“Today a boatman named Murphy crossed the bay in an open boat. He met with no ice on the voyage and said that the air was as warm as it generally is in the latter part of April and May.”
Spectator January 19, 1876.
The mild weather continued in Hamilton and the sight of the open water on the bay was still quite remarkable for Hamilton residents as the month of January, 1876 hit the nineteenth day.
That day’s issue of the Hamilton Spectator was filled with much more than just another weather story.
First of a hall, the Hamilton Fire Department would soon have a new downtown structure as its main facility.
Spectator readers were provided with an extensive description of the building as construction of it was in its final stages :
“The Market, Fire and Police Committee deserve every credit for their energy in supplying a want long felt in this city by the erection of the Central Fire Alarm station on Hughson street. It is situated between Rebecca and King William streets, is fast approaching completion and will soon be ready for use. The station is of red brick, neatly bracketed with stone, has a bold cornice all round, and is two stories high. It has a frontage of 30 feet, with two large double doors which are so arranged that the moment the latch is lifted, they swing open of their own accord, which will be a great convenience to firemen when in a great hurry. Three handsome windows surmount the door, beautifully arranged in white stone, and above them again a smaller window surmounted by a scroll cut in white stone, having the words “Central Fire Alarm.”
The lower part of the building which is intended for keeping the hose reels and the hook and ladder wagons, is in one large compartment 50 feet by 30 feet, and 11 feet high. This place will be paved with Nicholson pavement, and will be furnished with offices for the Chief Engineer, Assistant Engineer, and caretaker, with a dormitory with five beds for the men on duty. At the rear of the building is a tower 60 feet high, surmounted by a cupola. This tower is to be used for the purpose of drying hose. When the hose is brought in, it will be washed in a large tub at the bottom of the tower, and then hoisted by means of pulleys to the top and be suspended from thence. There is a stable in the rear, 40 feet by 20 feet, and above a commodious hayloft and ventilator for the stable. The floor of the stable is also of Nicholson pavement. The architect was Mr. A.H. Hills, the contractors for woodwork were Messrs. Yates and Garson, Messrs. Webber Bros. For brick and stonework, Mr. Joseph Atkinson for painting, Mr. Bishop for the galvanised iron work and Mr. Findlay for the slating – all of whom appear to have done good work.”
Times were changing in 1876 as regards interurban transportation.
For travellers horse and wagon had been the preferred mode of travel for many years. This required roads that were relatively well-maintained and the system of toll roads where presumably the moneys received in tolls not only lined the pockets of the toll road company but were also used to keep the roads in good shape. To connect Hamilton with the Police Village of Ancaster, a then new toll road had been laid out and was being well-used.
But competition was on the horizon but a new mode of travel – street railways. The owners of the Hamilton and Brantford Road were concerned as the following item explains :
“The contemplated street railway to Dundas is receiving the most determined opposition from the people of Ancaster for a very simple and obvious reason. That Township has sunk six thousand dollars in the Hamilton and Brantford road, and although it was originally a risky venture, it will still be more so should the railway be built, as it is supposed that not half the travelling will be done over the Hamilton and Brantford road should the new scheme be carried into execution. Tomorrow, Mr. A.A. Eccleston, the Reeve of Ancaster, intends going down to Toronto to urge upon the members of the Government, and especially upon Mr. Sexton, the member for South Wentworth, the necessity of opposing the street railway scheme. Mr. Eccleston is strongly supported by his constituents who see in the construction of the railway the loss of $6,000 of their money. That part of the Hamilton and Brantford Road leading out of this city towards Dundas was all last summer in a wretched state, but this fall the Township Council of Ancaster who have taken charge of the road placed a large quantity of metal upon it, and it will doubtless be during the coming season in a much better state.”
A brief, if not uncommon incident got some attention in the when the use of horses and wagons for travel was shown to have the potential for being problematic :
“Yesterday afternoon, a horse attached to a butcher’s wagon loaded with meat ran away from the front of the American hotel and dashed the vehicle against the verandah of Ald. Foster’s clothing emporium. The verandah got the worst of it. The meat was all tossed into the mud and presented a rather unhealthy appearance when it was taken out. The horse was slightly injured, but was soon recaptured.”
As he had been for several weeks, Michael McConnell was the centre of Hamiltonians, particularly on this day as he was taken from his cell on Barton street to the Wentworth County Court House on Main street to be formally indicted for his actions against the late Nelson Mills :
“Yesterday afternoon at half-past three, Michael McConnell, who is alleged to have caused the death of the late Mr. Nelson Mills, by stabbing him with a butcher knife, was taken out of the County Jail for the purpose of being arraigned before Judge Patterson, who is presiding over the Winter Assizes.
The fact that he was to be produced in court spread like wildfire throughout the city, and, in a very short time, the large court room was crowded nearly to suffocation, and the Square outside, with a mass of people who, it was feared, would attempt personal violence to the prisoner. The prisoner was driven by Mr. Fred Harrison, who, waving his whip right and left, urged his spirited team through the swaying crowd, who raised the awful shout of “Lynch him ! lynch him !”, “shoot him like a dog” , “tear him to pieces”, etc. etc. The officers of Justice however kept close to the prisoner and hurled the crowd back as fast as they closed round the cab.
The prisoner displayed remarkable coolness, and except for a slight paleness showed no fear whatever. He walked between the officers of justice up the steps with a bold and elastic step, and turning his dark eyes downwards, flashed defiance on the crowd below. As soon as he was placed in the dock, a solemn stillness pervaded the courtroom.
The Clerk read the indictment which was a very short one, to the effect that the prisoner, Michael McConnell, did wilfully, intentionally, and with malice aforethought, cause the death of one Nelson Mills.
The prisoner in a firm voice pleaded “ not guilty.” He was then asked if he was ready for trial, upon which Mr. Crerar, prisoner’s counsel, said he had a motion to make which would materially affect the date of the trial. He aid the mind of the public had been excited and prejudiced by the many sensational and one-sided articles which had appeared in the public press, and the references which had been to the murder from the pulpits of this city. He would make the motion the next day, when he would ask that the trial be postponed to the next Assizes, so that the public could look more impartially on the subject. The Judge then fixed to-day, after the mid-day recess, for the motion.
This afternoon Mr. Crerar, counsel for the prisoner in the case of the Queen vs. Michael McConnell produced an affidavit in the case to the effect that the public mind had been prejudiced by articles that had appeared in the public press. Mr. Sinclair made objection on the ground of the absence of technical terms.
Mr. Crerar remedied this difficulty and then read the affidavit, which was to the affect that he, John Crerar, was of the opinion that the public mind had been prejudiced by certain and commented on. He then read several articles from the Spectator – editorials and news items – and an extract from an article which appeared in the Evening Times referring to the murder, contending that they were prejudicial to his client’s case.
Mr. Sinclair said that Mr. Crerar founded his application simply on the statement that the preliminary investigations had been published in the public press and commented on. He said he had studied the evidence given at the police court and at the inquest and was of opinion that the newspapers had given a fair criticism of that evidence, which they had every right to do in furnishing their readers with information.
His Lordship said he was sorry to say that he could not see the force of Mr. Crerar’s application, and he would, therefore, order that the trial should go on at these Assizes.
Mr. Crerar asked that the trial should be fixed for Thursday week.
The application was granted.”