François Baby Residence:How it became Windsor's Community
the early years of the 19th century it must have been increasingly
apparent to François Baby that he was in need of a new house.
The one he had inherited (from his mother, Suzanne Reaume Baby),
had been built perhaps half a century before, and it was showing
its age. His family was growing rapidly, with a new child arriving
every year or two (twelve in all). But there was one more reason,
possibly left unspoken: rivalry with his brother Jacques. It must
have galled Francois that in 1807 Jacques acquired the splendid
mansion that had been built in 1798 by the merchant Alexander Duff,
at Mill and Russell Streets in the new town of Sandwich, a little
downstream at the bend in the River."
to Museum: the Francois Baby House and its Times, R. Alan Douglas,
Occasional Paper No. 5, Essex County Historical Society, 1989
not to be outdone by his brother, François Baby commenced
construction of his new house in the spring of 1812 but work was
halted in July with the start of the War of 1812.
property was commandeered for the use of an invading American army.
The position of the house was crucial: not only would it allow them
a convenient location to plan for an invasion of Fort Malden downriver
in Amherstburg, it was strategic to Fort Lernoult directly opposite
in Detroit. Several hundred soldiers pitched their tents in the
orchards and gardens around the house while senior officers occupied
sustained by the Baby house during its brief occupation (by summer's
end Detroit was once again in the hands of the British) embittered
Baby towards the Americans.
Americans plundered everything I had, even what was secreted five
miles back of my house˛For these losses, I was but poorly recompensed."
managed to repair and complete his three-story house before winter.
Built in the Georgian style with two rows of symmetrical windows
and another row of dormer windows, the house had thick brick walls
and rivaled brother's Jacques in size and elegance.
the war (and possibly before) several ferry operations sprang up,
including one owned by Baby, in the landing area to provide convenient
access to Detroit. By 1831, the 'name' The Ferry had appeared to
distinguish this area from Sandwich.
with the arrival that year of Scottish businessman James Dougall
who opened a store on Baby's wharf, the community began to grow.
road in front of Baby's house was straightened to become Sandwich
Street (now Riverside Drive) and a village plot was laid out on
Baby's frontage. On August 6, 1832, the first sale of an urban lot
area began to be referred to as Richmond or Richmond Landing. In
1835, another plot was subdivided by Joseph McDougall at McDougall
Street and was referred to as South Detroit.
September 10,1836 during a meeting at Hutton's Tavern, the name
Windsor was agreed upon for the entire community. (Other possible
names included Bellevue and even Babylon!)
Demolition A Threat
ensuing years were not kind to the Baby House a fire in 1850
caused considerable damage and Baby did not have the energy to do
much to restore his home. After his death in 1852, the house was
passed down to his son Edmond who made several major structural
changes including reducing it to two stories.
changes by future owners significantly altered the exterior of the
structure the addition of bay windows and gingerbread trim
transformed it into a "Victorian" dwelling. In 1930, the house was
abandoned and soon became a virtual ruin.
1933, George MacDonald, a Windsor merchant with a growing collection
of local historical artifacts, wrote to Baby's great granddaughter
in Detroit asking her if she would sell the house for museum purposes.
he did not receive permission from her, when the house reverted
to the City of Windsor for non-payment of taxes at the end of the
decade MacDonald got his wish.
it wasn't until 1948 that restoration of the house began. The Windsor
Historic Sites Association was formed that year to help facilitate
the restoration and accepted title to the property for a token one
the original plans, the work was based on research of what the house
may have looked like when it was built although the ten feet removed
by Edmond Baby was never restored.
urban development among other things, including the proposed Cleary
Auditorium, threatened it. In 1956, Hiram Walker's & Sons Ltd.
stepped in with funds to save the museum. (Interesting fact: the
exhibition galleries are lined with cypress saturated with Canadian
Club salvaged from Hiram Walker's old fermenting vats!)
donations allowed for successful completion of the project and The
Hiram Walker Historical Museum opened its doors in 1958.
by the City of Windsor Library Board, and with the entire MacDonald
Historical Collection as its nucleus, the Baby House has become
an important landmark in the downtown Windsor urban landscape.
Curator Janet Cobban, in charge of the museum's collection for the
past five years, feels that the building existence is a miracle.
"It was a narrow escape," says Cobban.
very fact that the museum was so close to being destroyed so many
times, adds a great deal to its significance."
While important historical buildings in Windsor are threatened or
continue to be pulled down (such as the entire Norwich Block, also
known as Richmond Landing), the significance of what is now known
as Windsor's Community Museum, can't even be measured.
only has a historical gem been preserved, symbolizing the very roots
of Windsor, but an every growing historical collection- at last
count, 14,000 three dimensional artifacts plus extensive holdings
of maps, photographs, documents etc.- has a fitting "home".
to three hundred items are added to the museum's collection each
year, but most of them are small objects, photos etc. that don't
take up much space (an issue in such a small building).
year the museum mounts approximately 6 exhibits in the François
Baby House plus additional offsite exhibits for special events,
libraries, travel centres, etc.
addition to the new permanent exhibit that opens next winter, other
plans for 2001 include: French Footprints Along the Detroit River
(early French families celebrate 300 years since Cadillac's arrival)
Local History Alive! Become a Member or, donate! Membership money
or other money raised by Windsor Historic Sites pays for repairs
to the Baby House or is donated to the Museum for a specific exhibit
or program and is separate from the Museum's operating budget.
you would like to donate to the museum or become a member, call
253-1812, e.mail email@example.com
or, visit the museum at 254 Pitt Street West.