I got a surprising note today from a man named Brian. It’s about a place I wrote of in 2014, when I got lost and came upon an amazing house in a strangely beautiful neighborhood.
Here is Brian’s letter:
“Cynthia, I just stumbled on your blog because I live on the same street as Ebor House in the beautiful historic area called Bond Head and I’m doing some research to fight the Clarington Town Council’s plan to redevelop our area.
They are planning street widening, curbs and sidewalks. Classic paving of paradise. They are even considering a splash pad and monkey bars at the little parquets where the fishers do their thing.
Does everything need to be developed? What is wrong with having a few gems left untouched to remind us of the past?”
And here is “Lost Without A Clue”— the first post in a series that became by far the most widely-read story on my blog. You can read this post alone or the entire series:
A whole bunch of people have been telling me to get lost since I published the series about Ebor House.
“You need to get lost more often, Cynthia.”
“Get lost again, Cynthia.”
On and on it goes.
What no-one asked is:“How come you got so lost?”
It all started with an earlier wrong turn.
And a good-looking man.
I’d decided to drive home from my appointment using a country road – a back road – instead of the highway.
By now you know that I could get lost in a room. So before I knew it, I was lost.
Turning around in a driveway, I was either thinking a swearword or saying it out loud, when suddenly I saw a man.
A tall, handsome man.
So being a gracious person, I said a most gracious thing:
“I didn’t know Black people lived around here.”
Time stopped as I realized what I’d just said.
He stared at me, speechless.
I stared back, horrified at myself. The fact that I’m also Black did not excuse my careless words.
Then – thank God – he laughed.
“Nice homes in this area,”I said, desperately trying to get my foot out of my mouth.
“Some nicer ones on your way south,“he said. “Beautiful new homes. Just keep going. You can’t miss them.”
Remember I told you this, folks:
Words can get a person into trouble.
Those crazy words I blurted, for example.
But these ones too: “You can’t miss them.”
Because some of us can. We’re programmed that way. And it gets worse when we’re flustered from having said entirely the wrong thing to a stranger.
The neighborhood I ended up in was not where he meant. Worse, I ended up going in entirely the wrong direction to get to my home.
And ended up in front of Ebor House.
So I could blame that lovely gentleman for all of this. But really, I thank him.
For not being offended at my ungracious remark.
And for being a crucial link in a chain of otherwise ridiculous events that landed me first in front of Ebor House, then, inside Ebor House…
… having coffee in Ron’s kitchen.
Next, I could blame all you readers who encouraged me to keep posting the series, which eventually led to bloggers and other people from around the world telling me to “Get lost, Cynthia.”
This is, of course, my strange way of thanking that unknown man, the mysterious chain of events, and everyone who followed the series and encouraged me to keep going. THANK YOU.
I still don’t know what mysterious force led me to Ebor House. Was it all serendipity? Did the house call me there?
Did John and Jane, who lost their sons in one day – did they want their story to be told, after being in the shadows for so many decades? And if so, are they disappointed that I didn’t tell the whole story?
I don’t know. I won’t even guess.
I’m exhausted now, and astonished at myself for accomplishing this series. But I’m also grateful. So much so, that just now I nearly wrote:
“I’d have been lost without you.”
The problem is that it would probably have been true!
The visitors toured the grand old house, admiring the furnishings and paintings, old and new.
Ron has invested untold time, love and money into his home.
“This place has nurtured me. Not just me but others too. One friend stayed here in the winter, healing from an accident. It’s nurtured her.”
The children are grown up. Ron says it’s time to leave. Ebor House is too big for one person.
He looks around at rooms sparkling with sunshine, beauty and a strong sense of well-being. He tells me yet another story about the house and the Farncombs. He calls each family member by first name.
I say: “You don’t sound like a man who’s selling this house.”
He says he is.
“I truly believe the house is looking for a buyer, rather than a person looking for this house. It’s a very special place. Last evening four of us had a wonderful supper under the trees and at the end of our meal we were visited by one of the hawks that have decided to call this place home this year. Just magical!”
As for me?
It started when I got lost a few weeks ago and saw this house.
I wanted to know more.
But the single discovery that kept me searching was the August 1901 New York Times story about the drowning of the two Farncomb boys.
My heart sank when I read it.
A parent myself, I wanted – perhaps even needed – to know that things turned out well for the family.
Of course — since this is real life and not a fairy tale — they did and they didn’t.
The Farncomb family survived and, over the decades, many thrived.
John and Jane and the boys were not forgotten.
But life had to go on, at least after a while.
And so it did.
Dorothea, Frederick and Jane’s only daughter, was a woman of strong faith who wrote for the Farmer’s Advocate, and published religious books. Other Farncomb descendants became successful in Canadian business, education, law, medicine and other fields such as literature and media.
Family members still own property in Bond Head, and still have influence. In 2002, one descendant (among other residents) protested against a plan to change the name of a local street. He argued it made no sense. He also pointed out that Farncombs had lived there for 150 years and that he owned much of the land in the area.
His side won.
My interest in a house became a story about a multi-generation family. Their joys, sorrows, achievements. Their lives.
The trail had many twists and turns, and sometimes, they alarmed me. Combing through the city of London’s archives, I found a court case involving slave-ship owners. Thomas Farncomb, the wealthy ship owner who became London’s Lord Mayor, was involved.
A descendant of enslaved people myself, my hackles immediately went up. Had I spent all this time researching a house built with money earned from the slave trade? After all, it was Frederick Farncomb’s inheritance from his uncle Thomas that was used to build Ebor House.
I was relieved to discover that Thomas had been brought to court by two men whom he had disparaged over their ownership of slave ships. It appears he was opposed to the slave trade.
There were other discoveries along the way. Some are included in this story, and some are not.
I double-checked each of my findings, then asked homeowner Ron and Myno Van Dyke, secretary of the local historical society, to read much of what I’d written. I thank them for their help.
I conclude the series knowing I’ve done my best to make it fair, factual — and kind. There is much more to the story of Ebor House and its family than I’ve written here, but this is the story I wanted to share.
One Farncomb descendant is writing a historical novel on Dorothea Farncomb and the family. Another, Balfour Le Gresley (who sold the house to Ron), has studiously researched his family history. I decided to leave it tothem to make their own discoveries and decide what to share. (Though I’ve met them both, neither contributed to this series in any way.)
This series is dedicated to the descendants of Frederick and Jane Farncomb.
Thanks to: Newcastle Village and District Historical Society; Library and Archives Canada; Archives of the City of London, England; Trinity College, Port Hope; Canadian Anglican Church; St. George’s, Newcastle; the Canadian Encyclopaedia; The New York Times and several other Canadian and American newspapers; other sources. Some photos of Ebor House came from Promise First Realty’s website.
“I ‘get’ the house,”he said.“And I also feel a connection with the family who lived here.”
“What’s the spirit of this home like?” I asked.
“The house is very nurturing. Not just for me, but also my friends who visit. It’s a very nurturing home.”
“But there were also tragedies”,I said.“Doesn’t that affect the house’s vibe?”
Ron replied:“Most old houses have seen tragedy. But this was also a very happy home. Over the years there were births, christenings, weddings, dinner parties, children playing, picnics on the lawns… And I feel that joy here.”
Acres of land surrounded the Farncomb family home. Fruit, berries and vegetables grew in their garden in the early to mid-1900’s.
I imagine summer days at Ebor House. Children sent to pick cherries and having fun doing it….
Adults picking raspberries a bit more intently….
A family member trying to teach the pet dog new tricks.
And I imagine wedding parties.
A newspaper story about a wedding at Ebor House in the 1890’s said:
“After the service, which was performed by the rector, the Rev. Canon Farncomb, the wedding party were entertained at a dejeuner given by the bride’s sister, Mrs. Alfred Farncomb, wife of Newcastle’s popular physician.
“… The bride was a picture in her traveling costume of broadcloth, the chapeau stitched and trimmed with grey wings and tie to match. The wedding presents were costly and numerous. A great deal of silver came from friends in England.
“Among the gifts was a massive loving cup, lined with gold, upon which was engraved the family crest, it being an heirloom for many generations; a solid silver teapot, tables, dessert and tea spoons, a silver soup tureen from Dr. and Mrs. Tom Farncomb (Trenton) , a handsome china dinner set from Dr. and Mrs. Alfred Farncomb (Newcastle).”
And another story about another Farncomb wedding:
“….There were vases of pink and white carnations and antirrhinum on the altar and the coloured rays of the afternoon sun streaming through the stained glass windows of nave and chancel made the scene one of entrancing loveliness. ….
…The bride, given in marriage by her uncle… wore a princess dress of white satin brocaded with lilies of the valley in velvet. She wore a long net veil and carried a bouquet of white lilies and carnations. She wore a gold locket, a gift of the groom….
A reception was held at Ebor House, ancestral home of the bride’s maternal forbears.”
Faith and family were important to the Farncombs. Church was a family-affair. Frederick and Jane’s son John was the rector at St. George’s, Alfred taught Sunday school, and Alfred’s wife Hannah was the church organist.
But no family is immune to tragedy. Despite all the success and influence, all the joyful family events, all the involvement with their church, the Farncombs also experienced heartbreaking sorrow.