History Takes Flight: A walking tour of Macaulay Heritage Park and Birdhouse City
Part cultural history lesson, part architecture primer and part outdoor fun, this walking tour offers education and entertainment that can be enjoyed outside, anytime, at no cost.
Note: The tour can be started either from Macaulay Heritage Park or from Macaulay Mountain Conservation Area/Birdhouse City. The two sites are joined by Whattam’s Memorial Walkway, a wide unpaved walking path. This tour is intended to be family-friendly but includes information about graves and the on-site cemetery. Discretion with young children advised.
Macaulay Heritage Park
Located on the southern edge of Picton, Macaulay Heritage Park consists of land and buildings built by Reverend William Macaulay, whose vision and leadership helped shape the development of Prince Edward County.
William Macaulay was the son of Robert Macaulay whose family originally came from Scotland. They moved to Ireland, where Robert was born, and then to New York in 1764. He landed in Cataraqui (Kingston) as a United Empire Loyalist around 1784, having supported the British Crown during the American Revolution. In 1791, Robert married Ann Kirby, who came from the Crown Point area in Upper New York State and had been born in Yorkshire.
Robert died in 1800 when his son William was just six years old. William inherited 400 acres of land (including this property) that his father and Thomas Markland had purchased from Lieutenant Moore Hoverton at a Sheriff’s sale in 1790 for the sum of 300 pounds.
William went to school in Cornwall and Kingston before going to Oxford to take his ministry. His teacher and mentor was the renowned Bishop John Strachan. After being ordained in 1818 Macaulay claimed this inherited land. Macaulay had it laid out as a village, naming it Picton after General Sir Thomas Picton who had been killed in the Battle of Waterloo. Street names (Portland, York and Pitt) were all heroes of the day. His land was used to build the neighbourhood’s first school, Picton’s first Roman Catholic Church and the County Courthouse. In 1837, the adjacent village of Hallowell on the north side of the Bay was amalgamated with Picton.
Old St. Mary Magdalene Church and Graveyard
Stop #1: Front of Church
Welcome to Picton’s “old” Church of St. Mary Magdalene (sometimes known as the English Church), the first Anglican church in Prince Edward County. In 1823-25, Macaulay used his own money to build it and was appointed its first rector upon completion.
This building is very likely the first one in the area that had been made of brick and it is also one of the oldest surviving institutional buildings in Prince Edward County. Over its long history, many additions and renovations have been made to the church. The portion with yellow brick walls, visible from both the interior and exterior, indicates the original structure. The limestone sections were added in the 1870’s. The notable large Black Locust trees on the property were said to have been planted in Macaulay’s time, around the 1850s.
The “new” Church of St. Mary Magdalene was constructed on Main Street in 1912, and while this old church was maintained, it was used only rarely and virtually sat vacant for the next fifty years.
In 1967, the church building was declared unsafe and was turned over to the County for use as a museum. It reopened six years later after extensive renovation and repairs. In 1974, the municipality purchased Macaulay House, and the grounds were combined with the church to form Macaulay Heritage Park.
The most recent of many renovations to this building was completed in 2011 to enhance the church’s function as a museum and to preserve heritage features. It also addressed many of the structural issues that had plagued the church’s earlier days. The building now serves as office and work space for museum staff, in addition to providing exhibition and programming space for the visiting public.
Stop #2 – Graveyard surrounding the Church
The first known burial in this cemetery predates the church, taking place in 1819. The first 20 or so burials were marked by wooden crosses, though those have now been lost to time. There are more than 300 burials in total now, with roughly half of that number still marked with gravestones.
Most of the gravestones are of mottled grey and white marble. The marble may have originated in the Renfrew, Madoc and Napanee areas. Limestone, though used here only rarely as a headstone, is the typical base into which the marble stones were slotted. The limestone is of the Black River type, from Kingston. Despite cracking, sinking, sun, acid rain, erosion, moss, vandalism, moisture, gravity, frost and faulty repairs, the remaining gravestones are in “fair” shape considering their age.
Carvers from Port Hope, Belleville, Cobourg and Kingston as well as Picton itself have work represented here. Carvers were typically illiterate, and simply copied the minister’s information as to what the stone was to say.
Stop #3 – A Most Prominent Family: Grave of Samuel Merrill (along the left side of the Church, midway)
Samuel Merrill was Picton’s first lawyer, practicing here for over 50 years beginning in the mid-1820s. As two lawyers practicing in the same region, Merrill developed a friendship with Sir John A. MacDonald. He became registrar of the Surrogate Court in Prince Edward as well as Master-in-Chancery. He and his wife, Mary Edwards Hall, had 11 children, including Edwards Merrill.
Edwards was born in 1842 and became a lawyer and later a County Court Judge and Mayor of Picton. Merrill was a progressive and freethinker – a movement that held that ideas and opinions should be based on science and reason, not authority, tradition or religion. This influential movement, which lasted from the mid-1800s to early 1900s, supported women’s voting rights, and advocated for the abolishment of slavery and reforms to the medical and justice systems. Merrill was an outspoken opponent of capital punishment and helped bring about improvements to the treatment of juvenile delinquents in Canada.
Edwards Merrill and the Lazier Murder Trial Edwards Merrill was also one of over 400 local residents who took a keen interest in the fate of two men convicted of murder in the 1880s in Prince Edward County. During a botched robbery, a farm implement salesman named Peter Lazier was murdered, and Joseph Thomset and George Lowder were sentenced to hang for the crime. During their trial the only evidence brought against them was circumstantial, and Merrill, who was Mayor of Picton at the time, signed a petition requesting that their death sentence be commuted. He also wrote to Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald on behalf of the prisoners, but the Prime Minister was unmoved and the execution went ahead as scheduled on June 10, 1884. They were the only hangings ever to take place in Prince Edward County. It has long been argued that at least one of the two was wrongfully convicted.
Stop #4 Macaulay Family Plot (to right of the church, close to the back)
Reverend Macaulay is buried here with his first wife, Ann Geddes, his second wife, Charlotte Sarah Le Vesconte, and one of his daughters, Mary Rose, who died as an infant. The family rests in one of four fenced plots in the cemetery, indicating their elevated status in the community. Macaulay’s first wife, Ann, suffered from ill health for many years, well documented in family letters. She died in 1849, and Reverend Macaulay purchased a piece of expensive Italian marble for her headstone. Its quality cannot be denied as her stone, while one of the oldest in the cemetery, has stood the test of time better than the stones made of local marble. The amount of text on her stone also alludes to how beloved she was, as the more carving required, the more expensive the finished stone would be. This is why most gravestones from the 19th century included only basic inscriptions.
Stop #5 – Tragedy on Smith’s Bay: Graves of the Pierce Children (to right of the Church, midway)
These three small stones are all marked with the same death date, suggesting a truly tragic story. On July 8, 1866, the five Pierce children, William, Patience, George, David and Robert, and friends were in a canoe on Smith’s Bay (near Waupoos) with their mother Lydia and a cousin. Legend says that one of the children lost a hat over the side, and when they reached to grab it the canoe capsized. The five Pierce children perished, though their mother Lydia survived. Their father, Samuel Pierce, was a blacksmith and his grave can be seen nearby. This moving poem, written shortly after the tragedy, can be found in the book Canvas and Steam on Quinte Waters by Willis Metcalfe.
Smith's Bay Drowning Tragedy (These verses were composed by Miss M. Shannon, on the drowning of the Pierce Children in Smith's Bay, Marysburgh Twp., July 8, 1866.) Ashes to ashes, dust to dust Is man's unchanging doom; For every living being must Lie in the silent tomb. Dear friend depart, though loved so well No human power can save; How oft the solemn tolling bell Reminds us of the grave. 'Twas in the year of sixty-six, The eighth day of July, Nine started for a pleasure trip No danger seeming nigh, Upon Smith's Bay they sailed along, Until a hat was lost, Which by their efforts to regain This sad event was caused. For suddenly the boat capsized, All overboard were cast; In vain they tried to save their lives But seven of them were lost, And sad it is the think that five Belonged to Mrs. Pierce; Who shared their danger, heard their cries, But could not give relief. Upon the drifting boat she clung For three long hours or more, Supporting Michael Harrington Until they reached the shore. Their friends and neighbours gathered round When they the tidings hear; And soon their bodies all were found And claimed by parents dear. Alas, it was a painful sight To see them brought ashore, So sadly changed, so cold and white, Where all was life before. Their parents clasped them in their arms And kissed them o'er again, And long embraced their lifeless forms - None from tears refrain. George Brown, whose age was twenty-one Lay calmly sleeping there; John Harrington, about fifteen, Freed from all earthly care, Of Pierce's family Patience Ann, The mother's joy and pride, William and Robert, David, John And George lay side by side. Who can describe the mother's woe, Her anguish and despair, She almost wished she was laid low Beside her darlings there, All earthly happiness seemed gone, Her heart of hope bereft Of all their children only one Sweet little girl is left. Then soon their bodies were prepared Within the tomb to dwell; And many friends assembled there To take a last farewell. And solemnly they were conveyed From earthly home away, And in the silent dust were laid Until the Judgement day. But in a home beyond the sky When this frail life is o'er, Friends meet again in endless joy And parting is no more. Oh! let us them be warned in time; And each for death prepare, That we gain that happy clime And meet our loved ones there.
Stop #6 – Believe It or Not: Grave of William Pierce (to right of the Church, midway)
Another Pierce grave nearby is quite noteworthy. William Pierce was the son of United Empire Loyalist Patrick Pierce who fought with the 84th Regiment and came to this area in 1784. This tombstone was featured on an episode of “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” in the 1960’s for its odd and impossible death date of February 31st. The most likely reason for this mix-up is that the stonemason who carved the stone was illiterate and merely copied a typo in his instructions from the minister. However, if William actually died on the 13th, it’s possible that his family were superstitious and decided to reverse the numbers to avoid incurring any bad luck. This outdoor stone is a replica of the original, which resides just inside the entrance to the church.
Stop #7 – Grave of Philip Low
Picton was established in 1837 after the smaller villages of Picton and Hallowell Bridge amalgamated. Philip Low was the new town’s first Mayor, though that role was not created on the town’s inception. Low, a lawyer, was partnered with the Honourable Justice Christopher Salmon Patterson, who later became a judge on the Supreme Court of Canada and who also presided over the murder trial of Joseph Thomset and George Lowder. Low has two streets named in his honour nearby, and owned Picton’s impressive “Castle Villeneuve” on Bridge Street, which was demolished in 1986 after a propane explosion.
Stop #8 – The Woolworth Connection: Graves of James and Eleanor Creighton
During the Irish Potato Famine in the mid-19th century, hundreds of thousands of Irish immigrants arrived in British North America in search of a better life. A number of Irish families settled in Prince Edward County, including the Creighton family in North Marysburgh. Eliza Jane Creighton (or Jennie) was born and raised in Waupoos, but left the County as a teenager to learn dressmaking in Watertown, New York. While there, she met a young stock boy named Frank Winfield Woolworth, and in 1876 they were married. With a loan from Jennie’s cousin, Miss Margaret Morrison, they were able to open their first successful 5 and 10 cent store in Lancaster, PA. Frank would go on to establish the most successful department store chain of the 20th century. Frank died in 1919 and Jennie in 1924. They are buried in the Bronx Cemetery. James and Eleanor Creighton are relatives of Jennie’s. Jennie’s cousin Miss Morrison, who Frank Woolworth called the “Mother of the Five and Ten cent Business”, was a great supporter of this church.
Graves of James and Eleanor Creighton, relatives of Jennie Creighton Woolworth | Courtesy of Macaulay Museum.
Please proceed to the lawn in front of Macaulay House.
Macaulay House and Gardens
Stop #9 – Front of Macaulay House
Macaulay House was constructed for Reverend William Macaulay and his first wife Ann Geddes. They married in 1829 in Kingston, and lived in a cottage at the corner of Church and Old Church Streets until the present house was completed in 1830.
We know from family letters that Ann was beloved by her husband and was described as sweet, generous and very pious. Ann died from pneumonia in 1849. She and Reverend Macaulay did not have any children.
Four years later, in 1853, Reverend Macaulay married a second time, to Charlotte Le Vesconte. Charlotte was born in England, but had immigrated to Canada with her family as a teenager. Her family lived in Seymour Township where her father, a former British naval officer had received a land grant of 1000 acres, although Charlotte had been living in Belleville before her marriage. One of her brothers, Henry Le Vesconte, stayed behind in Englad to serve in the Royal Navy. He became a Lieutenant on the HMS Erebus and was part of the doomed Franklin Expedition.
As the wife of a reverend, Charlotte, like Ann before her, was responsible to the church and congregation to conduct missionary work, charity work, and prayer meetings. She would also have been responsible for managing the female help, planning meals, planting, and errands within the household.
Between marriages, William received money from the estates of his mother and uncle. His new wife also had a dowry. This influx of money made possible some alterations to the house, including the summer kitchen to the rear, adding a side porch off the dining room, and adding marble mantles to the fireplaces in both the parlour and dining room.
Charlotte and William had two daughters during their marriage. One, Mary Rose, died before her second birthday. The other girl was Annie. She lived to adulthood and married James Kirkpatrick of Kingston who was a lawyer. Their two girls were named Grace and Jessie. During the First World War they were nurses, and after the war they lived in a cottage called “Picton” in East Grinstead, Sussex, England.
We do know that while Reverend Macaulay appeared to be well-liked by his staff, there were periods of time where he was unable to pay them due to his financial woes. Prior to his second marriage, Reverend Macaulay was not particularly savvy when it came to his finances. As his first wife Ann was often ill and unable to manage the ‘books’, Rev. Macaulay tended to run up debts in town – not for anything scandalous, mind you – and would depend on his brother John to pick up the tab. He also neglected to regularly collect rent from the numerous tenants living on his property, which meant he was almost always cash-strapped. However, his second wife Charlotte not only brought a large dowry with her, but also the energy to oversee his spending and collect rent from their tenants.
After Reverend Macaulay’s death in 1874, the property passed to his wife Charlotte, and following her death, it was passed to their daughter. As she lived in England, it was held in trust on her behalf before being sold in the early 1900s. The property changed hands at least five times over the next 30 years before being purchased by the Bond family in 1935. The Bonds would live here until 1973, when the County purchased the house, and 4 acres of surrounding parkland for $50,000.
Please proceed to the garden area on the left side of Macaulay House.
Stop #10 – The Kitchen Garden and Apple Orchard
There was an operational farm on this property in the mid-19th century, and this apple orchard in addition to the family’s kitchen garden, would have provided all the fruits and vegetables they needed. The farm and the gardens would have been managed by hired help.
From this vantage point, it is easy to see where the ‘new’ summer kitchen extends backward from the original structure. Cooking would have been done in this space during the hot summer months, which helped keep the main house cool. However, the farm manager’s quarters were located directly above the summer kitchen, so he would have been uncomfortably warm in the summer and freezing cold in the winter.
Lives of the Macaulay House Serving Staff The compliment of female help would have been a cook, hired girls, and seamstresses. Their routines would have centered on cooking, housekeeping, and lamp maintenance. Other duties included taking down and cleaning the stove pipe, beating carpets, emptying chamber pots, washing and ironing, food storage (homemade preserves), keeping the inside of the house clean, and serving. The compliment of male help would have been a farm manager, itinerant farmers, and tenant farmers. Seasonally, the farm work would have included planting, harvesting, animal care, candle making, and preserving salted meats and vegetables.
Stop #11 – The Carriage House
This reconstructed Carriage House rests on the site of a former outbuilding from the Macaulay farm, and was relocated to this site from Bath, Ontario in 1998. It bridges the gap between Macaulay Heritage Park and Macaulay Mountain. You’ll notice the bat box on the east side of the building, alluding to the wildlife that call the Conservation Area home.
The tour continues at Birdhouse City which is located nearby at Macaulay Conservation Area. You can access this site on foot by taking Whattam’s Walkway. You’ll find the entrance to the walkway on the far side of the Carriage House. The walkway ends at Macaulay Conservation Area. Proceed past the brown building on your left and you will find Birdhouse City on your left.
First opened in 1980, Birdhouse City has become a purposeful and whimsical miniature community that hosts over 100 birdhouses that are actually native bird nesting boxes. Most of the birdhouses replicate local buildings and speak to the unique character, culture, and history of Prince Edward County, but there are a few “international’ houses that have inserted themselves over the years.
Birdhouse City is maintained and managed by volunteers with the support of the community and in partnership with Quinte Conservation. In the fall of 2020, an extensive inventory was conducted to assess the state of the birdhouses and their posts, and assign birdhouses to volunteers. The task is ambitious as years of rain, snow, wind, and over-use have taken their toll and and birdhouse needs to be taken down to be cleaned up, rebuilt or refinished, and painted. This work is taking place in the garages, back yards, and sheds of these ‘Birdhouse City Builders’ across the County. But with the use of more durable materials, a plan to maintain the City on a regular basis, and brand new signs for the birdhouses, the future looks chirpy and bright. Follow the City and its team of dedicated volunteers on Facebook and Instagram.
Stop #12 Where It All Began: The Massassauga Park Hotel
Birdhouse City began with just one birdhouse– the Massassauga Park Hotel, built by Doug Harns, then superintendent of the conservation area. He wanted to build a bird house so large that it would go into the Guinness Book of Records (which sadly did not happen). He chose the historic Massassauga Park Hotel as his subject – a large hotel that once graced the shore of Massassauga Point, on land that is now part of Massassauga Point Conservation Area, in the northwest corner of Prince Edward County. The large, elegant hotel and adjacent dance pavilion was located beside a busy port and attracted summer vacationers from the mid 1800s to the early 1900s, before being demolished in 1934.
Stop #13 The Crystal Palace
Many of The County’s most notable architectural structures are replicated in Birdhouse City, including The Crystal Palace. Built in 1890 by F. T. Wright based on a plan by Andrew Irving, the building still stands on the Picton Fairgrounds on Main Street East. Picton’s Crystal Palace was inspired by the original Crystal Palace created by Sir Joseph Paxton in 1851 for the Great Exhibition in London England. Paxton’s design of expansive glass was inspired by his work with greenhouses. Following the Great Exhibition, “Crystal Palaces” sprang up throughout the world including New York City and locally in Napanee and Kingston. Sadly many have been demolished and ours is now one of the few original Crystal Palaces remaining in the world.
Stop #14 The Merrill Inn
This birdhouse replicates The Merrill House, built in 1878 in the Gothic Revival style for Edward Merrill (see stop at the grave of Samuel Merrill). The House, which stands at 343 Main Street in Picton, is now a boutique hotel. Merrill and his wife Carolyn later commissioned a smaller version of Merrill House nearby on Hill Street, overlooking the harbour. In 1905, suffering from a terminal disease, Judge Merrill hanged himself from the balcony of this Hill Street home.
Stop #15 The Octagonal House
There are two octagonal houses in Picton. The earliest one, The Roblin House, at 16 Main Street was built in 1858 for John Roblin, then the County registrar of crown lands agent and collector of customs. This house shape and “grout construction” – where a mixture of sand, gravel and mortar is poured into forms – were from a method recommended by phrenologist Orsen Squire Fowler. Fowler promoted the octagonal shape as the perfect building form. The second house, known as Fralick House, is a brick structure on the corner of King and Elizabeth Streets.
This concludes our tour. Feel free to wander and enjoy the birdhouses, and explore Macaulay Conservation Area and its trail network.