The story of Barnum House

Barnum House

Photo: Barnum House


Kathryn Dixon

Buildings and architecture, Adaptive reuse

Published Date: May 10, 2007

Barnum House, on the north side of Highway 2 (Danforth Road), west of Grafton is historically significant for its association with the Barnum family. It is also one of Ontario’s finest examples of Neo-classical architecture.

Born in 1784 in the United States, Eliakim Barnum immigrated to Haldimand Township around 1807. By 1819, Barnum owned over 900 acres of land (364 hectares), a grist mill, a tavern and a distillery. Eliakim lived to be 94. He was a prominent member of his community as Justice of the Peace, Lieutenant-Colonel of the local militia and a founder of St. George’s Anglican Church in Grafton.

In about 1819, Barnum built a two-storey, Neo-classical, wood house that showcased his refined taste in architecture and his affluence, featuring the comforts of the best houses of that time – a ballroom, a fireplace in every room, high ceilings, large windows and louvered shutters. In 1959, the property was designated as a National Historic Site.

Since the 1940s, the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario and the Township of Haldimand have each owned the house for a time. The Conservancy refurbished the house to its early style and opened it as the province’s first period house museum. The Ontario Heritage Trust acquired the property from the Township of Haldimand in 1982, conducted extensive restoration, built a visitors centre and re-opened Barnum House as a museum in 1991. For the past few years it has been closed.

The Trust supports the preservation and protection of Barnum House for present and future generations and envisions the site as a vibrant heritage resource. The Trust also supports community partnerships – several local community partners have operated Barnum House, including the Township of Haldimand, the County of Northumberland and the Barnum House Museum Foundation.