Historic Ayr Walking Tour

map of tour

The history of the village of Ayr is steeped in the traditions and lifestyles of its founders. Although there are many concessions to the twentieth century, Ayr remains a well preserved example of a rural agrarian community.

Interestingly, considering its present size, the village of Ayr began as three distinct communities, including Nithvale in the West (Piper Street), Jedburgh in the East (Main Street), and Mudge's Mill in the centre (Stanley/Northumberland Streets). The first settlement occured in 1824 when Abel Mudge built a sawmill at the corner of Cedar Creek and the Nith River (now the site of the Watson factory). Soon after, John Hall built a small flour mill and distillery to the East of Mudge's Mill and named the settlement Jedburgh. At the same time, a smaller settlement (Nithvale) was founded to the West of Mudge's Mill where a small sawmill opened along the Nith.

The growth of these communities, particularly Jedburgh and Mudge's Mill, occured after 1832 with the immigration of settlers from the Scottish Lowlands. These immigrants were drawn to Canada by promises of inexpensive, fertile land made available by the major landholder of the district at the time, William Dickson. While Jedburgh and Mudge's Mill bitterly fought for supremacy, Nithvale lagged behind in terms of development.

The battle between the two communities officially ended in 1840 when Robert Wyllie, the first postmaster, established a post office at Mudge's Mill under the name "Ayr". Not surprisingly, however, the conflict did not end at this point. When incorporation of the village was presented to the Ontario Legislature in 1857, there was agreement to delay decision until there was consensus between the residents of the two former communities. It was not until 1884 that Ayr as we know it was incorporated as a village in the province of Ontario.

OUR TOUR STARTS AT THE AYR ARENA AT THE CORNER OF PIPER AND CHURCH STREETS. FOLLOW PIPER STREET FROM THE ARENA (OPPOSITE THE BRIDGE) AND TO THE RIGHT.

A) 45 PIPER STREET
DATE BUILT: Circa 1844
DESIGNATED: April 8, 1987

45 Piper StreetWe suspect that this handsome house was built circa 1844 but its recorded history begins in 1852 when the house was sold to John Watson, the owner of the largest factory in the village, The Ayr Machinery Works. The first Watson house, originally colonial in style, has undergone many alterations, yet, the charm and proportion of the original house has remained. One should note the iron hitching post and carriage step at the sidewalk. These were manufactured at Watson's Foundry and four still remain (although not in active use) at different homes around the village. Another past owner of the home worth mentioning is Dr. Duff Wilson, former Medical Officer of Health for Waterloo County.

B) 74 PIPER STREET
DATE BUILT: Circa 1860

Just across the street from 45 Piper Street is a handsome clapboard home built circa 1860. For the fist sixty years of its existence, this house was the residence of the Baker family who were prominent merchants in Ayr. The Bakers operated a large dry goods, grocery, and hardware store on Northumberland Street. For thirty years, the home was the residence and office of Dr. J.B. Holland.

C) THE FORMER METHODIST CHURCH IN AYR
DATE BUILT: 1864

Immediately following 74 Piper Street, you will notice a tablet marking the site of Ayr Methodist Church, originally built in 1864. Due to an insufficient congregation, the church initially shared a minister with two other Methodist churches in the area. As the congregation grew in size, they wer finally able to purchase the simple red brick cottage across the street at present-day 81 Piper Street as the parsonage. Although the minutes of the church show a loyal attendance, it consistently experienced financial problems. The Women's Group at the church seemed to be constantly bailing the parish out of financial crisis. The church was abandoned in 1926 with the amalgamation of the Methodist and Presbyterian congregations in Ayr following national church union where the majority of the Methodist and Presbyterian churches joined to form the United Church of Canada. Because Knox's Presbyterian had a larger building, the Piper Street property was sold in 1927 and the church was torn down.

D) 87 PIPER STREET
DATE BUILT: 1860's
DESIGNATED: October 18, 1988

87 Piper StreetThis well-preserved brick cottage is believed to date from the 1860's. It's solid and uncluttered appearance reflects the simple tastes and preferences of the Scottish settlers of Ayr. Their fondness for solid, well-proportioned structures is evidenced by similar brick and stone cottages throughout the township. One of this house's outstanding features is the classically proportioned and deeply recessed front entrance with paneled embrasure, transom, and sidelights. For many years, 87 Piper Street served at the home of Archi Watson, secretary-treasurer of the John Watson Manufacturing Company for the first half of the century.

E) 128 PIPER STREET
DATE BUILT: 1876

John Watson, who was mentioned earlier as the original owner of 45 Piper, also built this house in 1876. The quality of the two houses gives a clear picture of John Watson's wealth and standing in the community during his lifetime. Along with running his company, Watson also served on several public positions, including magistrate, first Reeve of Ayr, and Warden of the county of Waterloo. He remained active in business, as well as, director of South Waterloo Farmer's Mutual Insurance Company until his death in 1903. His imposing Italianate style of houses was built with many features popular in mansions built during this period. These include large bay windows, patterned keystones above window openings, decorative brickwork, and a heavily moulded main door with segmental transom light and rounded sidelights.

F) 166 PIPER STREET

DATE BUILT: Circa 1897

"Fairview", as 166 Piper St. is known, was built in 1897 by John Watson's son, J. George Watson, just down the road from his father's house. This house marks the end of the row of Watson houses to be found on Piper St. Fairview itself is a remarkable turn of the century architectural statement. Two distinct styles are presented, including the earlier Richardsonian Romanesque style (note the round-arched windows and terra-cotta band under the window sills), and the later Queen Anne Revival style (note the shingled thrusting gable). The coach house is also interesting with decorated double doors and a squat shingled turred. Notice around the perimeter of the lawn is a wrought iron fence decorated with pineapple-topped posts (supposedly a sign of hospitality) and two plaques bearing the message, "Fairview 1897".

G) 176 PIPER STREET
DATE BUILT: 1880's

Piper Street has been blessed with many fine houses, and 176 Piper St. is no exception. This imposing residence was built in the 1880's as a manse for the Knox United Church (at that time, Knox Presbyterian). Although Italianate in general design, there are a number of classical features, including a small centre porch supported by fine ionic columns.

THE NEXT STOP IS FURTHER DOWN PIPER STREET. IT IS A RED BRICK COTTAGE FOUND ON THE RIGHT-HAND SIDE OF THE ROAD.

H) 266 PIPER STREET
DATE BUILT: Between 1850 and 1860

This red brick cottage, built between 1850 and 1860, draws its charm from its simplicity of design. The finely done trellis work on the long front veranda is the only concession to a more fanciful style. The board and baton coach house to the right of the house is a rare and well-preserved structure with a surprising amount of fancy work around the trim and windows.

BEFORE RETURNING TO THE MAIN TOUR, YOU MAY WANT TO TAKE-IN ANOTHER PICTURESQUE LOCATION. KEEP FOLLOWING PIPER STREET UNTIL YOU SEE A ROAD TO THE LEFT WITH A SIGN INDICATING "BRIDGE CLOSED". TAKE THAT ROAD DOWN THE HIOLL AND YOU WILL FIND AN OLD BRIDGE.

I) NITHVALE

It is hard to believe that the wilderness around the Nithvale Dridge was once home to two sawmills and a flour mill. Although the settlement would never have been described as "thriving" it does have a legitimate claim on history. According to Young's History of Galt North Dumfries (1880), Nithvale was a meeting and drilling place for Mackenzie's followers during the attempted revolution of 1837. Because of the proximity of the larger settlements of Mudge's Mill and Jedburgh, Nithvale was never developed into a full fledged community and eventually became part of Ayr.

The bridge is one of a series of bridges at the same location. The Nith River was notorious for flooding its banks and damage to the bridge was a regular occurence. The future of this bridge is seriously in doubt as it has not been decided whether the lack of its usage justifies the expense of it up to modern standards.

RETURN TO PIPER STREET AND WALK BACK TOWARDS THE START OF THE TOUR. TURN RIGHT ONTO ROSE STREET WHICH WILL BRING YOU TO THE NEXT STOP ON THE TOUR.

J) VICTORIA PARK

Strangely enough, this park owes its existence to a threat of attack from the United States. In 1866, three acres of land was taken over to allow for training of the militia during the time of the Fenian Raids. After the threat disappeared, the land was turned into a park. In 1871, two additional acres were purchased and in 1878 it was officially named "Victoria Park". The two stone pillars at the entrance to the park were built in the early 1920's with stones from local farmers fields.

WALK ALONG ROSE STREET TO THE FIRST ROAD ON YOUR LEFT AND FOLLOW IT THROUGH THE PARK TO THE STONE PILLARS AT THE OPPOSITE ENTRANCE. CONTINUE STRAIGHT PAST THE PILLARS ALONG CHURCH STREET AND TURN RIGHT ONTO JOHN STREET. THEN, TURN LEFT ON WATER STREET AND FOLLOW IT TO THE END FOR THE NEXT STOP ON THE TOUR.

K) THE POSTMASTER'S HOUSE

LOCATION: 10 Water Street
DATE BUILT: Circa 1840
DESIGNATED: November 4, 1985

Postmaster's HouseAs you make your way down Church Street towards the bridge, turn right on John Street. Then, at the intersection of John and Water Streets, turn left and within 30-40 meters, you will find one of the best preserved examples of the regency cottage style of architecture in the area. The house was built circa 1840 by Robert Wyllie, the first postmaster of Ayr and a leading person in the community. A large number of buildings in the "downtown core" were owned by Wyllie and rented out to local merchants. The Wyllie family continued an important presence in Ayr well into this century. At one time or another, members of the family ran, among other things, a drug store, an insurance agency, and a franchise of the Molson's Bank.

RETURN TO PIPER STREET BY WALKING BACK UP WATER STREET AND TURNING RIGHT ONTO JOHN STREET. THEN, TURN RIGHT ONTO CHURCH STREET WHICH WILL LEAD YOU BACK TO PIPER STREET. YOU WILL BE WALKING TOWARDS THE ARENA, OPPOSITE THE PATH TAKEN AT THE BEGINNING OF THE TOUR. THE NEXT STOP ON THE TOUR IS JUST AFTER THE ARENA.

L) FORMER KNOX CHURCH
DATE BUILT: 1843

Between the arena and the Piper St. bridge there is a small tablet on your right commemorating the first site of Knox Presbyterian Church in Ayr. The church community began some time before 1842 and the original church was built in 1843. Because of a growing congregation, a new church was built in 1887 and the old church, a simple frame structure, was torn down. The new church, built at Northumberland and Hall Sts., was much more substantial and is still in use as Knox United Church.

CONTINUE ACROSS THE PIPER STREET BRIDGE TOWARDS THE DOWNTOWN CORE (Note that Piper Street becomes Stanley Street on the opposite side of the bridge)

M) RIVERBANK INTERIORS

The building at 4 Stanley Street has served many functions in years past. The building once simultaneously housed council chambers and served as the fire hall. Prison cells were also at one time located in the basement of the building. In fact, the current owners of Riverbank Interiors, Bruce and Jane Shorney, recently located an interesting artifact in the basement: a ball-and-chain.

Riverbank Interiors continues to represent the history of Ayr by providing a historical colour collection for owners of homes and other buildings that seek to maintain the originality of their properties.

N) WATSON FACTORY

Walking along Piper St., one has already been introduced to the Watson's, the leading family in Ayr at the turn of the century. The John Watson Manufacturing Company was the source of that prestige. Started in 1848 as the Ayr Machinery Works, John Watson quickly gained a reputation as an aggressive and innovative agricultural implements manufacturer. In the early 1880's, the company built an impressive four storey building that was, at that time, the largest agricultural works in Canada. When the factory was built, Watson's was at the pinnacle of its success, winning awards for its products all around the world. Unfortunately, a merger of its major competitors (Massey, Harris, and Patterson) in 1891 made competition much more difficult.

In 1920, a former employee of Watson's broke into the factory and started a fire in the paint room. The fire destroyed the factory and threatened to wipe out the rest of the business core. Watson's never truly recovered from this disaster. The present two-storey factory was rebuilt from the remains of the original facility and although they carried on a successful business, it never compared to its former self.

JUST TO THE LEFT OF THE OLD WATSON FACTORY, YOU WILL NOTICE A LARGE CROSS WHICH IS THE NEXT SITE ON THE TOUR

O) MEMORIAL CROSS
DATE BUILT: 1922

The cross you see in front of you was built on the location of the original village hay scales. The cross was erected in 1922 in memory of the soldiers who died in the First World War.

CONTINUE FOLLOWING STANLEY STREET UNTIL IT INTERSECTS ST. ANDREW STREET

P) QUEEN'S HOTEL

At the turn of the century, there were two inns on Stanley St., Commercial House and the Hilborn House (now the Queen's). While the former has since been town down, the Queen's Hotel is still standing and remains a popular local tavern.

Q) AYR LIBRARY

DATE BUILT: 1910
DESIGNATED: December, 1994

Ayr LibraryThe original Ayr library began in 1848 or 1849, but until the present building was finished in 1910, it had no permanent home. Like many communities in North America, Ayr applied to the Carnegie foundation for a grant to assist in building the library. Andrew Carnegie, the wealthy New York philanthropist, had made available funds to communities to partially support the building of public libraries. these grants, however, had some strings attached. Carnegie had very definite ideas of what a public library building was to look like and to get a grant the building had to comply with his design standards. Hundreds of libraries of varying sizes were built with the same basic plan with centre staircase, neo-classical pillars on either side of the doorway, and a central atrium with three protruding wings. The Ayr library incorporates all of these design features, albeit on a very small scale. There were hundreds of Carnegie libraries built, but Ayr is one of the few that is still in use as a library. Unfortunately, Carnegie's design, although impressive, took little heed of the needs of a modern library with an expanding collection of books and periodicals.

CONTINUE ALONG STANLEY STREET AND FOLLOW THE CURVE TO THE LEFT. AT THIS POINT, STANLEY STREET TURNS INTO MAIN STREET. THIS IS THE AREA ORIGINALLY KNOWN AS JEDBURGH

R) 64 MAIN STREET
DATE BUILT: Sometime before 1861

Both this home and the one at 142 Main St. were built by the Hall family who were responsible for the development of the Jedburgh portion of present-day Ayr. The house at 64 Main St. is a good example of a simple cottage style popular in the area. The windows of the house, particularly on the sides, would suggest that it was built earlier than many of the other homes in the area, sometime before 1861.

CONTINUE ALONG MAIN STREET AND YOU WILL COME UPON A SMALL CREEK. A PLAQUE IS LOCATED ON THE ROADWAY RECOGNIZING THE NEXT STOP ON THE TOUR.

S) MILLPONDS (JEDBURGH CREEK)

John Hall, the patriarch of his family, came to this area in the early 1830's and purchased a seventy-five acre parcel of land that included the area now flooded by the Jedburgh pond. Hall was most likely attracted to this area by the prospect of water power provided by Cedar Creek. By 1850, Hall had developed several industries including a distillery, a grist mill, and a sawmill, all using water power provided by the damming of the creek. As you can see from the bridge which straddles the original dam, the formation of a millpond is a dramatic undertaking. Although now rigidly controlled by the Grand River Conservation Authority, changing water levels used to play havoc with the operation of the mill. A sudden flood caused by the excess runoff could, in seconds, wash away implements in the mill race that took years to build while a drought could bring work to a grinding halt. This unpredictability of water power was an important incitement for industries to convert to electrical power as soon as it became available and affordable. This said, Watson's Manufacturing utilized water power along with other power sources up to 1960. A later stop on the tour recognizes the opposite end of the creek, known as Watson's pond. Together, they constitute what is known as "Millponds".

CONTINUE ALONG MAIN STREET AND, AT THE INTERSECTION OF MAIN AND HALL STREETS, TURN LEFT. FOLLOW HALL STREET UNTIL YOU REACH THE AYR PUBLIC SCHOOL ON THE LEFT-HAND SIDE OF THE ROAD.

T) AYR PUBLIC SCHOOL
DATE BUILT: 1890

After a long and bitter battle in terms of its location, the Ayr Public School was built at this location in 1890. Considering the size of the community, over $8000.00 was spend on the design of the building. This substantial investment on design gave us a fine example of a Victorian public building. The bell tower and inscription on the front facade have recently been designated as significant architectural details by the Township.

FOLLOW HALL STREET TO THE END WHERE YOU WILL FIND THE KNOX UNITED CHURCH.

U) KNOX UNITED CHURCH
DATE BUILT: 1887-88

Knox United Church was built in 1887-88 as a replacement to the original building that once stood adjacent to the arena. The size and design of the church gives an idea of the wealth and social position of the congregation at the time it was built. The building itself defies one simple architectural description with elements of many styles represented. These include Gothic Revival (the pointed arches, gables, and tall slender spire) and the Picturesque Style which could be more aplty described as the eclectic use of many different architectural details.

FOLLOW NORTHUMBERLAND STREET TO THE LEFT OF THE CHURCH UNTIL YOU REACH THE CREEK. YOU WILL NOTICE A LARGE CEMENT STRUCTURE ON THE LEFT-HAND SIDE OF THE ROAD.

V) GOLDIE DRINKING FOUNTAIN

Because our tour has concentrated on the central core, we have not discussed the other leading family of Ayr at the turn of the century. The Goldie family came to North Dumfries in the 1840's and settled at Greenfield, a hamlet just outside of Ayr. Soon after he arrived, John Goldie built a small flour mill along the Nith River. Although the first few years of business were lean, the Goldies built up a large and prosperous business. A number of John Goldie's children went on to achieve great success in business. John Goldie Jr. moved to Cambridge and, with the McCulloch family, started a large machinery works that is now Babcock and Wilcox. David Goldie remained in Ayr and further expanded the milling business. In the 1880's, he built an impressive mansion known as "The Gore" on Northumberland St., just at the edge of town. The fountain at the park gates was in memory of David Goldie's son David Goldie Jr. who drowned in the Nith River at the age of 12. It is interesting to note that the fountain also included a place for horses to get water on the side facing the road.

W) MILLPONDS (WATSON'S CREEK)

This is the opposite end of Millponds that was pointed out earlier. Remember that Watson was the founder of the large manufacturing company that was a previous stop on the tour which you can see again by looking straight down Northumberland.

THE TOUR CONCLUDES WITH A VISIT TO THE CENTRAL BUSINESS DISTRICT OF AYR WHICH IS LOCATED JUST DOWN NORTHUMBERLAND, TOWARDS THE WATSON FACTORY AND MEMORIAL CROSS.

X) CENTRAL BUSINESS DISTRICT

Unlike many small towns, Ayr's central core has remained a lively and prosperous place. The history of each block of buildings is long and varied, reflecting the needs of the community at the time. At the turn of the century, Ayr had three banks, two drug stores and three hardware/dry goods stores. Businesses, such as, Baker's, Wyllie's and McGeorge's, which were household names one hundred years ago, have all but disappeared.

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