Never put the cart before the horse… a good piece of advice
But I guess I have been doing just that. My focus has been on Amherst’s wonderful built heritage until suddenly I thought, “Who did the building and why?”
So, I decided to find out about the lives of the people who actually “built’ Amherst, both literally and economically. It all started when I posted #036 in Amherst Area Heritage Trust’s Inventory of Houses on the Facebook page last week. (Take a look and you find out about 23 Spring St.).
This absolutely stunning house was built by John Alfred Laws about 1895.
Ever heard his name? I certainly hadn’t. Not in all my reading and digging into our history. So who was he and how did he get the the ideas for its unique design and money to build such a grand house?
You’re about to find out and in the process look back at some really important events in Amherst’s history.
John Alfred Laws was born Oct. 1,1856, in Windsor, Nova Scotia.
Twenty years later (1877) he’d moved to the big city of Dartmouth where he worked as a moulder. There he met and married Gertrude Hornsby on Nov. 28, 1877. At about the same time, they must have moved to Amherst because it was in that year that Laws, Aaron Palmer, and John A. Crossman became partners in a firm that made stoves, ranges, furnaces, and hollowware. A quarter of century later, their business had morphed into Amherst Foundry and Heating Co.
Gertrude died sometime before 1884, as the 1891 census shows Laws married to Mary Ann (or J.) Carter (born 1854 in Westmorland Point, N.B.). She was the daughter of Charles Carter and Mary Foster.
John A. Crossman and John Alfred Laws’ business really began to grow. By 1895, they had absorbed another Amherst firm owned by William Knight and J. Avard Black who also were also into stoves and tinware. Crossman and Laws made the stoves while Knight and Black marketed them under the trade name Cumberland Hot Air Furnaces. Somewhat later, the group was joined by C.A. Lusby and then they bought out another stove business operating under the name Thompson and Morrison.
Sometime between 1877 and 1883, John remarried. This time to Mary Ann Carter, the daughter of Charles Carter and Mary Foster of Westmorland Point, New Brunswick.
John and Mary had four children: George H. 1884, Hazel F. 1888, Beatrice Helena 1891, Harry M. 1895 and John Waldo 1897.
In less the 12 years between 1877 and 1890, Crossman and Laws built their skills, reputation and customer base to the point where they needed to expand.
The success of the partnership was rapid and the old premises became too small so in 1902 they moved to Station Street to a brick and stone building that housed their warehouse, offices, fitting show, moulding and enamelling operations.
They were shipping so much product that a siding of the ICR connected the plant to the mainline. Eventually they formed a joint stock company and named it Amherst Foundry Co., Ltd. This now included a specialty enamelling department that made sanitary enamel products like sinks, laundry tubs and enamelled one-piece lavatory fittings (Eastern Beauty.), all under the name Beaver Brand. The lavatory was made in one piece and featured a heavy rolled apron and a high back.
John Alfred and Mary Ann likely moved into their new house on Spring Street about 1895. (if you can find the actual date, please let me know).
For the rest of their lives, John and Mary lived at 23 Spring St. in a large elegant mansion, finished with all the best woodwork and domestic details current at the turn of the 1900s.
The business continued to grow as did their children. Mary Ann died July1, 1924. John continued to live in the house until his death 11 years later. Sometime during 1925, he married his British-born housekeeper Sara (Kenney?) John and Sarah lived on in his family home. John died Feb. 18, 1936.
My research also showed that John Alfred Laws family had a long association with Nova Scotia. His grandfather, also John Laws married Sarah Peters in Roden (sic) on Sept. 21, 1812. Their son, another John was born in Rawden, south of the Minas Basin about 1822. This John was a carpenter by trade who married Eliza Corkum and they likely moved to Windsor for work because that is where our John Alfred was born.
Clearly John Alfred Laws was born in the right place at the right time with the right background to take advantage of the growing Industrial Revolution that would make Amherst a priority place in the 1900s.
Leslie Childs is a member of the Amherst News Community Editorial Panel.