Historical Plaque Properties

 

Jacob Near - Builder & Contractor
223 Thomas Street, St.
1883

The frame, storey-and-a-half house at 223 Thomas Street was built by Thomas Near about 1883.

On an 1858 map of St. Marys, what is today Westover Street is shown as extending south-east through Thomas Street directly to the edge of the Thames River. On the south side of Thomas the lots on either side of this municipal right-of-way are numbered 27 and 29.

 

By the time of the 1879 Illustrated Historical Atlas of Perth County the right-of-way is shown as Lot 28. In April 1883 the Town of St. Marys sold Lot 28 to Jacob Near who almost certainly built a house on it later that year. It appears the house was rented out — at the time Jacob Near sold the property a few years later in 1885 (to William Uren) there is a tenant living there named William N. Herrington, a carpenter. Possibly Mr. Herrington worked for Mr. Near.

 

Jacob Near was a prominent builder in St. Marys from about 1875 to 1905. He was born in 1847 in West Nissouri Township, Middlesex County and was one of 14 children of William Near and Mary Rathbone. William and Mary were farmers and had moved to West Nissouri about 1841 from Welland County in the Niagara region. William’s parents and grandparents appear to have been Loyalists who moved across the Niagara River from New York State in the 1780s after the American Revolution. The family originally arrived in America from Germany in 1710. (The name Near, which appears to have come into use in the middle of the nineteenth century, is an anglicization of the German name Neher.)

 

In 1868 Jacob married 19 year-old Martha Richardson, daughter of George Richardson and Jane Burch, who were pioneers in the neighbouring township of East Nissouri in Oxford County. Three years later the Nears moved to St. Marys, Jacob working at first in the sash and door factory of Craig & Hamilton. He then went into the contracting business as partner with Joseph Aiken. When Mr. Aiken died about 1878 Jacob continued alone as a builder/contractor until he retired in 1905.

 

From their home on Church Street the Nears raised a daughter Hester Jane (Hettie) and two sons, William Percival and James Roy (several other children did not live to adulthood). After Jacob’s retirement he and Martha moved to Toronto and later lived with Percy in St. Catharines and London where he was a municipal engineer. They returned to St. Marys in 1932 and were living on Queen Street West when Jacob was hit by a car in front of their home on January 8, 1935 and died the next day. He was 87. Martha died the next year. They are buried in St. Marys Cemetery.

 

Jacob Near built many buildings in St. Marys, the most prominent being the 1892 town hall where he was responsible for the carpentry. Numerous houses he constructed still stand, including 223 Thomas Street, 22 Salina Street and 191 Widder Street East (where again he was responsible for the carpentry including the golden oak interior woodwork). His obituary states:

During the years that he was in business in St. Marys Mr. Near won the confidence of the public and was known as a man whose word was as good as his bond and who could be called upon at all times to give a square deal and a workmanlike job.

 

A photo of Jacob and Martha appears in the November 22, 1934 St. Marys Journal-Argus on the occasion of their 66th wedding anniversary.