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The House that Charles Built
The Ermatinger Old Stone House has been fully restored to depict the domestic and professional life of Charles Oakes Ermatinger, as well as other respected residents who lived in the House between 1808 and 1896. The home was built with local red fieldstone and the exterior walls range from 30” to 36” thick, which provided natural protection against the elements. The flooring is original and is 2” thick by 6” wide, double tongued and grooved white pine. The majority of the doors are in their original form. The fire mantles are all reproductions, created with hand tools to closely preserve the original design.
The house itself is believed to have been built in two phases. This belief stems from the difference in the stone work between the first and second storey: the stones used for the second floor are smaller and darker than the stones used for the first floor. The house is an immensely strong structure supported in the basement by huge peeled cedar logs fifteen or more inches in diameter. The logs span the full width of the house and are supported on a central spine wall 27” thick.
The house measures 35’ by 45’ with the original grounds/property spanning 252 acres. The Stone House was constructed using stones of various sizes applied to both faces of the walls and then covered with a lime mortar. This allowed the stones to be perfectly positioned without any attempt at pointing them outward.
The story of the Ermatinger family weaves into Canada’s history with regards to the early settlers, voyageurs, soldiers, writers, and artists. Prior to the completion of the transcontinental railway, Sault Ste. Marie was the gateway between the eastern settlement of Canada and the Western boundaries of exploration. Prominent individuals that have visited or referred to the House include American ethnologist Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, writer Anna Jameson, painters Paul Kane and George Catlin, and Colonel Garnet Wolseley. Lord Selkirk also enjoyed the warm hospitality of the Ermatingers when he visited in 1816.
The Ermatinger Family
Charles Oakes Ermatinger was born in Montreal in 1776. He was of Swiss decent and was the son of the wealthy Lawrence Ermatinger and Jemima Oakes. Members of Charles’ extended family had been involved in the fur trade and naturally he followed suit. It is assumed that Charles launched his fur trade career in 1797 in the Sand Lake area near the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Charles’ family later moved to Montreal where they operated a mercantile business. It was not long after that when Charles became associated with the Northwest Company, the XY Company, and the American Fur Trade Company. On an expedition to Sand Lake Minnesota, Charles met his wife Mananowe, whom he later renamed Charlotte. She was the daughter of the well respected Ojibwa Chief Katawabeta, an influential policy chief of the Sandy Lake tribe. The two later wed in the fashion of the day, which simply required a verbal business contract. Before the couple’s departure to Sault Ste. Marie, they had six children together. While in Sault Ste. Marie they had seven more children, for a total of thirteen children. The Ermatingers lived in the Old Stone House for fourteen years. Charles, his wife and their children moved back to Montreal in 1828 to continue his father’s business.
Fur Trade Post
According to records, Charles Ermatinger had a fur trade post located on his property. In the fur trade post you will find various European trade goods and a price list. This was where Charles conducted the majority of his business transactions, especially providing European goods to the Natives in exchange for their trapped fur. Most animals were trapped by the Natives and immediately skinned. Scrappers removed the flesh and fat. Pelts were pulled over stretchers with the flesh side out. The women did much of this work. The furs would be stretched and then placed on canvas or hide packages, which were also known as pieces. Pieces of fur and other goods were sent to Montreal by birch bark canoes, which were manned by voyageurs, who were young men often of French- Canadian decent. These men were chosen for their endurance and brute strength. The voyageurs would canoe between Upper and Lower Canada, often traveling sixteen hours per day. Each canoe was up to 40’ long and could carry up to 1000 pounds. Voyeurs were rarely taller than 5’5, which allowed for optimal room in the canoes for supplies or merchandise. Also the height restriction that was usually enforced was to ensure that all men on the canoe would have similar strokes when paddling. During encounters with rough water, the Voyageurs were forced to portage. At times two 90 lbs. pieces (packs) filled with animal furs were carried over long portages. Voyageurs often settled at inland posts, such as Sault Ste Marie, after their traveling days. Manufactured iron goods such as hatchets, pots and awls, were very common for trade and made everyday life easier. By the 19th Century, imported cloth and blankets had replaced animal skin and furs. Ribbon, thread, beads and needles were sought by women for decoration clothing and items of adornment.
The Early Parlour room was used as a family room to relax and do various other activities. It was also frequently used to entertain guests. Needlework, beading, reading and children’s games would all take place in this room. The face fans and pole screens served as protection from the heat and exposure from the fire, a definite benefit for the women as their makeup would have been made out of a waxed mixture. The green wing back chair is a reproduction piece and the “wings” served to keep drafts away from anyone sitting near the window. Also, notice the height of both the chair and sofa, which allowed ones’ feet to be protected from the floor’s cold drafts during the harsh winter months. The candle sticks are strategically placed in front of the mirror to allow additional light to reflect back into the rooms. Located to the right of the fireplace, and found in almost every room of the House, is a closet. During the Ermatinger’s stay in Sault Ste. Marie, taxes were levied on the number of closets in each residence. When visitors were in the House, Charles would close the closet doors to suggest that he was wealthy enough to afford paying large sums of money for all of the closets, however, the small dimensions of his closets allowed him to escape paying taxes on them.
Dining Room - 1820
At the time, it was important to Charles Ermatinger to extend his hospitality to those he did business with. Mr. Ermatinger was known for his caribou dinners and expensive drinks served on the finest of china. The dining table belonged to Edward Ermatinger, a nephew of Charles. It was hand carved and is made of fine cherry wood. The copper tea urn was used on special occasions. The tea cups on the engraved silver tray are common to the period. The cups have no handles on them and the “bowls” (saucers) are very deep. The temperature of the tea could be felt through the cup walls, and if too hot, the tea was poured into the bowl, cooled, and then drank out of the bowl. The chandelier was lit with spills made by tightly rolled stripes of paper to form a slender stick. The map of the Great Lakes that is hanging on the wall was drawn by Monsieur Bellin in 1755. It was created based on drawings and reports that the voyageurs sent to him in France about what the area looked like. Bellin never actually traveled here, although his depiction is impressively accurate.
The Winter Kitchen - 1820
The winter kitchen would have been used in the winter months as it was the warmest room in the house. Cooking was done over the fire or on the hearth using cast iron pots. Notice the pewter dinnerware. This is a strong and durable mineral, however, it posed a definite hazard with many of its users succumbing to lead poisoning. The traditional spingerle (cookie) press is a replica of the ones used by the Ermatingers to represent their Swiss heritage. The pictures on the cutter represent the daily chores of the time. A dash butter churn is a necessity in every pioneer kitchen. The butter making process would take about an hour to complete and would be made on a regular basis. A boot jack rests on the floor in case a son or daughter was not available to remove their father’s boots. The table and chairs would have been painted using blueberry milk stain. The chair’s seats are woven with deer hide thongs. The table top, often referred to as a “scrub top”, is made of an unfinished wood allowing easy cleanup, since it could be scrubbed down with lye soap. Notice the flour sifter hanging on the wall, which would have been made from dyed horse hair woven for the sieve.
Summer Kitchen - 1820
Added to the house in 1983, this room represents the original summer kitchen that was destroyed by fire in 1840. It was typical for a kitchen of this sort to burn down, therefore it would not be attached to the main house. The original summer kitchen was located behind the main house where Queen Street is today. This also allowed the house to stay cool in those hot summer months. The original kitchen was approximately 1/3 smaller with a dirt floor and log walls, which allowed for the air to circulate. Notice the bake oven to the left of the hearth. This was the only bake oven in town at the time and Mr. Ermatinger allowed the community to use it to bake their own goods. The oven itself takes hours to heat up making cooking quite a lengthy process. The side board on the far wall holds various spices for baking, dried plants for dying, and various blue willow dishes that are similar to the dishes used by the Ermatingers.
Basement - 1820
In the basement you will find strong supportive beams for the house. These beams are cedar logs fifteen or more inches in diameter. Located on the floor, to the left of the mantle, are period tools that would have been used to cut down the cedar trees surrounding the property. At the time, the basement would have served the Ermatingers as an area for cold storage. In 1974, an archeological dig of the property surrounding the site was conducted. The findings of that dig are displayed in the circular viewing cases.
Native Life & European Agriculture
In 1798, Charles furthered his career in the fur trade by traveling to Minnesota and marrying Mananowe, the daughter of influential Ojibwa Chief Katawabeta. This alliance would have guaranteed Charles’ success and secured a strong foothold in his business. The Old Stone House was built on a 252 acre property, with 30 acres cleared of trees to allow room for crops. As Charles cleared the land, the trunks of trees were used for structural support for the house. After the land was cleared, a team of horses or oxen hooked together by a yoke (long wooden tool with three circular metal rings, located in the far left corner of the room) pulled out the stumps allowing the fertile soil to be filled and planting to begin. Charles’ 30 acres of farm land reached from the House to McNabb Street on top of the hill. Seeds were often planted by broadcasting, which involves tossing seeds by hand and letting them grow wherever they fall.
Bedroom - 1820
The bed itself is a four poster canopy bed, which supports a straw and feather tick mattress. Warmth was of particular concern, so heavy wool curtains enclosed the bed allowing the drafts to be kept out on cold winter nights. Located in front of the bed is a blanket box, which would have been used to hold homemade blankets or quilts. The brass bed warmer would be filled with hot coals and used to iron the bed before retiring for the evening. At the back of the room, you can see the Quebec clothes press. The two doors open allowing the drawers to slide out, which would keep clothes from wrinkling before common closets were used. Since clothes making was such a time consuming activity, pioneers had only a few items of clothing, which they tried to make last as long as possible, thus proper clothing storage was crucial.
Victorian Parlour - 1850
This room represents the time when David Pim ran the House as a hotel. Mr. Pim was the first person to hold an official deed to the house, as shown in the standing display case. The Victorian Parlour would have been a room where the women of the house would congregate in a leisurely fashion. The pedestal table was the centre of activities: games were played here, needlepoint was done, letters were written, tea was served, and Bible readings were given. The chairs and sofa are quite low in this room compared to the Early Parlour, allowing women’s dresses to sit nicely against the floor. Larger rugs and embroidered footstools became popular to keep one’s feet from the cold floors.
Gentlemen’s Sitting Room - 1860
This room is dedicated to Sault Ste. Marie’s first sheriff, Richard Carney. The courtrooms were located on the main floor, along with the clerk’s office and a tavern. Mr. Carney lived on the second floor and used this sitting room as his office. Here he would entertain his friends and colleagues and discuss with them business, politics and religion. Clay pipes were very popular at this time and tobacco would have been smoked. Women were only allowed in this room to serve refreshments or to clean up after the men.
Later 19th Century Residents
In 1934, Anglican missionary William MacMurray came from Southern Ontario to serve the Ojibwa people in Sault Ste. Marie. He married a daughter of John Johnson, whose trading post was situated on the south shore of the river. MacMurray and his wife built a church and school house for the Ojibwa people.
The House later fell into the hands of David and Margaret Pim who bought it in 1853 and turned it into the Stone House Hotel. During this time many well-known people visited the area and stayed at the Hotel.
Richard Carney, the first sheriff in Sault Ste. Marie, arrived in 1858 from Owen Sound and lived in the House with his family. When Colonel Prince became the first Judge in 1859, the two rooms on the west side were used as courtrooms. William Carney, Richard’s son, followed in his father’s footsteps and became the city’s second sheriff. He lived on the second storey of the House until the early 1900’s.
Following the Carney’s, the House changed owners several times. It was used by the YWCA as a meeting hall, and boarding house for girls. In the 1930’s, it was purchased by A.F. Hamilton and became a social club, including a tea room, dance hall, a site for outdoor amusements and cabins for rent.
In the 1940’s, the House was converted into four separate apartments and used as such until 1964, when it was purchased by the City and restoration begun. In 1970 the House was designated a National Historic Site.