Kemptville’s Lost Heritage

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In the weeks leading up to Canada Day, we are presenting this series on some of the lost buildings of the town of Kemptville, centres of the community for many years and full of history and characters, the foundation for the North Grenville of today.

Maley Block / Rotary Park, Corner of Clothier and Prescott Streets

Where Rotary Park is today, was once another major centre of commerce and activity in Kemptville. Thomas Baldwin set up a furniture-making business on the river side in the 1830’s, using a horse-powered lathe. In 1834, William Bradbury opened a small store on the corner of Clothier and Prescott, and it was taken over in the 1850’s by Thomas Maley. Maley was a successful financier and entrepreneur, and over the years added to the Maley Block until it was a three-story edifice covering the entire block from the bridge to Clothier Street, with offices and stores facing on to both streets. A history of the village records that “The building was then a very small frame structure but was enlarged from year to year until there were three stories facing on each street, one of which he always occupied as an office. He was a very careful and successful financier and amassed a large fortune. He loaned money and did a general banking business at a time when the current rate of interest was exceedingly high. He owned a large quantity of land on Asa and Thomas streets, on the south side, on which he erected a very fine stone residence…He died in 1890″.

Maley’s grandson, William Fraser, took over the building in 1907. He and his brother had been operating Fraser and Brothers Gents Furnishing and Tailor Shop, with a large sewing room for the staff of women and girls employed, since the autumn of 1892. The Block contained many enterprises over its history, and it seems that every kind of enterprise located in it at one time or another. Some time in the early 1870’s Alexander McPherson opened a job printing office there, and he remained for 10 or 12 years. The first dentist’s office in Kemptville, run by Dr. G. E. Hanna, was located in the Fraser Block too.

Hamilton Bustard, Watchmaker and jeweler, opened there in 1896, before moving to a storefront on Prescott Street. The Orange Order occupied a hall above the tailor’s shop from 1917 until the fire which destroyed the building in 1922.

Perhaps the most important use of the Maley Block was when the first Public Library in Kemptville opened its doors there. In 1903, it was described in a history of the time:
“Another important institution of which the town boasts is a free public library. The first library in Kemptville was instituted about 1870 under the auspices of a Mechanics Institute and continued for several years, when the organization became defunct and the library allowed to go down. The books, however, reverted to the corporation and were for many years stored in the town hall. In the autumn of 1900 a number of citizens felling the need of an institution that would provide proper reading matter, not only for themselves but also for their children, organized a library board in accordance with the Ontario statute. The books of the old library were handed over to them and a large number of new ones were purchased and provisions made by the council for its maintenance. It contains about 2000 volumes selected from the standard authors with great care. All residents of the town have access to the books when duly vouched for by a property holder. It is largely patronized and is doing a vast amount of good. It occupies large and commodious quarters in the Fraser block, where is also provided a reading room which is supplied with the leading papers and magazines.”

In 1922, a fire broke out in a meat shop in the Block and the entire wood frame structure was quickly reduced to ashes. It was never rebuilt. A gas station stood on the site from 1927 until 1974. Grenville Robinson operated it as the Imperial Oil Gas Truck Service Station until 1948, when it was taken over by Harry VanAllen who renamed it the Supertest Gas Station. In 1953, Joe Perry came from Oxford Mills and carried on the business until it closed.

The Town of Kemptville took over the lot, and in 2000, as a Millenium Project, it was adopted by the Kemptville Rotary Club, with the support of local businesses and individuals, and they renovated it into the picturesque Park we have today. The flower beds are maintained by the North Grenville Horticultural Society. A quiet and peaceful place, in contrast to the decades of busy commercial and social activities that characterised the Maley Block.

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