Loyalist Township will now take the charge of preserving three historic properties in Bath, Ontario, as well as the historic contents of these buildings, after the Township legally acquired the properties this month.
According to a press release from the Township, those properties are Layer Cake Hall, the Bath Town Museum, and the Fairfield-Gutzeit House, along with its historic collection regarding the Loyalist settlement of Bath.
The Township says an agreement was reached between the Village of Bath and the newly formed Fairfield-Gutzeit Society to arrange for the transfer of three properties in October of 1997. That agreement outlined the conditions and obligations of the Society. Following the municipal amalgamation, a conveyance agreement was developed in 1999, which laid out the rights and responsibilities of Loyalist Township over the properties and the collection. In 2009, the Township entered rental agreements with the Fairfield-Gutzeit society for both the Bath Town Museum and Layer Cake Hall in December of 2009.
Then, in December of last year, the Township initiated legal proceedings to invoke “the ownership clause of the original conveyance document for the Bath Town Museum and Layer Cake Hall,” the Township said in the press release on Monday, Dec. 23, 2019.
The Township initiated those proceedings after the Fairfield-Gutzeit Society listed the Bath Town Museum and Layer Cake Hall properties for sale without giving any notice to the Township, according to legal documents. The proceedings also heard that the Township had been late on paying its rent repeatedly. The Society asserted that the Township had committed numerous breaches of the leases, however, the judge in the proceedings, Justice Graeme Mew, noted that “…the Township is in breach. This may, however, be of limited consequence given my determination of the option to purchase issue.”
In the end, Judge Mew decided in favour of the Township, which was ordered to pay $2 for each of the two properties, as outlined in clause of the original agreement between both parties.
“The Township’s option to purchase the properties for two dollars ($2.00) each has, for the reasons given by me, been triggered,” Mew said in the recommendations of his decision.
“The Township is entitled to specific performance of the agreement of 31 October 1997. Specifically, the Township was, prior to the Society listing the properties for sale on MLS, entitled to receive a notice including an offer to the Township to purchase the properties at a purchase price of two dollars ($2.00) each.”
The decision left it open to both parties to negotiate new lease terms, however, the Township cited the possible future sale of the properties as its reason for initiating court proceedings in the first place.
“The proceedings were initiated over concerns that the properties could be sold to a private interest,” Loyalist Township said. “A decision by the court was made in March 2019 in the Township’s favour.”
According to the Township, the Fairfield-Gutzeit Society then approached the Township in September of this year asking it to also take ownership of the Fairfield-Gutzeit property and collection under the original conveyance. By resolution, Loyalist Township Council accepted the ownership of the property in October of 2019.
Now, all three of the historic properties belong to the Township.
“As stated in the original agreement, the primary interest of the Corporation of Loyalist Township is to conserve the aesthetic and scenic character and condition of the three historically significant properties. Loyalist Township staff will begin developing a business plan to ensure the preservation and protection of the three buildings and contents,” the Township said.
“Loyalist Township would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and recognize the tremendous efforts and hard work over many years by the volunteers with the Fairfield-Gutzeit Society. These volunteers are to be commended for their ongoing commitment to preserving and sharing the local history and origins of our community. It is the Township’s intention to continue this tradition, working with the volunteers, to share our past, especially with our youth, for many generations to come.”
Construction of the Bath Town Museum building was completed in 1861. Originally called the Old Town Hall, it was built because “a Division Court Judge objected to the noise of the school children when holding court sessions in the Bath Academy and he refused to return until a permanent court house was built,” according to Loyalist Township. The building was used as the Bath Town Hall until 1970, and was completely restored in the early 1980s. A designated historical property under the Heritage Act, the building now houses the Bath Museum collection, featuring United Empire Loyalist memorabilia, native artifacts dating back to the 1600s, and memorabilia from both World Wars.
Layer Cake Hall was constructed in 1859 and is the only example of Gothic Revival architecture in the Village of Bath. It was originally commissioned by the Bath Chapter of the Mechanic’s Institute, but the branch ran out of money before it was completed. It then served as the headquarters for the Masonic Order and the Presbyterian congregation, the latter of which occupied the building for many years. The building then fell under the ownership of the Anglican Church after 1925, and served as a fellowship for the Anglican community well into the 1960s. The building was eventually sold to the Millhaven Women’s Institute, and capital funding was eventually secured from several heritage programs to restore and preserve the building in 1981. The building now serves as the Bath Branch of the Lennox and Addington Library.
The Fairfield Gutzeit House was built in 1796 by two brothers, William Jr. and Benjamin Fairfield. The brothers came to Bath is 1793 when they left their father’s home near Amherstview. The house remained in the Fairfield family until the 1860s, but was not again owned by a Fairfield until 1938 when the estate was purchased by Mabel Fairfield Gutzeit, great-granddaughter of William Fairfield Jr., who was married to Dr. William H. Gutzeit, a doctor of music. Mrs. Gutzeit transferred the property to the St. Lawrence Parks Commission, which then transferred it to the Village of Bath. A number of alterations were made over time, mostly by the Gutzeits in the late 1930s and early 1940s. More extensive renovations have been undertaken in recent years by the Fairfield Gutzeit Society.