Description of Historic Place
The building at 221 Mill Street, commonly known as the Duff-Baby House, is situated at the intersection of Mill and Russell Streets in the northwest end of the City of Windsor (formerly the Town of Sandwich). The two-and-a-half-storey Georgian building was constructed in 1798 for Scottish merchant Alexander Duff and faces to the west, looking directly towards the Detroit River.
In January 1979, ownership of the Duff-Baby House was transferred to the Ontario Heritage Trust, thereby conferring protection to the heritage elements of the house and the scenic character of the property. The Duff-Baby House is also designated by the City of Windsor under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act (By-law 5749).
Situated at the intersection of Mill and Russell Streets, the Duff-Baby House is located within the historic core of the former Town of Sandwich. Its visual relationship with the Detroit River demonstrates the importance of the river in the late 18th century fur trade and the form of the remaining property reflects the French method of land division with long, narrow, one-acre plots lined along the river's edge. Although the property formerly boasted a store, a stable, a wharf, and an orchard alongside the main house, none of these structures remain. Current accessory uses are limited to The Duff-Baby Interpretive Centre which is located slightly south of the main house.
The Duff-Baby House was a late-18th century mercantile establishment and it played a role as a military headquarters during the War of 1812. Many influential people have resided within its walls during the 19th and 20th centuries.
The house was constructed in 1798 for Alexander Duff, a Scottish fur-trader and a member of the Detroit fur-trading firm of Sheppard, Leith and Duff. Duff operated his business from the house for nine years, but decided to relocate to Amherstburg in 1807 when the fur-trading industry in Sandwich began to decline. Upon Duff's departure, the house was sold to James Baby, a prominent Upper Canadian politician, military officer, and descendent of an important seigniorial family in Quebec. As a colonel of the militia during the War of 1812, Baby was one of 600 soldiers captured by American troops. The house survived attack, occupation and looting by the Americans, but required numerous repairs following the war's end. Subsequent to the death of James Baby in 1833, the house was occupied by his son Charles, who served as Mayor of Sandwich from 1859 to 1866. Other prominent owners in the history of the house include James van Cleve, a Great Lakes ship captain and accomplished amateur artist who bought the house in 1879, and Dr. William Beasley, a respected local doctor who began residency in the house in 1909. The house remained in the Beasley family until it was transferred to the Ontario Heritage Trust in January 1979. The house currently stands as the oldest building in Windsor and one of the few remaining 18th century buildings in Ontario.
The Duff-Baby House is one of the best preserved examples of Georgian domestic architecture in Ontario. While the layout and proportions are typical of Georgian design, the house also contains various characteristics common to late-18th century French Colonial architecture, such as the timber wall framing with brick infill (colombage briqueté) and the steeply-pitched and dormered roof. The house has experienced numerous changes over its long history, and photographic evidence has documented the existence of at least four different verandas and three successive cladding materials (clapboard, stucco, and asbestos shingles). From 1991 to 1995, the Ontario Heritage Trust carried out a restoration project to recover the appearance of the house to the years following the War of 1812. As part of the restoration work, an addition was built on the south side of the house in reference to the kitchen wing (c. 1800) that was destroyed by fire in 1908.
The grounds of the Duff-Baby House have experienced several seasons of archaeological excavations and the Ontario Heritage Trust has recovered over 75,000 artifacts from the property since 1988. Archaeological work has also helped to reveal characteristics about the evolution of the landscape, including the location and character of the house's front porch, cisterns, stone drains, kitchen wing, and outbuildings. In the mid-1990s, the information gained from the archaeological research was utilized in the restoration of the house.
Source: Trust Property Files, Ontario Heritage Trust.
Character defining elements that contribute to the heritage value of the Duff-Baby House include its:
- central location within the historic core of the former Town of Sandwich
- positioning on the original French-style grid pattern of the Town of Sandwich as laid by land surveyor Abraham Iredell in 1797
- its position on a westerly sloped site moving downhill towards the Detroit River
- view of the Detroit River from the front of the house
- over 75,000 artifacts uncovered on the property
- overall Georgian domestic design with French-influenced framing and construction technique
- subtly proportioned symmetrical five-bay front (west) facade of the central house
- timber post and beam structural system with brick infill (colombage briqueté) and a coursed rubble limestone foundation
- original 1798 beaded clapboard cladding of the restored front facade
- wooden pediment of the central entrance on the main facade which surmounts an architrave with Greek key border and small fluted pilasters
- semicircular fanlight of the central door on the main facade with its unusual flanking side windows possessing 9-over-9 glazing patterns
- double-hung sash windows in all elevations, with 12-over-12 glazing patterns on the main floor and 12-over-8 glazing patterns on the second floor
- single, central, shed-roofed dormer window on the eastern roof slope
- decorative wood work such as the dentil trimmed cornice, the ground floor window sills and surrounds of solid walnut
- steeply-pitched gable roof with brick chimneys at both gable ends and cedar-shingle cladding
- typical interior symmetrical Georgian floor plan with central hallway flanked by large rooms
- original three-storey staircase with slender balusters and simple balustrade
- colour scheme, c. 1816, applied to the woodwork of all the rooms in the house (with the exception of the living room, which has been restored to its early 20th century appearance)
- Regency-inspired and Classically-inspired mantles
- cobblestone floors in the basement
- remnants of an original exterior doorway on the west side of the basement (now blocked in) through which goods were brought in from ships anchored at the nearby wharf
- “Cross and Bible” paneled walnut doors of the main floor
- iron ceiling hook in the hall of the first floor (possibly installed in the early 20th century to commemorate the fur trading heritage of the house)
- original 1798, exceptionally wide, random-width wood plank flooring of the third floor
- built-in walnut cupboards of the third floor
- ladder to the attic
- original attic rafters displaying adze marks and ends fastened by oak pins and marked with Roman numerals for assembly purposes