History of Duneden
By Iris Koch
Edited by Linda Koch
© Lena Koch Publishing May 2003
Research provided by Lena Koch
Located in Port Dover, the south coast of Ontario, Canada, the Selmer Haus is a historic building run by Fred and Lena Koch.
There is a rich history attached to that region and that house specifically. This article was sent in by the Koch family. SFR
The house that you are visiting, called Duneden for almost its entire life, has a history that goes back to the mid 1800s – a long time in this part of the world!
Of the people who lived in the house, the most is known about its first inhabitants. The house was built for Walker Powell. Walker was the oldest son of the well-known Israel Wood Powell, who was a founding father of Port Dover. Israel owned a large part of present-day Port Dover, including a large acreage south of Chapman Street. He also opened the first store in Port Dover in the 1830s, selling (among other things) hardware and groceries. Walker worked in the store while earning a commission in the 1st Norfolk Voluntary Militia.
In 1852, Israel Wood Powell died at the age of 51. Walker was now in a position to support himself and a family independently, and he married Catharine Culver a year and a month later. Catharine was the daughter of Colonel Joseph Culver, who may have been a colleague of Walker’s in the Norfolk Militia. Walker was 26 and Catharine was 20 when they married.
It is said that the date of Walker and Catharine Powell’s marriage – April 18, 1853 – was the day that the first foundation stone of the house was laid. Evidence was found in 1978 of the exact year of the house’s birth. A piece of wood was uncovered from layers of plaster and mortar and was inscribed in pencil with:
The Walker Powells were living in the house in 1855 when joy and heartbreak arrived. Their daughter, Lonnie Emma, was born and in the same year Catharine died at the young age of 22. Did she die from childbirth related causes? Such tragedies were not uncommon at the time.
At this difficult time in his life, Walker became busier and more influential all the time. Although he had a motherless daughter to care for, he continued in the merchant business, became involved in shipbuilding and education, was a justice of the peace, a Warden of Norfolk, postmaster, and the founding director of the Boston to Port Dover Plank Road.
In 1857, less than two years after Catharine’s death, Walker remarried. His second wife was 27 year old Mary Ursula, daughter of Adam James Bowlby (not a military man father-in-law). Was this a short grieving period? Consider that in the mid 1800s most people had to suffer so much more tragedy in the course of their lives than we do. Walker must also have felt a great need to provide a mother for Lonnie.
Over the next 12 years, Walker and Mary had five more children. Meanwhile, Walker broadened his career to include politics and the military. As a Liberal, he was MP for Norfolk from 1858-1861. His political platform can be seen as a reflection of some of his opinions and philosophies. He was in favour of representation based on population, a clear distinction of church and state, accountability of the government (does that sound familiar?), support for railways and roads, and acquiring the Northwest Territories as part of Canada. He also vowed to always vote independently.
In 1862, Walker was appointed to the position of Deputy Adjutant General of Upper Canada. In other words he was the assistant to the assistant of the highest military position in Upper Canada, which five years later became part of Canada during Confederation. At this time we can guess that the Powells moved to Ottawa where Walker could fulfill his duties. Eventually Walker was appointed to the position of Adjutant General of Canada, in which he politically supported the establishment of the Royal Military College (RMC) in Kingston.
The occupants, and even owners of the house are unknown for the period 1862-1883. The Powells probably returned to visit family in Port Dover and may have stayed as guests in the house. A number of people appear to have been investors in the house. Tourism was already a significant business in Port Dover with Americans visiting on steamboat summer excursions. The arrival of the railway in 1875 brought Canadian visitors as well. It is possible that the house was used as a boarding house, as was commonly done in these circumstances.
In 1880, an American visitor and his family were so delighted with Port Dover that they decided to stay. Three years later, Colonel William Collier, his wife Julia, and his five daughters bought Duneden, as the house was thereafter named.
William Collier’s business in Port Dover was railway car renovation and about a dozen renovations were completed in the nine years that the Colliers lived in Port Dover. Collier was also associated with the unpopular construction of the South Norfolk Railway across protesting farmers’ property – albeit while the cases were being argued in court.
Just a year after moving into Duneden, 12-year old Lily Collier died on December 18, 1884. How devastating this must have been! Christmases from then on must have been very difficult for the Collier family.
Whether from grief, possible business failure, unpopularity, or just the need to move on, the Colliers left Port Dover in 1889. For a few years thereafter, the house ownership and occupancy returned to investors and was not clear.
In July 1895, a Savannah businessman T. F. O’Donnell, and his wife Helen, bought Duneden and moved in. Within a month, Duneden was renovated by the addition of a new roof and bay windows. The second floor on the back wing was probably added at this time too.
The O’Donnells were immediately accepted in the midst of the social world of Port Dover, generously hosting a Ladies Aid social. The social was a success that merited a newspaper report, and included a brilliantly lit "elegant repast" served on tables on the beautiful lawn, and ultimately raising $50. The O’Donnells must have enjoyed showing off their recent renovations!
Seven months later, a baby boy was born to the O’Donnells in the house. Not much more is known about the boy, except that he may have been the O’Donnell’s "little child" hit (by a horse and buggy? A car?) but not severely injured while playing in the street 2 ½ years later.
At the time of this accident, O’Donnell, but not his wife, may have already left Port Dover, having been elected as an alderman in Savannah, Georgia, his hometown. The O’Donnells kept Duneden for years and returned to their beloved vacation spot regularly.
From that time on, Duneden was used continuously as a boarding house and summer tourist home. Likely Mrs. Captain James Allan managed the business in the next years, suggested by the fact that house was leased to Mrs. Allan for the 1902 season.
Guests came and went and not many records remained of these occupants. In the summer of 1900, however, it was announced that 12 young girls from Simcoe were renting Duneden for the season. No mention was made of a manager (like Mrs. Allan) or a chaperone, so we may imagine the lively times these girls had!
This was the era of regular steamboat arrivals from the U.S. carrying around 1000 passengers, and frequent trains from Canadian towns and cities dropping off hundreds of tourists. Bicycles and "fast" cars added to the excitement of the streets of Port Dover. The beach at Port Dover, being safe and clean, was probably the main attraction. By 1900 it was considered proper for girls to don stockings, hats and knee length bathing dresses and splash around in the clear refreshing waters of Lake Erie.
Summertime - possibly turning into lifetime – romances were common in this relaxed, holiday atmosphere. Maybe a few of our 12 girls enjoyed a flirtation or something more serious. Leisurely walks, boat tours to Long Point, open air concerts in Powell Park, dancing at the Orchard Beach Pavilion (right across from Duneden!) or just reading on the beach under the shade of a parasol must have made summer idyllic in Port Dover for these 12 girls from Simcoe.
In 1906 Duneden changed ownership to Albert Buck, who continued to develop the house as a tourist destination. In previous years tennis courts and croquet had been set up on the large lawn. During the summer of 1907 and thereafter, the lawn bowling club used the lawn. Boarders continued to stay at Duneden and enjoy the tourist attractions of Port Dover.
From 1910-1912, a new attraction was added to Duneden in the form of an ice cream parlour. It may have been in the former parlour to the left of the entryway, and may then have been connected through a doorway to the larger room (now the living room) behind. The parlour was "brilliantly lighted and beautifully furnished" and pretty young ladies served dainty refreshments in addition to ice cream. Live orchestral music was occasionally offered.
You may wonder how Mr. Buck could have possibly kept ice cream frozen in the steamy heat of July and August. Likely the ice cream was kept in an icebox, which was a metal-lined box insulated with sawdust and kept cold with blocks of ice. The ice would have been delivered a few times a week from the nearest icehouse, filled during the winter from the frozen lake.
Ill health caused Mr. Buck to sell the house and business to Dr. Edward Hicks in 1912. Dr. Hicks was married to Alice Allan, who may have been a relative of Mrs. James Allan, the previous manager of Duneden. Possibly they visited Duneden when Mrs. Allen was in residence and loved it so much they wanted it for themselves.
In the previous year, Dr. Hicks had proposed to build a hospital on Main Street. He withdrew the proposition when the council deemed it inadvisable. Two years later Dr. and Alice Hicks moved away from Port Dover, selling the house to Stephen. R. Maneer. Dr. Hicks went on to open a practice in Brantford and became the first Canadian doctor to use radium.
When Stephen Maneer bought Duneden, electricity, public water and sewage had finally come to Port Dover. The Maneers continued to use Duneden as a boarding house and tourist home, and probably lived there until they built a new residence in 1923.
In 1923 Duneden was put up for sale. This year marked the end of the use of the side lawn by the popular Port Dover Bowling Club. In 1925 a devastating fire in the house likely destroyed the front bay window where the front porch is now. During this period the amenities in the house included hardwood floors, a gas stove for cooking, electric lights, waterworks (indoor plumbing) and a bathroom. Over the next two decades, most of the rooms were divided into two to fit more guests.
From the mid 1920s to 1945, when ownership of Duneden changed hands again, the house was home to numerous guests and tourists passing through Port Dover. The face of tourism was changing, with cars replacing trains and the ferry service dropping away in 1932. Miniature golf, the Gem Theatre showing silent movies and later "talkies", and The Arbor provided amusement. From the 1920s on, guests at Duneden may have been visiting Port Dover for the express purpose of visiting the Summer Garden Ballroom and Park. On an at-home night, guests might have sat out on the Duneden front porch and listened to the live music and laughter floating over from just a couple of blocks away.
During this time manager Lorne Myers and his family lived in Duneden. In 1935, a family reunion was held at the house to celebrate his parents’ 61st wedding anniversary – what an accomplishment that would be today!
In 1945, Duneden was finally sold, after being on the market for 22 years, to Harry Buckberrough and his wife. The Buckberroughs renovated the house to remove the partitions in the rooms. They lived in the house, offering rooms and newly built cottages for board and summer use. Their son Donald and then their daughter Madge Murphy continued the in-residence boarding tradition. Guests continued to visit the beach and the Summer Garden, taking in acts such as Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks, including Robbie Robertson as backup.
The Basic Necessities: From Chamber Pots to Ensuites
Starting in the 1970s with the establishment of the Nanticoke Industrial Complex, temporary and seasonal workers at Ontario Hydro Generating Station, Stelco Steel Mill, and Imperial-Esso Oil Refinery needed a temporary place to stay. With the coinciding deterioration of the Summer Garden during this decade, and finally the burning of this once-premier tourist attraction, the Nanticoke workers provided valuable business to boarding houses.
In the 1980s when Madge Murphy was proprietor of Duneden, guests, like today, may have gone to a play at the Port Dover Lighthouse Festival Theatre, first opened in May 1980. They might have spent their time tanning at the beach, decorating a hotdog at The Arbor, and maybe savouring a perch dinner at Knechtel’s or the Erie Beach Cove Room restaurant.
Duneden changed ownership and its name in 1989 when it was purchased by John and Betty Wells. They managed the "Dover Lodge" as a bed and breakfast and boarding house from their residence across the street. Port Dover tourism continued to evolve with the advent of "Friday the 13th" motorcycle rallies.
Today, Duneden as the Selmer Haus Bed and Breakfast is as hospitable as always, managed by live-in owners Fred and Lena Koch. Numerous renovations have been carried out to provide more luxurious amenities to guests.
Tragedies and suffering, joy and comfort have found a home many times over in this house. It is made gracious by many layers of ordinary life experiences, through its past and in the future.
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