The Springfield House Complex of historic buildings, in the Township of Leeds and the Thousand Islands, are in danger of being declared surplus and possibly sold. Closing these buildings and selling the property would result in the loss of a small museum, and the local heritage and genealogical research centre. The Township Archives would have to be relocated. Currently, a place that is large enough to house all of the currently held artifacts has not been located. These are the only heritage buildings owned by the township, which is located in one of the most historically rich areas of the country.
Alarm and Concern
At the March 1, 2021, TLTI Township meeting, the Committee of the Whole recommended that Council direct staff initiate the process to consider declaring the property surplus. Their decision also recommended that there be public notification and consultation on possible options for the property. *
At the Council meeting held March 8, 2021, Council confirmed the decision to close the buildings to the public and to proceed with the notification and consultation process, as required.
The Townships based its decision on three options: To carry out the necessary repairs at the Municipality’s expense; to declare the buildings as surplus and sell them to an interested community group; or, to close the site and demolish the structures.
Rather than rush to a decision, the Council has directed staff to work with the community's general citizens and the group known as The Friends of Springfield House Complex, to see what other solutions might be found. A working group has been formed that includes members from the Friends of Springfield House Complex and other stakeholders. This group will work with the Township staff to find ways to accommodate the Township Archives, and to pursue options for the future public use of these historic buildings.
The Community appreciates this pause so that alternatives to selling these precious cultural heritage assets may be found.
Friends of Springfield House Complex Mission Statement:
To conserve the Springfield Complex as a museum, archives, and active cultural and heritage center for the Township of Leeds and the Thousand Islands.
Built in 1871, Springfield House is one of the oldest, still complete, historic, commercial/residential stone structures in the Township. Both it and the old Escott Township Hall were designated under the Ontario Heritage Act in 1979 (over 40 years ago). This designation does not, however, prevent the Township from selling the properties.
In 1871, the small Township of Front of Escott decided it was time to have a proper town hall. At the same time, the local Masonic Lodge decided that they needed a larger space in which to meet. Since Reeve Fields was also a prominent Mason, it seemed a logical union. The downstairs of the proposed brick building was to house the town hall, and the second storey was built by the Masons of Macoy Lodge #242. In November 1871, the Escott town Council met for the first time in the new Town Hall.
Shortly after that, John Gerald Kavanagh built Springfield House on the property as a hotel, envisioning councillors and lodge members needing refreshments and accommodations, due to long meetings and inclement weather. Subsequently, Springfield House became a residence, and at times was a store.
One hundred years later, in the 1970/80s, as a result of extensive and intensive community efforts, Springfield House was restored at a cost of over $150,000.
Following the 1980's renovations, the Front of Escott Library was opened in Springfield House. After the amalgamation of Escott Township and the Front of Leeds and Lansdowne Township in 1999, the library at Springfield House became a branch of the Township of Leeds and Thousand Islands Public Library. This branch continued to serve the community, which included hosting many special events, until late 2016.
Today's Archives and Community Support
The Archives, our Township's heritage treasure chest, is housed in these two buildings. This collection of unique artifacts and materials comprises a large, comprehensive, compilation of rare items, which has greatly expanded through the generous donations of our citizens and people with family connections to the area. Currently, there are no viable candidates for an alternative location
"The Township of Leeds and the Thousand Islands embraces a mandate to preserve, enhance, and celebrate its diverse history..." (Official Plan 2018)
Archives document the collective memory of the community. They may appear to be simply papers, photographs, and records, but they tell stories and histories, which allow us to understand and learn from the past. Today, the Springfield House archives are used by researchers from near and far. Thanks to the work of Pierre Mercier, thousands of records have been preserved digitally. (See https://www.ltiarchives.ca/index.php/)
To the community, these buildings are a showpiece of early architecture and are a focal point of pride in the Township.
Supporting the Future Springfield Complex
Many of the principal contributors to the original restoration of Springfield House are now deceased but remain revered by the community. Many too, were recipients of Ontario provincial awards for their volunteer services. In particular, George Shire, long-time councillor and Reeve of the Front of Escott, was the key figure driving its restoration. He serves as an inspiration to us as a hard-working leader dedicated to his community and to the preservation of its history.
Springfield House and the old township hall are the only publicly owned heritage buildings in the Township. If we lose them, we have nothing left that the public can access, appreciate, learn from, touch their roots, and be inspired.
We believe that there is only one acceptable choice: to conserve this complex as an active cultural and heritage center for the Township. The Archives needs to have a home that will protect its irreplaceable photos and documents. The museum artifacts also need a safe repository. Springfield House can serve a vital role as the venue for expanded cultural events such as arts and craft sales, elegant teas, food fairs, historical talks, as well as providing a natural venue for public consultation, and genealogical research, and special events.
Together, Springfield House and the Town Hall provide the space to house our Township's entire heritage collection. There are also two sheds on the property, the road works shed and the garage. Both may also have future use as storage for artifacts such as antique farm equipment or other oversized items with minimal storage requirements. Of course, the entire property can also be advantageous when hosting more significant events involving outdoor activities.
We look forward to collaborating with the Township and all stakeholders to preserve, protect and enhance the Springfield House Complex, for the long-term benefit of our Township. To meet these goals, the Friends of Springfield House Complex is now incorporated as a not for profit organization.
We understand that due to the pandemic, we are in a period of austerity. However, despite the obstacles, this is something we need to do. Springfield House Complex, our heritage, and our culture must be preserved and shared.
By Brian R. Phillips and Glennda Olivier, email@example.com
I can't speak highly enough about the need to ensure that local Thousand Islands archival materials are preserved forever. In addition, this is an opportunity to provide a sense of place, by celebrating the TLTI’s collective heritage, and offering a great way to get to know the history of this particular region. TI Life does not promote fund raising campaigns per se, but this project deserves our attention and support.
For more information on the Friends of the Springfield House Complex see:
firstname.lastname@example.org, P.O Box 394, Lansdowne, ON, K0E 1L0
See Also: email@example.com and Facebook: Friends of Springfield House
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