The Hartman House

….once stood where the Aurora Toyota dealership now sits at the SW corner of Wellington & Baview, although you’d never know by passing by or stopping in to check out the new lineup of Camrys. 

I meant to post about the Hartman House as a follow up to this post :  but was holding off until I could include a picture of the historic plaque commemorating the house.

It was confirmed recently, by way of attending the September 12th Heritage Advisory Comittee meeting, that the plaque I was searching for has yet to be erected, that is a story in itself and will be told in a separate post.

So what led to the Hartman House, a significant piece of our town’s heritage to be demolished?

After doing a great deal of research it is my contention that a unilateral failing on behalf of all the stewards of our heritage (both the Town of Aurora’s Heritage Advisory Committee – HAC and the Aurora Historical Society – AHS) through ignorance, apathy, short-sightedness or all of the above led to this tragedy.  

The following is a short chronology of the events that should provide the necessary context.

Back on Wednesday June 23, 2004 the town held a public planning meeting (No. PL04-078.)

The meeting included much discussion surrounding the development of the Toyota dealership and hint at the demolition of the Hartman House.

SUBJECT: Proposed Official Plan and Zoning By-law Amendment Applications
Victor Priestly and The Priestly Holdings Corporation (Aurora Toyota)
Part of Lot 80, Concession 1 EYS and Block 43, R.P. 65M-3461
Southwest Corner Bayview Avenue and Wellington Street East 623 and 669 Wellington Street East

You can read the minutes of that meeting here:

Interesting that it states “comments remain outstanding from the Historical Society”.  I can only wonder why.

Less than 5 months later, on November 8th 2004, Mr. John Chapman representing Aurora Toyota, appeared before the Heritage Advisory Committee (HAC) to discuss the proposed development and the impact the plan will have on the Hartman House.

After hearing the delegation it is moved by Councillor Kean Seconded by Councillor Wallace that 

“The Heritage Committee recommends that does not have any objections to the proposed commercial development of the property known as 669 Wellington St. E., including the removal of the existing house, and that the owner be requested to erect a plaque which provides a brief history and heritage of the property, and that the design of the plaque be submitted to the Heritage Committee for approval prior to its installation.”

And just like that the HAC sealed the fate of the Hartman House.

You can read the minutes of that meeting here:

Fast forward to 2006, in an August 8th letter to the Auroran Dorothy Clark McClure provided some valuable historical context for the house as well as expressing her overall disappointment.

“It is the only house in Aurora with a Georgian façade with a centre door, flanked by single windows and five windows at the second storey level.  It has a long history as home to the John Hartman family in 1807.”

You can read her entire letter here:

Download this file
McLure wasn’t the only one of note to recognize the architectural and heritage significance. 

The Local Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee (LACAC) recommended to Council in the June 2004 Public planning meeting that they :

“consider the heritage significance of the dwelling (‘Hartman House’), which would in effect be demolished based upon this development proposal. LACAC highlights that the dwelling is identified as being of historical significance to the Town and that its importance is reflected through its identification in the Official Plan. LACAC therefore recommends that the Town and owner utilize its best efforts to preserve and incorporate this building in the future development of the site.”

I guess the members of HAC thought their expertise trumped that of LACAC.

George Duncan, author of “York County Mouldings from Historic Interiors” and a number of other books on early Ontario folk art and architecture, is one of the Province’s foremost architectural historians.

HAC failed to respect his assessment of the Hartman House.  In a 2008 of the “York Pioneer” Duncan wrote of the Hartman House as :

“being of particular heritage significance.  Dated circa 1826, it was an exceptionally early building both locally and within the context of York Region.  In 2006, the Hartman House may have been the oldest house remaining within the boundaries of Aurora.”

Duncan spent some time at the Hartman House before it was demolished documenting the aspects of the house including the floorplan, some of which are available in his article here:

Download this file

I understand that his entire documentation was provided to the Historical Society, which no doubt sits in a box somewhere, never to see the light of day again.

The front page of the August 22nd 2006 edition of the Auroran shows the demolition of one of Aurora’s gems:

Download this file

That edition of the paper also included comments regarding Duncan’s documentation as well as some previous residents of the house that returned to assist filling in all the missing pieces….before the whole picture was of course blasted to smitherines.
You can read it and see some of the final pictures of the house here:

Download this file

Some additional pictures from its final days when the Hartman House was functioning as a Montessori school by way of a family friend who worked there:

Notice the large trees surounding the home?  Yeah they’re not there anymore either I guess because they failed to submit the paperwork for “heritage tree plaques” so necessary to protect them.

Its hard not to noice the glaring inconsitencies between the handling of the Hartman House and the Petch House.

In his delegation to council back in 2004 Mr. Chapman indicated that:

“the house has undergone extensive renovations and remodeling over the years on both the outside and inside of the house and no longer resembles the original house that was constructed. He further advised that the relocation of the house within the proposed plan was not feasible and that he had also investigated the possibility of moving the house but was advised that the house would probably fall down if moving it was attempted.”

The Hartman House was a fantastic building still in use  right up to the point of demolition, a house that was older than the Petch House, was of heritage significance to our town, was of Architectural signifigance according to the Local Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee (LACAC) it was demolished.

While the Petch House, which was a delapidated feces filled wreck that had been renovated so many times it didn’t resemble the orginal house was saved despite the same argument that the house would not be able to be moved in one piece.

Duncan compared the two homes in his documentation: 

“One could imagine at that time, when most other residents in the area were living in small cottages like the historic Petch House, this grand five-bay, two storey Georgian house in the middle of what was still largely wilderness, must have seemed like a palace.”

A palace that the stewards of our town’s heritage couldn’t even scrape together a $1 to buy it, or $100,000 to relocate.

Given the staggering amounts of time and money being spent on the Petch House by comparison, it is hard to conclude that those whose have committed themselves to preserving our town’s heritage did anything remotely resembling that when they turned their backs on such a significant piece of our town’s history.

There’s no question to me which of these two houses had a heart.

As to those who had a say in its demise only to receive awards for their contributions to Aurora’s heritage, I’ll let you decide.

2 thoughts on “The Hartman House

  1. Losing the Hartman House was everything you say it was.. Considered separately from everything else Council had to consider…
    To my recollection Vuc Priestley offered to move i the house to a new location.
    Ron Wallace used all his resources to alert the community to the situation.
    Council already had one old building sitting at the side of the road steadily deteriorating and no known future.
    An $8Ks donation was made toward its preservation. The developer was already committed to move it to a location stated by the town.
    Still there was no interest in the community.
    It t could not be moved in one piece as it could have been in the beginning,
    It had to be taken apart ,piece by piece. It was only possible because it was of such simple construction. and we had an artisan in the community of Vandorf with proven experience
    .$50Ks was available from the developer for the purpose and town staff were finally asked for iinput.
    Funds were blown away by misdirection in the last council.
    Sometimes things happen just because the time is right.
    Politics is the art of the possible. All the signs have to come tinto same time.
    The jury is still out om the Petch House decision.
    I think the community is withholding judgment until they see what has been wrought.
    I am slightly anxious myself..

  2. Evelyn, thanks for your feedback. I read about Priestley’s offer, and am glad it was extended. I also believe Ron did a great job getting the word out. That being said there seems to be a significant gap in the efforts of all the other players (M.P.P. , M.P., mayor, Historical Society..) Perhaps if the Hartman House had more “friends” it could have been saved, but I guess this was my point.

    I would hate to think that the reason the Hartman House fell was because council “already had one old building” especially when comparing the two it is obvious which one to save.

    It is interesting that the Petch House received $50,000 from a developer, but the Hartman house got $0 from Toyota. Seems like a large inconsistency?

    Sometimes things happen because the timing is right for a minority (a developer, or SIG), case and point the Hartman House.

    It is hard for myself to withhold judgement on the Petch House decision after seeing what was done with the Hartman House.

    It is indeed “possible’ to bury some of the town’s heritage while polishing off and showcasing another, but the “politics” behind who makes those decisions and how they affect the larger fabric of the community as a whole has had a negative impact here in Aurora.

    What I have discovered simply by looking into the Hartman house both frightens and disgusts me. A post on that is coming shortly.

    We need the town’s entire approach to Heritage to change,

    I applaud your motion to get the Aurora Museum back on track as it will hopefully be a catalyst for this, where the Petch House seems to be inconsequential.

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