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Barn turned into a garage reminds of Old Stumblebum

Uncle Bob with Don.

The recent conversion of barn doors to garage doors at my late grandmother’s former home on The Commons, evoked long forgotten memories for me. A young widow when she moved to her new home on Hill Street, in 1919, granny had the barn built to stable one of her late husband’s favourite horses, a black gelding named Don.

My grandparents decided to sell their farm of Chuckery Hill and move to Picton, when my grandfather’s health began to decline as the result of a serious heart condition. Weeks before his death, grandfather watched, sorrowfully, as all of his cows and farm horses were sold at auction. He had always been especially proud of his matched driving team of blacks, Prince and Don, and had turned down an attractive offer for them, from the owner of a Picton funeral home who wanted them for his hearse. However, realizing that it would be impractical to bring the team to town, he sold Prince at auction and kept Don. Realizing that his health was precarious, he asked my grandmother to keep Don, for as long as possible, in the event of his death.

Just days after the auction in which his cattle and horses were sold, my grandfather died of a massive coronary. Granny was left to move to town with her young family. Unfortunately, there was no barn in which to stable Don on her new Hill Street property. Remembering her promise to her husband, granny quickly arranged to have one built.

My mother used to recall that when the family first came to town, Don was tethered on a vacant lot at the corner of Hill and Broad Streets where he grazed contentedly until a neighbour complained. Luckily, his new stable soon was in a state of readiness and granny bought him back to a sturdily built little barn.

My grandmother had no real fondness for animals and no particular use for a horse. However, during the time that my father, the late James Haylock, boarded at her home, he sometimes rode Don. One day, after granny accidentally broke a window, dad volunteered to take it to Carter Brothers Hardware to have the glass replaced. It was agreed that for this errand he would ride Don. In our family album, there is a yellowed photograph of my father, astride Don’s’ broad back, with the window held under his arm. He often told us that seconds after the picture was snapped, his mount bucked and unseated him. The remaining glass in the window shattered in hundreds of pieces. Unfortunately, my father had neglected to notice that a corner of the window had been prodding Don, sharply in his flank.

When Don finally died of old age, my grandmother found several practical uses for his stable. Firewood was piled inside and surplus furniture and other household items not in use were stored there. It was not until the mid-1940s that a horse was once again stabled in the barn. It was then that my Uncle Bob and several local businessmen, including lawyer Fred Ward and grocer Russell Gardiner decided to buy horses.

My uncle’s first horse was a cherry bay mare called Effie Mae. Broken to ride and drive, she was an ideal beginner’s horse. Not long after acquiring “Effie” Uncle Bob decided that he wanted a more spirited mount. His wife, Margaret, had expressed an interest in learning how to ride and he thought his mare would be the perfect horse for her. After inspecting several horses that were offered for sale in neighbouring communities, finally, he chose a large black gelding named Stardust, for himself. A hunter jumper, he was advertised as a fine show animal, suitable for an experienced rider. Uncle Bob was very proud of his new mount and could not wait to show him off to friends who were visiting from Peterborough.

When Uncle Bob and Aunt Margaret took their houseguests to granny’s barn to see Stardust, one of the visitors looked at the new horse and gave a gasp of surprise. She then patted his neck and said, “Old Stumblebum, it’s you.” My uncle discovered, to his great embarrassment, that his fine new mount had previously been in a riding stable in the Peterborough area. Not noted for being fleet of foot, or especially ambitious, he had been put up for sale.

Uncle Bob stabled his horses on The Commons for more than 15 years. In 1959, he moved them to a barn on his own property on York Street. When my grandmother sold her home, in 1963, to a retired farmer and his wife, from Big Island, the couple immediately re-painted the barn. It was used for storage, during the years that they lived on Hill Street. Subsequent owners also found it convenient for this purpose.

More than 90 years after its construction, this summer, granny’s barn has been covered in vinyl siding and fitted with a garage door. The small, wood-framed windows that were once in Stardust’s and Effie Mae’s stalls have been replaced with modern windows. No one would guess that this “new” garage was once a horse stable.

The disappearance of my grandmother’s barn was a sad reminder to me that time marches on. Once, many of the homes on Hill Street, my own included, had adjacent barns. My childhood playmate, Johnny Heffer and I, used to explore his grandparents’ barn on Broad Street. We were fascinated by the stuffed parrot which presumably, had been banished from the parlor, to a perch overlooking the stairway leading to the upper floor of the former horse stable.

Our neighbour, “Pops” Cooper’s house had once been a barn. It was converted to a cozy, two-storey home, with only its hip roof as a reminder that it had once been a different type of structure. Other houses on Hill Street that came complete with barns included the Bernard and May Morris home, once owned by my great uncle, William Haylock, the George Millier residence (this barn has now been restored by new owners of the property, Elinor and Jack Hicks), and the Howard and Phyllis Clarke home.

For almost 100 years, the small barn that my grandmother built for Don, stood as a nostalgic reminder of a time when horses were stabled in town. Today, it houses horsepower of a different sort. Although granny’s barn has been repurposed, in my mind’s eye, I still see it as the snug little stable that once was home to Old Stumblebum and Effie Mae.

Filed Under: Margaret Haylock-Capon

About the Author: Maggie Haylock is a freelance writer and former newspaper reporter who has co-authored several books with her husband, Alan Capon.

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