This post was originally to be called ‘Belgrave, the Helm Connection’ but few would recognize either name. The majority of Port Hope’s residents will however be familiar with the name Greenwood Tower. John Helm Jr. (1816-1912) was best known around Port Hope as the builder of Belgrave House located at 162 Peter Street and its famous water tower. Belgrave is a beautiful large brick Italianate style Victorian house built in 1866. Although an amazing mansion, this post was written more for the interesting story of the famous Water Tower and the early industrialist that built it.
John Helm Jr. built the water tower shortly after constructing the mansion on his thirty acre estate on Peter Street north of Lake Ontario. Built in 1877, from red bricks said to be kilned on the property, the four storey tower enclosed a five thousand gallon water container which was used to supply the house and property with running water. The water for the tower was supplied from the lake by a steam engine pump to a reservoir tank ten feet wide and approximately fifty feet high. Access to the fourth storey is by a wooden spiral staircase. Gravity-fed underground pipes provided irrigation for his five acres of lawn and gardens and provided water in case of fire. A large water storage tank was also installed in the attic of the mansion as a back-up to the tower water supply. When the tower water level dropped, a cantilever devise automatically switched over to the attic supply. Thomas Little on Pine Street, a prosperous boot & shoe dealer was the only other person in town pumping water to his home. Belgrave, the Helm estate remained in the family until 1920 and the tower today is historically designated.
In 1872, the town fathers were investigating the possibility of establishing a system of underground water pipes for fighting fires. Helm offered to install the water pipes for the Municipal Waterworks and after two years of procrastinating and a series of major fires the town agreed to the offer. Helm was to lease the power from his dam for fire- fighting. Helm then completed the job by supplying a rotary water pump and turbine in the town water works building adjacent to his dam across from the town hall. He constructed nearly a mile of fourteen hydrants along John, Queen, Ontario and Walton Streets as far west as Brown Street. It is interesting here to note that John Jr. learned his trade from his father John Helm Sr. at his foundry located in Cobourg. This foundry was known as the ‘Ontario’ or ‘the old Helm Foundry’ when James Crossen Jr. took it over and later created the Crossen Car Company, manufacturing rail cars.
John Jr. was a prominent local businessman and he established a foundry and machine shop on Mill Street in 1849. Here he produced steam engines, boilers, mowers, threshing and reaping machines. The foundry was later moved to Queen and Peter Streets and the machinery was water powered by the Helm’s Dam on the Ganaraska River. As a machinist, in 1880 he entered a partnership with Robert Nicholls doing business as Helm & Nicholls Machinists. This business now operated several lathes for turning and planing machines for both iron & wood. At one time the mill employed 20 hands and all machinery was later propelled by a steam engine, likely because the mill pond dam was damaged by one of the many severe floods to plague the Ganaraska River. An 1858 Board of Agriculture paper proclaimed the Helm Foundry was producing the best reaping machine and the best mowing machine in Canada, in competition with H.A. Massey of Newcastle Ontario. An early advertisement in the Province of Ontario Gazetteer read “Great Economy in Water Power! The American Double Turbine Ohio Water Wheel Manufactured at Port Hope, Ontario by John Helm Jr. for particulars send for circular”. J.Helm was the Treasurer of the local Benevolent Society for more than twenty years after its establishment by another famous local citizen William Craig in 1862. Helm also served as a town councillor for some years and was a devoted Mason as well.
Another historical home in Port Hope is the R. Charles Smith House, a Regency mansion circa 1858 located at 61 King Street. This house stands across the street from Charles’s father the owner of the famous Bluestone House. The Smith House was bought in 1884 by Cobourg born John Henry Helm Sr. This house is best remembered even today as the Helm House as John Henry Helm’s family and his descendants resided here from 1884 until 1968.
When Helm died in 1912 at the age of 94, he left to the County of Northumberland the land surrounding his home and one hundred thousand dollars (the equivalent of over two million today) to build a large modern hospital, as the district had only a few small hospitals, mostly in private homes. This plan never materialized because several parts of the County, including Cobourg rejected the idea of co-operation… does this sound much like things even today? The County lost the offer, the land remained with the Helm family and sixty percent of the cash went to hospitals outside the area. What was left was divided between Port Hope and Cobourg to build small hospitals of their own. Port Hope’s first hospital was located in an existing house at the corner of Hope and Ward Streets and its last, paid for by local citizens was located at 53 Wellington Street It took until 2003 before Helm’s ambitious hope for a regional hospital to be realized. The Northumberland Hills Hospital was built in Cobourg, Ontario.
The Greenwood Motel with forty rooms was built to the west of the property in the mid 1970’s and is now used as small residential units. The three storey Tower of Hope Retirement Residence, an assisted living facility is situated on the east side of the property.