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View of The Westbrook House

Photo by C. Barker, 2005

“Nothing but a tar-paper shack...”



The following

was featured in the ACORN Magazine in 2012, by the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario in a feature called "Heritage Heroes"

Copyright © 2012-2020 By Catherine Stevenson


At first glance, the old Westbrook house didn’t look like anything more than a “tar-papered shack.” Its deconstruction had been overseen by local built heritage specialist Clayton Barker, who was the first to recognize it as a structure that had witnessed the last battle of the War of 1812. Seven years ago, when Clayton Barker, of Burford, Ontario, had learned that an old hired-hand house on a farm near the village of Oakland, Ontario, was on the demolition list for Brant County, he drew upon his background in Urban Design and Architectural Conservation coupled with 24 years of experience as an Architectural and Civil technician to document and salvage the building.


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The first look at the building’s fabric.

The inner sheathing boards were some 20 to 30 inches in width, and cut on water-powered saw mill (up-and-down-saw). Note: the outer sheathing was modern lumber from mid-20th century (circular saw).

Photo by C. Barker, 2005


On a very cold and blustery January day in 2005, as a member of the Municipal Heritage Committee, Clayton was granted permission to observe the building and photograph it for posterity, as it was situated in the middle of a planning application which would involve its having to be demolished or control-burned by the fire department. Under normal circumstances, this would have been the end of the story however, as he poked and prodded, photographed and sketched the old building, which had been converted into a hired hand’s house for the produce farm, he had hopes that he would find evidence to support local legend and speculation that it had been constructed prior to the War of 1812-14.


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There were “Rose head” nails (wrought iron nails or blacksmith’s nails) found in the Westbrook House, along with “type-A” cut nails.

Photo by C. Barker, 2005


To the untrained eye, it appeared to only date from the 1940’s yet, there was something about the proportions of the building, the slope of its gable ends, versus the height of its walls and overall width that seemed to speak of a much older structure. In fact, local anecdotal evidence recorded in the 1920’s, and in a local history book, published in the mid-20th century, proclaim that this old one-and-a-half-storey frame constructed building was considered to be more than 100 years old back 90 years ago!!


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Exposed timbers with dowels (or “trunnels”/ “tree-nails”) at second floor. Note lime-washed sections below wall paper. Photo by C. Barker, 2005



Back in the days of the original settlers, the road through Oakland was the main route to Lake Erie from the historic settlement of “Brant’s Ford,” (now City of Brantford). Oakland Township was surveyed in the late 1700’s and in 1800 became part of Burford Township, known as “The Burford Gore.” The village of Oakland was laid out by a surveyor in 1810. Haggai Westbrook settled on this site and constructed a log house there and married Mary Sayles in 1797 in Oakland. Haggai was born at Machackemeck, Orange County, New York State in 1775, was the second youngest of eight children of Anthony and Sarah (Dekker) Westbrook (Westbroek). His father was Anthony Westbroek, a U.E. Loyalist, who served as a Volunteer with Captain Joseph Brant during the American Revolutionary War. Haggai and Mary (called “Polly”) had three children: Haggai Jr., Abraham and Mordecai. Sometime between about c1807 and c1811, when the earliest cut iron nails started coming into this area and after the sawmill had been established at Oakland,  the Westbrook family replaced their original log cabin with this timber frame building. A short time later, Haggai’s wife died in 1812 and had only lived in the new house a couple years.


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East  Elevation showing structural framing. Note the extra framing to suport frieze board and cornice return. Photo by C. Barker, 2005.


Haggai joined the local Militia and served during the war of 1812 and two years later, the Westbrook Farm was part of the site of the last land battle fought against a foreign power on Canadian soil, November 6th, 1814 when brigadier General Duncan McArthur led nearly 800 men on a raiding expedition through Upper Canada.  With an estimated date of construction of 1810, the cabin therefore was standing during this important event, when local militia forces attempted to stop the Americans from further penetrating Upper Canada.  In fact, information gathered through research has since shown that a member of the Westbrook family was actually watching the battle from an upper (and still existing) window in the cabin!


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Second floor where a team of offshore workers removed finish materials including plaster (with animal hair) and riven lath. Photo by C. Barker, 2005



At the time the building was documented by Clayton, it had a random-rubble foundation, and the building was orientated east-west. It is Clayton’s theory that it had been moved to that location from its original position closer to the road. The existing primary residence on the farm is a red-bricked Regency dwelling constructed about 1855 and situated about one hundred feet to the north of where the old house stood between 1855 and 2005. It is likely that the Westbrook family was becoming quite crowded in this little one-and-a-half-storey (16’ x 24’) frame building by the 1850’s, as it is noted in the 1851 Census for the year 1851, that there were three families living in it. When the new house was constructed, the old house was moved and the rubble from its stone and brick chimney (perhaps a “Maryland Style” chimney) was incorporated into the foundation walls.


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Exposed timbers with layers of newspapers and wall paper over original coats of lime-wash (milk wash or white-wash) paint. Photo by C. Barker, 2005


Over the course of the documentation process, he managed to discover some evidence that the building was at least a pre-1830’s dwelling. The stairs to the second floor had been retrofit into an opening possibly left from there being a fireplace and chimney in the centre of the building. The fact that large hand-hewn timbers, which delineated the outer bounds of the rooms of the building, protruded into the living space and had a layer of old lime-based whitewash paint then covered over with modern wall panelling, indicated that the building was constructed in a very old post and beam technique, which was used in frame constructed buildings since the 1600’s and prior to 1830 in this region.


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With all the wall partitions removed it became clear that the centre hole which housed the modern stair, had been possibly the hole for a central chimney.

Note: the floor boards stop a few feet short of the wall at the right of the photo beyond the hole. This is potentially where the original “ship’s ladder style stair had been. Photo by C. Barker, 2005


It wasn’t much to “hang my hat on,” he said, but later on, during the deconstruction process of the building, further pieces of crucial evidence came to light: The roof was constructed  with tapered rafters and without a ridge board; The original stair to the second floor had been a “ship’s ladder” style stair in the corner of the building and evidence of this was seen in the configuration of the second floor floor-boards; the entire structure, excluding finish materials, was built using a mortise and tenon technique, and the heavy timbers fastened with wooden dowels called “trunnels” (from the term “tree-nails); Most of the nails found in the original finish materials were early (type ‘A’) cut nails and some blacksmith’s wrought or “rose-head” nails.


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All the salvaged components were marked with identification numbers and loaded onto the flatbed trailer. This pile of materials stayed on this trailer in the middle of a field unprotected for five years.



In addition to these discoveries, Clayton noted that the floor boards were nearly 20 inches wide in places and ran the full width of the building (16 foot) and the walls were sheathed on the interior side with boards as wide as 24 inches but only 1 ¼” thick. The mill-carriage of most early water-powered sawmills in those days, was only capable of cutting boards from logs up to 16 foot in length; this is why many of the buildings in those days were no wider than 16 foot. Regardless of whether buildings throughout Upper Canada were constructed utilizing a similar technique as this, right up until the early 20th century, the most diagnostic piece of evidence found as Clayton examined and documented each and every piece of this building came when he discovered that all the wide sheathing boards and even the edges of wall studs and the back-sides of floor boards and frieze boards had scars of their being cut by an “up and down” sash saw from a water-powered sawmill. The sawmill in Oakland was built by the Malcolm family sometime between 1802 and 1806, which was water-powered with an over-shot wheel and was destroyed during McArthur’s raid, November 6th, 1814 and never re-built. The region did not “bounce-back” so well after this war, as new sawmills and grist mills did not show up again in the area until 1817.



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Zoomer-boom fork-lift type piece of equipment was used to take the heavy timbers down and load them onto a flatbed trailer

(Clayton, Mike and Doug a.k.a. “Sandford and Son Deconstruction Crew,” photo by L.Guest, 2005)






Months went by and with summer, came the opportunity of a lifetime for Clayton. He had booked his vacation for two weeks in the month of June to enjoy time off with his children when they were finished school for the summer break. However, when he received word from the municipality that the building was actually going to be set to flames, he approached the owner of the building and requested permission to dismantle the building to be moved to perhaps a heritage theme park. He was granted permission and told that if he could remove the building then he could have it, and for the most part of two weeks, he monitored and marked all the components of the building as the finish materials were removed by the owner’s off-shore workers. Meanwhile Clayton continued to send out a plea to all heritage theme parks and museums in south-western Ontario and even the Mennonite community in hopes that someone could take the building someplace where it could be reconstructed. At one point, things looked hopeful when members of the Westfield Heritage Village at Rockton, Ontario, visited the project to look at the building. Though they confirmed that indeed they thought the building to date from the first part of the 19th century, they were not able to take it at that time.



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A pin or dowel, sometimes referred to as a “tree-nail” or “trunnel.” Photo by C. Barker, 2005


After all potential “avenues” had been exhausted, and all the finish materials removed, it seemed that after all that work, the building could still meet its fiery fate. His plea was answered by a local councillor and members of the heritage committee who offered to assist in dismantling the main timber skeleton structure of the building and to provide a trailer to place the materials on. The components of the cabin were placed on a flat-bed trailer, which in turn was parked in a field on a farm in Oakland about a mile and a half distant from its original location.  Clayton had understood that the trailer with the wood was stored in a barn; in fact, it was in an open field without a tarp.  And so it remained for about five years.


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Animal hair plaster. Photo by C. Barker,2005


In the early spring of 2010, Clayton had to address two key events: First, a local organization who had agreed to sponsor the reconstruction of the cabin on behalf of a sub-committee of the Municipal Heritage Committee had backed out of the project; Second, the materials were moved to the pavilion in the park where it was to be re-constructed on the grounds.  This latter event saw the centuries-old wooden timbers moved to a public place, which necessitated round-the-clock visits in order to protect the materials from theft or vandalism.  Clayton often kept vigil watch in the middle of the night to ensure the safety of the components of the rare and important building! At this point, since the project had been abandoned, Clayton approached the Westfield Heritage Village again and this time they were quite excited to learn that the building had survived. The Municipality signed the materials over to Westfield through a meeting of council and the members of Westfield came on April 26th 2010 and removed the materials from the park and transported them to Westfield village until the building can be re-constructed, possibly sometime in 2012 in time for the bicentennial of the War of 1812-14.


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Wrought iron artifacts, photo by C. Barker, 2005


His work did not end there.  Clayton is also in the process of creating architectural drawings to provide all the necessary information for re-construction as well as two intricately detailed table-top replica models.  He also plans to be on hand during the summer of 2012 to assist (or at least offer his advice) with the work of rebuilding the cabin.


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Scale model (front view) constructed by Clayton Barker depicting what the Westbrook House will look like when it is re-erected at Westfield heritage Village, Rockton in 2012.

Photo by C. Barker, 2010. 


Clayton’s involvement in saving the Westbrook House, perhaps that last building which was witness to the last battle fought on Canadian soil against a foreign power, has spanned eight years and counting.  He was the first to assess the building and to recognize its significance, and has overseen all aspects of the project since.  He has taken extraordinary measures to safeguard the structure, making tons of calls to seek out a permanent home and initiating a round-the-clock vigil when it was housed in a public place.  He has put in countless hours of volunteer work on salvaging the structure itself, on cataloguing every ancient timber and on creating architectural drawings and finely detailed models.  The significance of his devotion to the project cannot be overstated; the Westbrook House would not have survived but for his tireless work and advocacy.



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Scale model (side view) constructed by Clayton Barker depicting what the Westbrook House will look like when it is re-erected at Westfield heritage Village, Rockton in 2012.  Photo by C. Barker, 2010.




Copyright © 2010 - 2020, By Clayton J. Barker



According to the 1851 census of Oakland, this home was occupied by three families and in the 1861 census there was listed two dwellings on the property: a 1 ½ storey bricked dwelling and the older 1 ½ storey frame house, which had been turned into a hired hand’s house. Sometime between 1852 and 1855 the old dwelling was moved over to a new location on the farm to make way for the newer home, and it was placed on a foundation.


14-JUNE 2005 - Interior of Kitchen

At one time the kitchen of the building had exposed whitewashed joists and second-floor boards and a pipe hole. Photo by C. Barker, 2005.



By the 1850’s, cast Iron stoves were common so instead of having the large chimney going up through the middle of the building, they retrofit a new stairway into the hole where the chimney had once been. Though early blacksmith’s wrought iron nails (known as “rose-head” nails) were discovered in the wood, many of the original components of the building was fastened together with early “cut nails” which are dated to pre-1814. These types of nails made their way into this part of Upper Canada from the U.S. sometime after 1807. Later on, a new type of “cut-nail” was being manufactured right up until the beginning of the 20th Century, which was also found throughout portions of this building; especially where elements had been altered in the mid-1800s or later. These nails (people call “old square nails”) look similar to the early “cut-nails, except that they are made by a different cutting device that made more nails and quicker and the burr left on the edges of the nail are different.


The skeletal frame of the building consisting of hand-hewn timbers and sawn studs, from the local sawmill, burned by the Americans in 1814. This building utilizes three “bents.” Photo by C. Barker, 2005.



In the 1920's this old building was considered "ancient" and was over 100 years old then, according to the local inhabitants of Oakland and even the historians at that time. A long-time resident and Historian named Walter Burrage (Author of "A pioneer history of South Brant and the adjacent townships") compiled a history of the Westbrook family and also the Barnes family who once lived in the building.


Architectural features:

-       Narrow muntin bars of 12/12, 12/8 and 6/6 windows

-       Cornice returns

-       5” to the weather clapboard siding

-       Wide frieze board

-       Wide plinth surround board

-       Centre stone (Maryland style) fireplace with brick chimney top.

-       Exposed interior beams whitewashed on half the interior rooms.

-       “ship’s ladder style stair

-       Tapered rafters

-       No ridge board.

-       Sash Saw or Pit-sawn lumber from water-powered sawmill (straight up and down saw, not circular saw)

-       Riven lath

-       Blacksmith nails

-       Type ‘A’ cut nails

Note: The framing on the endwalls included blocking for cornice returns which is probably the only remnant exterior architectural feature to determine the style.

2010-04-26_THE GATES OF HEAVEN_Westbrook-Chary-House

It was a struggle, but on April 26th, 2010 the Westbrook House escaped the clutches of small-town bureaucracy, and made it safely through the “pearly gates” of what is probably like “Heritage Heaven” to all the unwanted historical buildings of Central Ontario! It was re-constructed between 2012 and 2014 at Westfield Heritage Village, Rockton Ontario.












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Westfield Heritage Village,

Rockton Ont. Canada