Sir John Johnson House
Recognized Federal Heritage Building
© Parks Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada, 2003.
Williamstown, Williamstown, Ontario
Treasury Board Policy on Management of Real Property
1850 to 1850
FHBRO Report Reference:
Description of Historic Place
Sir John Johnson House is located on a hill in a rural setting overlooking the Raisin River in Williamstown, Ontario. It is a refined log and timber farmhouse with a T-shaped plan. The house features a trellised verandah that stretches across its long façade. The gable roof features prominent brick chimneys and a series of four dormers that echo the rhythm of the multi-paned windows across the façade. The official recognition is confined to the footprint of the building.
Sir John Johnson House is a Recognized Federal Heritage Building because of its historical associations, and its architectural and environmental values.
Sir John Johnson House is directly associated with the settlement of Loyalists and Scottish immigrants in the Williamstown district in Ontario. Sir John Johnson was a prominent United Empire Loyalist from New York State who was given extensive responsibility for the distribution of land and settlement of Loyalists after the American Revolution. Through the course of his duties, Johnson acquired considerable land, demonstrating his importance and status. He built the house, which was part of a grist and sawmill complex designed to attract other settlers to the area. Johnson’s property, along with the house, illustrates a significant phase of development in the establishment of Williamstown, as the mill would not only encourage settlement, but would create a higher grade of housing with readily-available sawn-boards.
Sir John Johnson House is valued for its good aesthetic design. Built of modified pièce-sur-pièce construction, it is an outstanding example of a refined log building and is one of the earliest surviving examples of the technique popular in the St. Lawrence Valley brought to eastern Ontario by its first settlers. Presenting a very good functional design, the original log building was integrated into a more substantial farmhouse with two successive additions that transformed a relatively simple framed-log structure, with original timber infill, into a residence. The construction techniques employed represent three distinct building programs. The very good craftsmanship and materials are evident in the wall timbers, and carefully executed framing.
The existing outbuildings and mill ruins are a testament to the historical relationship between the house and the development of the surrounding landscape into a community, and reinforces the rural character of its agricultural setting in the immediate vicinity of the house. The house, along with the property, creates a strong pastoral character and its prominent siting on the brow of a hill makes the house a visual landmark within the small village of Williamstown.
The character-defining elements of Sir John Johnson House should be respected.
Its good aesthetic and very good functional design and very good craftsmanship and materials, for example: the integration of the early building from the 1700s into a more substantial farmhouse; the gable-roofed, T-shaped plan, which consists of a one-and-a-half storey rectangular structure with a steep two-storey, gable-fronted wing; the series of dormers and projecting brick chimneys set on a continuous roof; the log structure with timber infill using the ‘pièce-sur-pièce’ construction and the ‘entre poteaux’ method; the wood cladding; the regularly arranged, multi-pane, sash windows and the two ground-floor casement windows and doorway on the east wing; the trellised verandah that stretches along the front elevation; the entranceway that opens onto the south-side verandah; the interior layout.
The manner in which Sir John Johnson’s House reinforces the rural character of its agricultural setting and is a familiar landmark, as evidenced by: its scale, design and natural materials that harmonize with its pastoral landscape surrounding and complement its semi-rural setting. its high visibility from the village of Williamstown due to its prominent siting atop a hill.
Heritage Character Statement
The heritage character statement was developed by FHBRO to explain the reasons for the designation of a federal heritage building and what it is about the building that makes it significant (the heritage character). It is a key reference document for anyone involved in planning interventions to federal heritage buildings and is used by FHBRO in their review of interventions.
The Sir John Johnson House is located near the Raisin River in Williamstown, Glengarry County, Ontario. Originally part of a grist and sawmill complex built by Sir John Johnson sometime between 1784 and 1792, the Sir John Johnson House contained the millwright's office and residence. There are two major additions to the original building -- a two storey addition on the west made about 1825, and a larger Gothic Revival addition to the east dating from the 1850s. The Sir John Johnson House was commemorated by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada in 1961 and purchased by Parks Canada in 1971. Since that time it has been winterized and re-roofed. The Williamstown branch of the Seaway Valleys Libraries currently leases the Gothic Revival portion of the building, while the rest remains vacant. The Environment Canada Parks Service is custodian of the building. See FHBRO Building Report 88-79.
Reason for Designation
The Sir John Johnson House in Williamstown has been designated a Recognized Federal Heritage Property. It was constructed as an investment property by Sir John Johnson, a prominent United Empire Loyalist from New York State who was given extensive responsibility for the distribution of land and settlement of Loyalists after the American Revolution. In the course of his duties Johnson acquired considerable land for himself, land like this property in Williamstown.
Johnson developed this mill site as a nucleus to encourage the settlement of Loyalists and Scottish immigrants in the Williamstown district. He brought millwrights from Montreal to construct and man his sawmill. Among the buildings they built was the original house on this property -- of modified pièce-sur-
pièce construction. The building is an outstanding example of a refined log building, and one of the earliest surviving examples of the technique popular in the St. Lawrence Valley brought to eastern Ontario by its first settlers.
The site of this building contains several ruins which permit its early role as part of a mill complex to be readily identified. Today the Sir John Johnson House is still surrounded by considerable property which continues to provide it with a compatible semi-rural setting. It sits high on the brow of a hill isolated from the surrounding suburbs. The hill itself is a prominent feature of Williamstown.
Character Defining Elements
The heritage value of the Sir John Johnson House resides in the composition, materials and craftsmanship of its original eighteenth century log portion. The fabric of this structure must be protected against damage or further intrusion as a first priority. Its integrity must be supported and maintained in future work.
The integration of this early building into a more substantial farmhouse is an important part of its history, and should be protected. The configuration and integrity of the materials and massing of the entire building should be maintained with an awareness that proper maintenance for the entire complex is the best form of protection.
The site and character of the setting of the building should be protected as an integral property. Land severance or further development would weaken the character of the property. Both the size and rural nature of this property are essential to secure a sympathetic setting for the building and maintain a strong rural image in the town.
The ruins of earlier mill buildings on the site should also be identified, protected, and respected in future planning. They provide an essential functional and historical link between the house and the mill complex which once surrounded it.