtedly the town's most substantial building at the time of its construction. Adjacent stands the 1856 Customs House, an excellent example of understated Classical Revival design. Small pediments above the roofline lend the building a temple-like character, while finishes such as fine-pointed and margined stone detailing contribute to its superior quality. Completing the cluster is the large, 1858 residence, known as the Big House. Influenced by the popularity of the Italianate style, the solid, square house displays a bracketed cornice and rooftop 'widow's walk'. Unique window treatments are comprised of curved, dressed limestone lintels topped by cornice type crowns. On the north-west side of the property is a significant example of Arts and Crafts style architecture, designed by the firm Dick and Wilson, known as the Lodge. Originally this low, rambling structure contained a stable, carriage house and living quarters and then served as a garage in later years. The exterior of the shingle-clad Lodge displays eclectic and picturesque features including irregular roof slopes, eyebrow dormers, and varied wall surface treatments. Elements such as the second storey hay loft doors identify its original function.
Source: OHT Easement Files
Character defining elements that contribute to the heritage value of Erchless Estate include its:
- elevated situation adjacent to the entrance of the harbour on Sixteen Mile Creek
- residential setting amidst the homes of 'Old Oakville'
- landscaped grounds from a variety of eras with mature trees; the winding gravel drive; stone wall features such as the retaining wall with iron fence along Navy Street, gateposts with wooden gates (King Street), and the contoured driveway balustrade; elements from the 1920s redesign such as the rock gardens
- association with Col. William Chisholm, the founder of Oakville
- association with the government of the Province of Canada as a Customs House
- name, 'Erchless', which is derived from the Chisholm clan's seat in Invernesshire, Scotland.
- variety of structural and built elements of different styles and time periods which characterize the estate's evolution
- cluster of brick structures which form the focal point of the estate, including the 1835 'Store'; the 1856 'Customs House'; the 1858 'Big House'; the 1839 extension off the Store; the hyphen wall linking the Big House to the Customs House
- 1835 'Store' with rectangular, two-storey massing; cedar shingled, gable roof with return, bracketed cornices; red brick, common bond exterior walls segmental arched and flat headed windows with 6 over 6, double-hung sashes, brick lintel courses, and stone sills; tall internal chimneys with corbelled caps
- rectangular, two-storey, 1839 extension to the Store (which creates an 'L' shaped massing); cedar shingled, gable roof; red brick, exterior walls in stretcher bond; bracketed cornice (carried over to the Store); first-storey doorway with sidelights and transom; second storey veranda doorway; flat headed windows with 6 over 6, double-hung sashes, brick lintel courses, and stone sills; open, two-storey veranda with square sided, chamfered supports, and balusters
- 1856 Classical Revival style Customs House with two-storey, rectangular massing and side hall plan; low, hipped roof incorporating pediments on north and west elevations; prominent, plain cornices; red brick exterior in stretcher bond with fine-pointed and margined stone band course at the foundation; irregularly coursed stone foundation; windows with fine-pointed, margined stone lintels and sills and 6 over 6 double-hung sashes; louvered shutters; north and west doorways with three-pane transom lights; tall, internal chimneys with corbelled caps
- 1858 Italianate style Big House with its tall, two-storey, square massing and side hall plan; red brick exterior laid in stretcher bond; coursed stone foundation capped by a fine-pointed and margined stone band course; low hipped roof and widow's walk with classical balustrades; tall, internal chimneys with corbelled caps; prominent, bracketed cornice; segmental arched windows with 6 over 6, double-hung sashes, fine-pointed and margined stone sills, entablature type window crowns, and louvered shutters; front entrance with sidelights and transom lights; west elevation door to veranda; the red brick hyphen wall with door serving as a link to the Customs House; front entrance terrace with classical balustrades and pedestals.