Have you ever explored a heritage building that tells the tale of the growth of a community as surely as rings on a tree? What if you also learned that the same building came within a hair’s breadth of being torn down to make way for a parking lot or commercial space?
That’s the story behind Perth’s Matheson House Museum building, and why the town of Perth and Lanark County are celebrating 50 years since the close-call for this local historical icon. What a loss it would have been for the community if this historic centrepiece had been replaced by a supermarket, as was almost the case!
To see Matheson House today there’s no sign of the danger it was in when demolition was being considered in 1967. The imposing two-storey stone building was built on Gore Street in downtown Perth in 1840 by one of Canada’s first senators, the Honourable Roderick Matheson, and is one of the finest examples of Colonial Georgian architecture in Eastern Ontario.
Matheson House was home to the Matheson family for more than 100 years, and has since served as a tea room and inn, tea house and home to the Royal Canadian Legion Branch #244. Declared a National Historic Site in 1967, Matheson House was saved from demolition thanks to a joint agreement between the National Historic Sites Service and the Town of Perth.
Since 1967, Matheson House has been home to the renowned and award-winning Perth Museum that was at one time reputed to have the largest collection of natural history in Canada (including the bone of a Siberian mammoth)! In 1994, the Perth Museum was presented with the Museum Award of Excellence by the Ontario Historical Society.
For the architecturally inclined, one look at the carefully restored exterior and interior of the building and the fine craftsmanship is evident on this excellent example of 1800s Scottish architecture. Modifications to the original Matheson home include a new wing, named for museum President Winnifred Inderwick, an 1840s-garden, and a complete restoration of the kitchen space in 1988, where the interior was torn apart from floor to rafters!
Today, Matheson House is home to the town of Perth’s Tourism Centre and the Perth Museum. Come and explore an important piece of Lanark County history on its 50th anniversary!