British loyalist’s house now an Amherstburg museum
Later this year Detroit will celebrate its 317th birthday. Antoine Laumet de la Mothe Cadillac arrived here by canoe with 100 Frenchmen to establish a colonial outpost on July 24, 1701. Though that makes us one of the oldest cities in the country, not much remains of our first century as a city. One artifact, the oldest standing structure from Detroit’s colonial past, was built in 1796 near Detroit and moved to Amherstburg, Ontario, where it remains today as the Park House Museum.
Detroit burned to the ground in 1805 and passed between French, British and American control several times in the late 1700s and early 1800s, making colonial records notoriously incomplete. Official records of the house’s history seem as sketchy as Detroit’s overall early past as well.
A 1964 publication by the Detroit Historical Society said the building had been spared the great fire of 1805, which would have placed it downtown. But other sources cited by the Park House Museum say it was located near the mouth of the Rouge River, meaning it was either in Springwells or Ecorse Township.
We do know it was constructed by a British loyalist in the 1790s; perhaps in 1796, the year Amherstburg was founded alongside Fort Malden by people fleeing Detroit when it was ceded to the United States after the Revolutionary War. We also know it was disassembled piece by piece and moved by canoe down the Detroit River to Amherstburg as early as 1798, by which time it’s been documented there under the ownership of fur trader George Leith. It’s definitely the oldest Georgian style house in Amherstburg and in fact historians do believe it to be the oldest house in the city altogether.
The house changed hands several times before Thomas F. Park bought it in 1839. Park and two of his brothers ran businesses out of the house until Thomas’s nephew opened the town’s medical office there in 1880. The Park family owned the building for over a century before it became Park House Antiques in 1945. The next owners wanted the property but not the building, so it was sold again and moved from its Dalhousie Street lot to its third location at Amherstburg Navy Yard, where it stands today.
It opened as a museum in 1973 after being restored and furnished to portray the mid-19th Century era of the Park brothers. The non-profit museum features displays of daily life during that time, along with exhibits that depict pioneer settlement, culture, trade and history in town and the region. Check out the Park House Museum and Fort Malden and learn more about the region’s common early history from a Canadian perspective…in one of Detroit’s oldest buildings.