A Taste of History
I am not a historian but both my husband and I have loved delving into the records and stories of the past to try to get to know the people who owned this property before us and to understand the buildings better.
The story of this property begins in 1819 where it is noted to be the site for the second public house established in Newmarket, then owned by Mr. William Roe. It was called The Borland and Roe Tavern. It was destroyed by fire, records show a fire in 1845 destroyed all the wooden buildings on the west side of Main Street, from Timothy Street to Water Street.
Although not confirmed officially the consensus seems to be that at this time a Mr. James Forsyth operated an Inn in a log building that was situated across the street from The Borland and Roe Tavern property, where the Bank of Montreal building now sits. Birth records of his children confirm that James Forsyth did, in fact, live in Newmarket with his 1st wife Jane (Mann) while their three children were born between the years of 1837 to 1839.
In April of 1845, James Forsyth purchased this property from William Roe and built the main house made of brick which still stands today. It is unclear as to exactly when the wooden frame extensions were built, if they were built at the same time as the main house or added soon thereafter. Either way, we know that before the 1900’s there was a bar room that ran the full length of the southern brick wall, you can still see the doorway entrances for the bar room that have been filled in with bricks in later years. There also was a wing that ran off of the back of the main house and that fronted on the south side of Timothy Street. The property also housed multiple sheds and stables.
The Courthouse where the first municipal election (1858) was held and all public, council, school board and agricultural meetings were also held in until the large Mechanics’ Hall was built on Lot Street (now known as Millard Street) was on this Forsyth House property. It is described as being a small frame building with the entrance door in the centre of the west side and it stood to the west of the hotel on the south side of Timothy Street on the site of the existing brick house that was later built and occupied by Mrs. Margaret Forsyth and her daughters.
James’ first wife (Jane) died in August of 1849 and one of his infant sons from that marriage had died in 1839. In 1850 James marries Ms. Margaret Ross-listed on the marriage certificate as a ‘spinster’. He had two surviving children (a son and a daughter) from his first marriage and together James and Margaret had 5 children, firstly 4 daughters and lastly 1 son. James Forsyth died in January of 1858 at the age of 54, his son was born in February 1858, then tragically died at the age of four. The widow Forsyth continued to raise her four daughters and successfully run the stables, hotel and bar/dining room until she retired in 1880, she passed away in 1902. The hotel was referred to as the Forsyth House during the many years Margaret operated it.
One wonders what it would have to be like running such a large and busy property as a widow in the late 1800’s. Looking at old census documents it appears that 1871 was one of her busiest years as she lists the following as residents in her house, all four of her daughters ranging from ages 20 through to 14, Thomas Brodie age 13 who is the son of her husband’s daughter from his first wife Jane and 7 employees ranging from barkeepers to clerks and labourer (one employee appears to have been Margaret’s nephew.)
In 1879 her second eldest daughter, Josephine marries Mr. Charles Denne. The wedding celebration takes place in the Forsyth house. Charles Denne had left his family’s local milling business in 1878 to establish a wholesale pork packing and egg business & store. He cured his own meat and also had a pickle factory. The store was located on Huron Street (now called Davis Drive). Josephine & Charles Denne’s house was built at #2 Huron Street, (it is the large red brick house that still sits on the northwest corner of Davis & Main Streets.)
In the years that the hotel and bar room operated as the Forsyth House there were many events and dinners held on the premise, the local paper archives have a wide array of mentions and descriptions of these events. From reading these accounts and her obituary it would appear that Mrs. Forsyth had a reputation as a good businesswoman who was greatly respected and well-liked in the community. In a special publication issued for the Newmarket centennial it speaks of Mrs. Forsyth being a charitable person and it states that she was interested in the early fire brigade. It goes on to specify that “Any needy project got full support from the Forsyth family.”
The restaurant that is now The George is situated in the brick dining room which was built by the Newmarket Hotel Company who purchased the Forsyth Hotel in May of 1910 to run as a dry hotel once the Local Option was carried in Newmarket. The local hotel owners had threatened to shut down the hotels if the Local Option was carried as they claimed they could not make money on just renting rooms out but needed the income of the whisky sales. Some local enthusiasts of the temperance movement promised that they would buy a hotel and run it if the vote was carried, it was and so they stayed true to their word and with Dr. Wesley as their President they formed a corporation and sold shares of $100 a share and raised/borrowed the capital to purchase the hotel and make significant renovations and a brick addition which encompassed tearing down the old bar room and building the new dining hall in its place. It is stated in a newspaper article that they chose the Forsyth House because of its prominent location and its popularity.
Able to accommodate 75 comfortably the new dining hall boasted first-class quality to rival anything in the surrounding towns of the day and they even went so far as to say that “it is equal with almost any of those met within the first-class hotels of the larger cities”. The newspaper article in the Newmarket Era covering the opening of the new dining room in 1910 points out its attributes of “large plate glass windows looking out on the main street, the massive beamed ceiling, the heavy plate rail and the brilliancy of the electric lights.”
The Board of Directors were very pleased with the new completed dining hall and at their first annual meeting in October 1910 held in the new dining hall they decided to change the name to The King George Hotel and to commission a sign with an oil painting of King George V (who had ascended to the throne on May 6th, 1910) to hang on the front entrance. This sign is very noticeable in any of the pictures that are found of Main Street in that era.
There are articles written boasting of the company’s ability to turn a profit and pay its shareholders 6% and still reinvest money back into the property including tearing down one of the old wooden barns and building a new brick stable. This brick stable still stands today on Timothy Street and was converted into residential apartments in 2002.
All seemed to be going great until 1925 when adjustments were made by the government allowing for 4.4% beer to be sold in ‘dry’ areas. The Board of Directors applied for a permit and received it to sell the 4.4% beer. It is reported that shareholders were very upset as they had not been consulted and that Reverend J.C. Cochrane of the Methodist church weighed in condemning the selling of the new beer in the King George Hotel, he further continued to condemn the Board of Directors (many of the directors were members of the congregation) for applying for the permit. The Newmarket Hotel Company put the hotel/dining hall up for sale on May 29th, 1925.
The next significant owner is Mr. William Ball (a retired hotel man) who purchased the King George in 1928 on his way back to Rosedale from his summer home in Jackson’s Point. The story goes that within 15 minutes of seeing the hotel he had his cheque book out and bought the place. Mr. Ball is accredited with investing a substantial amount of money in the renovating and updating of the hotel. He sold all the old furniture and outfitted the rooms with all new furniture. Sadly two years after the purchase his wife died. William’s daughter, Vera Ball took over the entire domestic duties of running the hotel including overseeing the dining hall. From all accounts, it appears that she ran the dining hall very successfully and was well-liked by all the guests.
The dining hall, as well as the hotel, continued to run for the next 27 years. In total the dining hall had served patrons in celebrations and events for 48 years. Also of significant notice is that the property was the location of the Gray Coach Line Agency from August 1937 to May 1965.
During this time there was a lunch counter added to the building and the sign with the King George’s picture is changed to one listing the name, King George Hotel and advertising the dining room and sandwich counter.
In 1955 John Chester Best purchased the hotel from Vera Armstrong (Ball). By 1958 the dining hall had been redeveloped into two separate commercial units to be rented out to different local retail businesses over the next 40 plus years. At some point in the early 1960’s another addition was added onto the south side of the building once again running the length of the building but only one story high. This also was used as commercial space and rented out to local retail businesses (this is where the brewhouse is now situated and the kitchen for the restaurant). It is during this era that we see a significant change to the appearance of the front of the original building. The front porch, overhanging balcony and the large King George Hotel sign are removed, the building’s primary function became retail space. I have found a printed brochure from this period that boasts “The King George. Now the King boutiques provide high-quality retail services while maintaining the traditional characteristics of independent merchants.”
In 2000, my husband and I purchased the property from Jane Best (Chester Best’s daughter) and redeveloped the hotel rooms in the Main Street building into 4 residential apartments and once those renovations were completed we moved on to renovate the brick stables on Timothy Street into residential apartments.
2019 adds yet another chapter to this building’s story by coming full circle. The old bar room of the mid to late 1800’s and the dining hall of the early to mid-1900’s is once again a space for the community to gather, eat, drink, and socialize in.
Please come join us in making new memories in this historical building.
For more detailed information on Main Street and the Town’s history, visit the Newmarket Historical Society.
- Newmarket’s Public Library’s Digital History Collection-Newmarket Era & The History of The Town of Newmarket written by Ethel Willson Trewtella
- Newmarket Centennial 1857-1957 Booklet compiled by John Luck