831 King St: The Dawson House
& 668 King: The Oldest Store in Town
The Dawson family built a large and stately home in Bridgewater which remained in the family for four generations.The family home was perched atop a hill overlooking the Lahave River from King St. Though it has gone through a few renovations, the home still stands today, an important heritage property because of the prominent family that built it.
Robert Dawson Sr. began a legacy in business as a merchant on King St. His family business thrived and both his sons followed in his footsteps running the family business and store. This building is the oldest store still standing in Bridgewater and is still in operation today as Cumming's Fire and Safety, remarkably well preserved.
Perched on a hilltop overlooking the beautiful LaHave River, stands 831 King St., the home built for Robert Dawson Sr. in 1864. By this time, Robert Dawson had already established himself as a successful businessman, owning and operating a firm on King Street in the heart of the town's commercial area.
Dawson Family Home c.1880. 85.13.1 DBP3B (cropped)
In this photograph of the original structure, note the Gothic dormer, centred over the front door. The gingerbread bargeboard may be faintly seen along the eaves.
The original structure was simpler in design than the house that now sits atop the hill just past Victoria Road.The home has undergone two major renovations: the first in 1900 and the second from 1948 to 1950. According to a descendant of Robert Dawson, the original structure would have been two-and-a-half storeys tall and it had a peaked Gothic dormer over the front door. There was no veranda, nor was the door flanked by two-storey bay windows as it is today.It did however have decorative 'gingerbread' bargeboards under the eaves. At the back of the home, there was a kitchen ell with a small porch. It was built in the Picturesque style, identified by its two chimneys, central door and dormer, and its decoration.·Picturesque style is used to describe a building with a pitched gable roof, a doorway that is centered, a large central dormer with gothic window, two chimneys and gingerbread trim along the eaves. Each of these elements was present in the original structure, judging by early photos.
|Renovations in 1900 (likely done by Robert Dawson Jr., Robert Sr.'s firstborn son), added a tower, a veranda with intricate decoration, nice turned brackets and balustrades. A bay window was placed over one of the upstairs windows.At this time, the front door was moved from the center of the house to the corner, and sidelights and transom window were added.Clearly, by moving the door to the side (thus creating an asymmetrical façade), adding a tower and the decorative veranda, Robert Dawson Jr. was attempting to rid the house of its Picturesque style in favor of capturing a more Victorian style.||
The Dawsons porch after the 1900 renovation.
Note the curved, highly decorated veranda and the door now on the corner of the house.
The renovations in 1948-1950 were done by Robert MacGregor Dawson Sr.; these changes undid the Victorian elements that were added by Robert Dawson Jr. only fifty years earlier. The veranda and tower were removed and the door was returned to its original position in the center of the house. However, Robert MacGregor Dawson Sr. did not stop there. He added two, two-storey bay windows on either side of the door and made further structural changes by pushing the façade of the house six feet outward, towards the road. At the same time, the kitchen ell at the back of the house was replaced with a larger structure.
The house that stands today is that of the 1948-1950 remodel. Little remains of the original structure or the decorative elements of the 1900 renovation, when the house took on the Victorian style. It now stands with a large, centered front door flanked by two-storey bay windows. Above the door is a small pedimented dormer. Double chimneys give the house a symmetrical appearance. The large ell is still present at the back of the house. The carriage house at the back of the property is original, but has undergone renovations and now serves as a guest house.
The house stayed in the Dawson Family for four generations, all generations bearing the name Robert. Robert Dawson Sr.'s wife Martha Eliza moved out of the house on King Street after his death and moved into Ivy Banks, the home of the late Judge Mather Byles DesBrisay on Pleasant Street. Robert Jr. and his wife moved into the Dawson House after a short stint in the Fletcher B. Wade house on Pleasant Street. Following Robert Jr.'s death, the house passed to Robert MacGregor Dawson then onto his son Robert MacGregor Dawson Jr.
On the Church Map of Bridgewater, complete in 1883, the Dawson house is called Pine Grove. However, it was remembered as being called Pine Hill, due to the fact that there were many pine trees on the property and the house was located atop a steep slope.
The Dawson House can still be seen perched on its hilltop overlooking the picturesque LaHave River and still possesses charm and character, if not the original façade.
Robert Dawson Sr. built his business around the same time he built his home on King Street.·In 1848, after serving under Halifax merchant Joseph Jennings, Robert Dawson became the manager of a new store Jennings opened in Bridgewater. Not long after, Dawson was able to buy out his employer and set up shop in the building across the street on to the river's edge.
Robert Dawson's firm began as a general store selling mostly hardware but quickly transformed into a store for various things including lumber, feed, machinery, etc.·In the 1864 Nova Scotia Directory, Robert Dawson is listed as a merchant; however, in 1890, Robert Dawson & Son was listed as general merchant, ship owner, and lumber merchant. In fewer than 30 years, the firm branched out into other commercial fields and owning his own vessel would have surely given Dawson an edge over his competition.
The building itself remains remarkably intact for its 150 odd years of use.·It is a large two-and-a-half-storey building, built on the sloping bank of the river.·Built in the Greek Revival style, it has a gable roof, wide corner boards, decorative capital mouldings, returning eaves, and hood mouldings over the windows.
This photograph was taken sometime after 1890. (Busy East, page 43)
Note the returning eaves in the front, and the visible corner boards and the hood moulding over each window.
In 1885, the business of Robert Dawson became known as Robert Dawson & Son and in 1890, it was again changed to Robert Dawson & Sons. Both name changes were to incorporate Dawson's sons Robert Jr. and J.K. into the business, making it a family venture. Today, the building still serves as a store-- Cuming's Fire and Safety Equipment Ltd.
Cuming's Fire and Safety Equipment Ltd. has owned the property since 1979. Its character-defining elements are still very much intact. (Photograph taken in June 2012)
Born in Port Mouton in 1812, Robert Dawson was the only son of a Scotsman from Aberdeen.·As a young man, Dawson worked as a clerk for Joseph Jennings, a merchant with a successful firm in Halifax. Eventually, Jennings noticed Dawson's talent for business and promoted him to manager of a new store Jennings started on King Street in Bridgewater in 1848. Shortly afterwards, Dawson was able to buy out his employer and begin his own business under his own name.
Robert Dawson married Martha Elizabeth, daughter of John N. Hebb, in 1856. Together they had five children. Three of their children (Robert Jr., J.K., and Ella) survived to adulthood and outlived their father and mother, who died in 1894 and 1911, respectively.
The man sitting on the right of the photograph with the tall hat is Robert Dawson Sr. Standing beside him is his wife, Martha. Their son Robert Jr. lounges on the grass on the far right. The group of on the left consists of J.K. (standing) and Ella (seated on the grass). (According to Dr. Robert MacGregor Dawson in a letter to Bill Plaskett, December 28, 1984) Photograph 85.13.1 DBP3B (cropped)
Dawson's shop was successful from the outset and Dawson quickly branched out to incorporate a wide range of products for sale. He engaged in shipping and had Benjamin Harrington build him the brigantine Micmac in 1862. Dawson also came to own a mill and wharf.
Robert Dawson was widely known as a generous and reliable businessman and became a prominent person in the community. On Dawson's death on January 18, 1894, Judge Mather Byles DesBrisay stated that Dawson was "[a] man of sterling integrity, high principle and gentlemanly manners, he succeeded in impressing all who knew him most favourably, and his death makes a gap in our community that cannot easily be filled". Dawson had served the community, involved in a long list of groups and in various positions, including: "Chairman of the Board of Fire Wardens, Commissioner of Schools, Treasurer of the Bridgewater Agricultural Society, and of the Masonic lodge...".
Robert Dawson was, by all accounts, a successful, honest businessman for forty-five years. He worked to the best of his ability to build up his business and his legacy and business were carried on after his death by his two sons Robert and J.K.
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McAlpine's Nova Scotia Directory for 1890-97.
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Genealogical Society, 1995.
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