Description of Historic Place
The building at 18 Spencer Street East, commonly known as The Poplars, is situated near the northeastern corner of the intersection between Spencer and Division Streets in the Town of Cobourg. The two-storey wood and stucco building was constructed in 1827 by John Spencer and is characterized by a Regency design.
The exterior of the building, select interior elements, and the scenic character of the property are protected by an Ontario Heritage Trust conservation easement. The property is also designated by the Town of Cobourg under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act (By-law 95-82).
Situated near the corner of Spencer and Division streets, The Poplars is a landmark structure in Cobourg that is visible from the community's main north-south running axis. It stands out amongst the modern commercial buildings that populate Division Street and its well-restored exterior is one of the most significant heritage resources outside of Cobourg's historic core. Despite its modern surroundings, The Poplars is located less than 100 metres away from some of Cobourg's most significant heritage properties including Victoria College (1832) and St. Michael's Roman Catholic Church (1895).
The Poplars has an early date of construction and is associated with some of Cobourg's most influential 19th century families. The land on which The Poplars stands was originally settled by Eluid Nickerson in 1798 and was sold in 1815 as a 160-acre parcel to a United Empire Loyalist named John Spencer. Spencer was the first sheriff of the Newcastle District and in 1827 constructed a residence on the site that would later be known as The Poplars. Upon the death of John Spencer in 1831, the home was inherited by his son, George Spencer. George was very active in the development of the Methodist Church in Cobourg and in the early 1830s he offered the Church twelve acres of land on which to build an academy. His generous gesture resulted in the construction of Upper Canada College, which opened in 1832 and was later renamed Victoria College. In 1843, George Spencer sold the property to his brother-in-law, Dr. John Beatty, a man who held several prestigious positions during his career including Professor of Chemistry at Victoria College, Member of Town Council and Mayor of Cobourg. In 1853, the property changed hands once again, and was sold to another prominent Cobourg citizen named George Daintry. Daintry also served as Mayor for a short period of time but was more renowned for his industrial initiatives as the director and president of the Cobourg-Peterborough Railway and the man responsible for operating the first ferries on Lake Ontario between Cobourg and Rochester. The Poplars stands as the oldest surviving house in Cobourg with its original exterior character still intact.
The Poplars marks a transitional period between the simpler, more functional villas of the 1810s and1820s with the more sophisticated expressions of the 1830s. The symmetry and simplicity of the wood-framed original house is derived from the earliest Georgian style, but the proportions and details are more characteristic of Regency design. The compact regularity of the form, which is common in early 19th century villas, has been accented by the addition of two one-storey bow windows that flank the main entrance on the south façade. Bow windows were advocated in Regency design for both their light-collecting properties and as a means of adding variety to wall planes. However, the squatness and heaviness of the windows on The Poplars seems to suggest that they were an afterthought rather than an integral part of the design. The bold entrance on the south facade demonstrates a tradition that became fashionable after the War of 1812 to match the mouldings of doors, sidelights and transoms. Although the ground floor of the interior retains much of its original charm, the second floor was stripped of its historic integrity during mid-20th century renovations to convert the building into apartments.
Source: Conservation Easement Files, Ontario Heritage Trust
Character defining elements that contribute to the heritage value of The Poplars include its:
- combined Georgian and Regency character
- unique overall form of the building resulting from a number of early additions
- combination of cladding in stucco and wooden flush board
- main entrance on the south façade which is sheltered by a portico and contains “in antis” slender Doric columns spaced to match the rhythm of the door and side lights
- two bow additions on the south façade which flank the main entrance, with each showing an exposed fieldstone foundation and three symmetrically located double-hung, twelve-over-twelve sash windows
- one-storey covered veranda on the western elevation of the centre block that can be accessed from the interior of the house by two sets of French doors
- addition at the northwest corner of the building which is rectangular in plan, clad in wood siding and contains a rear gable roof with projecting eaves and central gables
- second-storey round-headed windows beneath the central gable on the east and west elevations of the northwest addition
- cedar-shingled, medium-sloped hip roof of the centre block with two chimneys and wide-eaves
- interior plaster detailing and cornices on the first floor
- door and window surrounds on the first floor
- fireplaces with stone hearths and classically-inspired wooden mantels
- location along Cobourg's main north-south access, slightly outside of the urban core
- proximity to other heritage resources outside of the urban core