Appreciating rich heritage in Chatham

There are some new kids on an old prestigious block in the city of Chatham.

Known as ‘Avenel,’ the fabled house located at 143 William St. has been purchased by Steven and Connie Mannering.

Married in April this year, the newlyweds purchased the historically significant house and sold their respective heritage homes in St. Thomas and Sarnia, all in the same week.

“I don’t recommend doing that,” Steven joked, raising his eyebrows. “It was a lot.”

The pair of history lovers wanted their first matrimonial home to be historically exceptional.

“We chose it because it was stunning,” Connie told The Voice. “I have always lived in heritage homes.”

They didn’t know anyone in the city but took a leap of faith and made the move.

“Chatham is never where we thought we would end up,” Steven added, noting it was the “leading of the Lord that brought us to town.”

Steven, who is a salesman for an industrial supply company, is able to easily cover his territory from his new residence.

The 7,800 square-foot dwelling, now divided into a fourplex, offers a bricks-and-mortar history lesson. Built in 1896, the property was has been owned by three generations of the William Gray family, which has played a prominent role in Chatham-Kent’s past.

The large, three-storey structure is an example of Queen Anne architecture, featuring a residence and carriage house.

Its unique features include an elaborate central entrance veranda; varied rooflines and a facade dominated by a central tower with dormer windows and finials.

The tower is described as French chateau inspired and has a Mansard roof. Still evident from the era are iron rings for tying horses and a steep step that in earlier times facilitated movement in and out of a carriage.

According to the Chatham-Kent Municipal Heritage Committee, William Gray and Sons owned and operated a carriage works factory. At one point they employed more than 400 people and were the largest producer of carriages in Canada.

Then, with the advent of the automobile, Robert Gray and his son William Murray took an interest, forming a partnership with Dallas Dort of Flint, Mich.

They developed the Gray-Dort automobile, which had two thriving factories.

Today the Chatham-Kent Museum has a Gray-Dort automobile in its collection and Stan Uher of Classic Coachworks in Blenheim continues to work on and preserve various Gray-Dort vehicles.

On behalf of the Chatham-Kent Municipal Heritage Committee, Mayor Darrin Canniff presented a gift basket to the new homeowners recently.

The Mannerings, along with daughter Madison, plan on preserving the structure’s integrity for years to come.

Avenel, named after the Gray family’s ancestral land in Derbyshire in the United Kingdom, has been designated as significant under the Ontario Heritage Act.

There are 6,000 buildings in the municipality that are more than 100 years old.

Pam Wright, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chatham Voice

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