Pioneer Homes in Grey County in the 1840s Offered Only Basic Amenities

Pioneer Homes in Grey County in the 1840s offered only basic amenities. Homes were basic because clearing the land to earn a living to survive were of paramount importance for those embarking on a new life.


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If you're looking for a home these days, there are any number of ways to shop around. But when settlers arrived in this area in the 1840s, acquiring property and a home was much different. 

After an arduous trek overland along the Garafraxa Road, the newcomers to the region headed to the land agent's office. Here he applied for a patent on a plot of land. 

There usually was no need to have money to acquire land. Instead the pioneer applied for a land grant. Upon examination of the application, the land agent would issue a ticket to the applicant. 

The ticket was not a deed, but rather a permit which allowed the settler to locate himself on a 50-acre tract of land. In order to acquire the patent or deed, the settler had to fulfil certain obligations. 

The primary obligation of this system required that the settler build himself a shelter on the property and clear at least one-third of his acreage and sow a crop. 

This duty had to be completed within four or five years of the date of the ticket's issue. 

However, in many cases the time frame was ignored if it appeared that the settler was making an honest effort to fulfill his obligations. Once these requirements were met, the settler received his patent for the land. 

Today, houses might feature cathedral ceilings, a whirlpool bath, and perhaps a double garage. Others will contain such amenities as an in-ground swimming pool, a den, a family room, and five bedrooms. 

One hundred and fifty years ago in this area, someone looking to purchase a home would find things to be very different. 

The first permanent pioneer homes were usually made of logs, and were 10 to 12 feet high with a pitched roof. The settlers' homes did not feature a spiral staircase to the second storey. Instead, a rope ladder was used to climb to the sleeping area above. The upper level was one room where the entire family would sleep. More affluent families might hang rugs or blankets to provide some form of privacy for its members. 

Pioneer homes did have central heating — after a fashion. 

In some of the early homes part of the roof was left uncovered. Directly below this window on the heavens, a fire pit was built. The fire was kept burning most of the day, as it not only provided warmth for the family but also served as a stove for cooking. 

Some of today’s homes contain two, sometimes three bathrooms. The bathrooms in pioneer homes were outhouses located a short distance from the home. The bathtub was in the house, but it did not have any plumbing attachments. 

Instead, large kettles of water were heated over the fire pit, and then poured into the tub. Often the tub was set in the middle of the kitchen floor and once one person had taken a bath, another member of the family would climb into the same water and bathe. Once everyone had bathed, the tub was emptied, and put aside until it was needed to wash the family's clothes. 

The floors of the pioneers' homes were not covered with tiles, linoleum, or even polished hardwood. Instead, some homes had rough-hewn cedar planks. But more often the homes had only dirt floors. 

When one looks at home listings these days, I wonder how many you will find that feature a "portable" bath tub. 

A version of "Pioneer Homes in Grey County in the 1840s Offered Only Basic Amenities," originally appeared in my Local History column in the January 21, 2000 edition of the Owen Sound Sun Times.

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