Shore Acres Estate – Paletta Mansion

In 1809 the Crown granted Lot 8, Concession 4 SDS, to Laura Secord, wife of John Secord. She was to become famous as a legendary heroine in the events of the Battle of Lundy Lane in the War of 1812, and as the brand name for a large and well-known chocolate manufacturer and retailer. However, she did not settle in Nelson Township, but conveyed the lot in 1810 to John Beaupre. It was sold in 1851 to Anna M. Smith, who in 1856 sold it in two parts to Tom Purvuis and Richard Tilley. In 1858 Tilley conveyed his half to Purvuis, who sold the lot in the same year to Alfred Finnamore. In 1863 it was sold to Peter M. Zimmerman.

Peter M. was a son of Matthias, the son of Peter, who had immigrated with his brothers Matthias and James to Upper Canada from Warren County, New Jersey, in 1794. Their families settled first in Clinton Township, just south of Beamsville. Peter the elder was then age 51 and had 10 children. In 1797 he requested an additional land grant because of the large size of his family, but was turned down. Two of his sons, Peter and Matthias, moved to Nelson Township in 1814, to obtain their own land. In this second generation, Peter settled on Appleby Line, where the village of Zimmerman was well established by 1869. Matthias and his family settled in Welllington Square and other lots in southern parts of Nelson Township.

Matthias’s son Peter M. was the builder and owner of the Zimmerman House, the large three-storey hotel, now 400 Brant Street, built in 1860.

The Illustrated Atlas of the County of Halton, published in 1877, includes this paragraph in its essay on the village of Burlington:

“Of hotels there are three. The Zimmerman house, a fine, handsome three-story brick veneer building, erected at a large cost by one Peter M. Zimmerman, and by him rented to Mr Peter Evans, whose hostelry is a first-class resting place for the weary traveler.”

The Atlas shows Peter [M.] Zirnrnerrnan as the owner of Lot 8 and Part Lot 7, Con 4 SDS, to the west of the farm owned by Moses Lindley (Part Lots 7 and 6). The Zimmerman farm house is shown north of the road. In Dorothy Turcotte’s Burlington: Memories of Pioneer Days, Peter M. is said to have been a farmer with several enterprising sidelines. With his sons Charles and Levi, he ran a reaping business, travelling to local farms at harvest time. They sold a little illegal liquor on the side and were occasionally caught at it, and were also noted horse traders of the sharper sort.

In later life Peter M. lost all his property. In 1878 he sold part of his lands to Ryan Smith Will; in 1881 his son Charles sold part to Joan & Richard Kennick, and in 1883 he sold part to William Harrod.

In 1885 Kennick sold his part of the Zimmerman land to James Bigger, who sold it in 1888 to Arthur Gray. In 1905 it was sold to Leaman Wilson, and in 1912 to William Delos Flatt and Cyrus Albert

In 1809 the Crown granted Lot 8, Concession IV to Laura Secord. In the early 1900’s Part of that lot was bought by W.D., Flatt and Cyrus A. Birge. W.D. Flatt was responsible for developing Burlington’s Lakeshore premier residential lake front communitees, including the Pine Cove Surveys, Crystal Beach, Rosehill, and Shore Acres. In W.D. Flatt’s promotional brochure of the time a lot at Shore Acres Survey is shown to have 34 plots consisting of 2 to 5 acres of well drained land by a creek with full grown shade trees, and a good harbour for small boats. A lot is listed for $1500.00 to 3000.00.

Cyrus Birge was one of the founding board members of The Canadian Steel Company (now known as Stelco). Birge’s daughter, Edythe Merriam MacKay was granted Lots 2, 3, 4, and 5 in 1916, on which there was a farm house which was used during World War I. In 1929 Cyrus A. Birge died, and Edythe’s inheritance was used to build the present house in the same location as the original farm house.

Edythe MacKay’s daughter Dorothy (MacKay) McNichol and her husband Dr. Wallace McNichol were married in the mid 1930’s at the Shoreacres Estate. The estate was used as a summer residence when the estate was left to Dorothy, while the McNIchols maintained a permanent residence on Queen Street in Hamilton. Upon Dorothy McNichols death in 1987, the home was left to her five children.

It was purchased by the City of Burlington, in 1990, and at present several options are under consideration for the use of the estate.

Mansion: The Main House on the Estate is an excellent representative of estate homes designed and built throughout the 1930’s. It is a three storey structure with an exposed basement on the northern exposure where the garage is located. The exterior is said to reflect the original farmhouse which was located on the same site.

The rectangular plan of the house is unusual in that each of the four elevations are distinctly different, in arrangement of features. A common set of architectural treatments tie the four elevations together. The third floor is graced with a hip roof of green shingles, and a regular arrangement of dormer windows on all four sides. The style of the house has a classical influence with a broken scroll pediment above the main entrance on the West Elevation. This was the entrance for visitors with a circular driveway which facilitated dropping off guests, and a one storey sun room on the south end. Above the main entrance is a full height arched window which is set in a stone arch. The pediment is supported by simple Tuscan columns, which are copied on the Southern Elevations as supports for the roof over the covered, tiled porch which has an octagonal room on top.

All four elevations are generously fenestrated with a some what regular pattern of similar sized windows with green shutters. Each rectangular window has a keystone with a five stone pattern lintel above also reinforcing the classical and French influences.

The East Elevation is a repetitive series of windows with doors accessing the formal gardens on this side of the house. The service entrance on the north elevation also has a series of standard windows.

The house is clad with grey and burgundy stone set in a course rubble pattern with approximately continuous, horizontal courses. The green roof, shutters and wood trim with the grey and burgundy trim combine for a stately complementary colour scheme, which blend in well with the surrounding vegetation.

Stewart McPhie, a Hamilton Architect, who also designed the McNab Street Presbyterian Church, was the designer of the approximately 11,000 square foot house. The existing architect’s sketches of the home as it appears today, are dated 1931, but it is unclear as to the date the house was completed.

Its massive proportions, classical features and formal elements reflect those of a French Country Estate home. The house has access to the formal gardens on the east, the fabulous lake views to the south and the more informal pastures to the west. Access to nature was one of the main considerations in the Architectural Movement in the 1930’s which started with American Architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and also was strongly evident in the English Arts and Crafts movement started in the second half of the 19th century. Both the home at Shoreacres and Lakehurst Villa were designed as excellent examples of the concept of the relationship of interior spaces to exterior spaces.

The interior of the home is decorated with the original screen panels in the lower hall, and the mural in the dining room. Both features were considered desirable in homes of this stature during the time in which it was built. Original lighting and bathroom fixtures are still present, as well as kitchen cabinets. The house is presently unfurnished.

The home consists of a basement, a ground floor with generously sized formal rooms, a second floor with 5 large bedrooms with fireplaces, and an attic with unfinished bedrooms as well. In the basement is a large room for storing riding gear, and preparing for riding. The room was most likely used to entertain after riding as well. There is a stable on the north-west corner of the property, as well as a Play house situated in a stand of ferns, west of the main entrance of the home.

To the east of the home is a group of formal gardenscapes or garden rooms. These are somewhat overgrown at present, but were once beautiful places to pass an afternoon.

Stables/Carriage House/Barn: The stables on the north-west corner of the property include a paddock area where horses once glazed. This is the only remaining stable in the city limits of Burlington, in a community were riding was once a favorite pastime.

This two-storey gambrel-roofed frame structure with two one-storey frame additions stands on a poured concrete foundation. The large stable barn and the carriage house addition are shown on the estate plan (1930). They may have been built or rebuilt on the site of a Zimmerman barn, but the structures appear to date from between 1915 and 1930. Set into the side of an artificially created knoll, access at grade to both storeys of the stables barn is possible.

Located near the open and closed paddock areas, these are the almost only stables remaining in the urban part of Burlington, south of Dundas Street. The only others known are Dr Metherell’s stable and coach house at 1375 Ontario Street and an old Hurd Farm horse barn at 550 Hurd Avenue. Neither of those were stables for recreational equestrian use.

The barn suffers from prolonged deferred maintenance. The 1992 Feasibility Study by Architect A. C. Ventin et al. suggests that restoration may be more costly than replacement by a replica.

Due to lack of maintenance, and use the stables have been sadly neglected, but can easily be restored, using most of the existing materials. Like the cottage at the entrance, the stables are clad with white siding and green trim. The L-shaped building appears to be the result of an addition. The main portion of the building is one and one-half stories nesting into an incline at the north elevation of the building. This common design allowed for ease of storage in the upper floor of the structure. The roof is a typical barn-like gambrel with a gable for access to the upper story.

The smaller one story portion of the building which forms the “L” on the east elevation has a cross gable roof and large doors for easy access. The roof boasts a dovecote with cross gable roof. Although deferred maintenance has caused some deterioration of the wood, stripping and repainting with a minimum of wood replacement would be needed. Windows left uncovered have been broken, and the glazing would need replacing.

Doll House: The Dolls House is shown on the estate plan (1930), and is also said to have been built as a playhouse for Dorothy MacKay as a young child. It is a miniature one-room frame structure in a modified Arts and Crafts Bungalow style, clad with narrow clapboard siding, like that on the Gatehouse and the Stables / Carriage House / Barn. LACAC volunteers have indicated their intention to prepare measured drawings which may be used for the restoration of this charming structure, the only known heritage children’s playhouse in Burlington.

The child-scaled Dolls House is built in a vernacular design reminiscent of summer cottages built between 1910 and 1924 by W.D. Flatt along the Lakeshore and in the Cedar Springs Community.

Opposite the front entrance of the main house, and hidden behind a cedar hedge is the charming doll house that must once have been some child’s dream come true. The same siding and colour scheme have been used as on the stables, and the cottage.

The front facade of the home faces the gentle slope to the lake with one of the best views of Lake Ontario in all of Burlington, including the lawns, and pool of the estate.

A covered front porch is framed by three square columns which are each accentuated with a squared trellis where climbing plants once grew. A two rail barrier enclosed the porch. Two tall doors with small divided panes framed a central window, on the front facade. The other three elevations have complimentary windows and doors.

The roof is a gable end with an interesting shallow double slope.

Although some attempt was made to protect the dollhouse by boarding up windows and doors, some vandalism has take place, and the wooden floor of the porch is unsafe. Like the stables, the doll house need new glazing and painting, with some replacement of wood features to bring it back to its former charm.

Overall it is the combination of the landscaping and the orientation of the buildings on the property as a whole which make this estate such a worthy project. To separate, destroy, remove or change the orientation in any way would result in the loss of the intended character of the estate. The lifestyle of the original affluent family can be determined through examination of each of the features. This is a lifestyle still sought after today, and its origins were founded during the rise of Burlington as a resort town. Here stands Burlington’s last remaining resort estate.

Shore Acres Estate – Paletta Mansion
4250 Lakeshore Road
Burlington On L7L 1A6