This short post is about the lasting influence of the William Barrett family on the small town of Port Hope Ontario, from their heritage Octagon House still standing today to their former milling and other industrial endeavors of yesterday. William Barrett built the historic Octagon House on Martha Street circa 1856, designed by Orson Squire Fowler, an American writer, phrenologist and amateur architect. Fowler wrote a book “The Octagon House – A Home for All” in which he declared, “The troubles of the American nation would be over if everyone would live in an octagon house, a family cannot help but be content and happy.” Years later, an economic depression, two floods and a massive fire destroyed the flour mill and severely crippled the Barrett family fortunes.
William Barrett (1784-1861) left Bathpoole, Cornwall England in 1831 to launch a milling operation in Canada. Leaving the milling business in England he arrived in Canada with his wife Elizabeth and children. Building two factories, one on either side of the Ganaraska River at Barrett Street, one included a saw mill including a wagon and carriage business with an extensive blacksmith shop, the other a grist and flour mill. By 1854 with his first grist mill on the east side of Cavan Street, his ventures extended along the Ganaraska River and extended from Cavan Street on the west and to Ontario Street to the east and north to Martha on the north. The descendants of William Barrett Sr. William Jr. (1817-1875) operated the mills with his father and then his son Harold (1858-1908) succeeded him into the early 1900’s.
According an article from the Guide, July 1853: “William Barrett’s extensive water privilege upon which can be found a number of factories of a first class and there is sufficient water power for as many more. Mr. Barrett has in connection within his own department, on the west side of the river, wagon and carriage making machinery for doing all parts of the work; sawing and planing the felloes, turning the spokes and axletrees, boring machinery etc. which is connected to an extensive blacksmith establishment. In addition to this machinery there are upon the premises two or more bedstead and chair factories, also several turning lathes which Mr. Barrett has leased to different individuals. There here as well is a carding and cloth dressing establishment upon a very large scale. Mr. Barrett has also an extensive saw mill in full operation, also machinery rented by enterprising tenants for sash making, and fanning mills and threshing machines. There are in addition two cylinder planing machines which have active employment. We may state here that one of these was manufactured by Messrs. Barrett and Hamlin at about one fourth the cost of the imported article and we are informed that it does the work equally speedily as well. Mr. Barrett is about to erect a three story brick building to be dedicated to cabinet making.”
William Barrett Jr. constructed the original ten townhouses (22-42) on Barrett Street in the early 1860’s to provide accommodation for the English labourers and their families brought to Canada to work in the nearby mills. Harold Barrett, grandson of William Sr. built the eleventh townhouse for himself around 1892 after selling the family home, the Octagon to the Passy family. According to Fowler’s principles, the original row-house kitchens were in the basements were the extra- large windows allowed plenty of air and light, to ensure the health of the females and domestic help in the houses. The row-houses all have large principle rooms, very high ceilings and pine floors. The first ten houses were identical to each other but the eleventh home built by Herald closest to the river was larger with an exposed west wall and slightly different bricks.