Paul Wilson: The Jones House – trespassers and developers beware
There’s an old house that’s been worrying the Hamilton Heritage Committee for months now, ever since the death of retired bachelor postman Graham Johnson.
He lived at 1 Jones Street in Stoney Creek, the house where he grew up. That address is now on the heritage committee’s list of endangered buildings.
It’s just off the main drag and goes by two names. One is Locust Lawn, and the mighty locust trees are still there.
The other name is the Jones House. But which Jones? There were lots of them out there.
Some have said Augustus Jones built this house. There’s a statue to Augustus in the Stoney Creek Town Square. He was a United Empire Loyalist who came north in 1787 and made a career surveying thousands of acres of wilderness in these parts.
House could date back to 1830s
Some say – and this is probably the better theory – that his nephew Stephen Jones built the house in the 1830s.
Around 1900, the house left the Jones family hands. For decades, the Smiths lived there.
And in 1950, the Johnson family began its long reign. Murray and Bernice Johnson, who for years ran stores out Binbrook way, had eight children.
The house in which they raised them had fireplaces in the living room, kitchen and basement and an old stone smokehouse out back, hooks still in place for hanging the meat. The Johnsons made a few changes, including closing in the front porch. It still leads, however, to the original front door.
Graham stayed on
Murray died in 1985, Bernice 13 years later. She left the house to all the children, but it was Graham who stayed on. He was a man with some clutter in his life – not a problem, because he was alone and the house had plenty of room.
Maintenance was never a high priority. Some 30 years ago, there was a visit to the house as part of a land-use survey. From the report: “Although presently in a state of disrepair, the house has a tremendous potential for displaying one of Stoney Creek’s earlier homes in the centre of downtown.”
Graham died this past February, age 72. More than ever, the house was at risk.
There are six surviving siblings – five sisters, plus Joe Johnson of Mount Hope, executor of the estate. He was born in 1955, grew up at 1 Jones.
House has to be sold
“I would love to bring the place back myself,” he says, ‘but I can’t afford it.” His sisters are scattered across the country and not interested in taking up residence. So the house will have to be sold. Half-a-dozen No Trespassing signs now line the property.
Joe is there most days. He’s going through the home carefully. “For me, it’s a matter of respecting who was here before.” He’s not yet ready to conduct an inside tour, but does hope to have the house ready for sale by next spring.
There’s been talk of designating 1 Jones under the Ontario Heritage Act. Some get scared by that. Not Joe. “It’s the only way to protect it,” he says.
But what if somebody came by with a really good offer, wanting to knock the place down and use the well-situated corner lot to build a mega home or some trendy townhouses?
Joe knows just what he’d say to that interested party. “My answer would be, ‘Well, you’re not getting the property. So goodbye.’”