The O’Hara Homestead
Our guides will take you on a tour through time! Between Victoria Day and Labour Day weekends, staff are on site from 10:00am to 4:00pm and will provide you with an in-depth view of pioneer life in the 1800s, sharing stories of each building and the O’Hara family along the way.
If you visit O'Hara Mill after hours, during our off-season, or simply prefer to wander about on your own, we encourage you to reference our grounds map which will give you an overview of the homestead landscape and a brief history of each building. Click here to download a printable copy of our O’Hara Mill Homestead Map.
Please note: you will need a tour guide to take you through the O’Hara Museum House during operating hours.
What did living in the 1800-1900s look like? Head to the Visitor Centre to get a glimpse of the O'Hara History through a collection of artifacts and photo albums; see how they dressed, what the Homestead’s original landscape looked like and so much more.
As the home base for our summer student tour guides, this is the best place to begin your visit and, while here, please sign our guestbook. This is also the building to return to if you are looking to take a piece of O’Hara home with you. Souveniers such as note cards, coffee mugs and books are available.
It is also important to note that handicap-accessible washrooms are open to the public at the Visitor Centre during Homestead open hours.
e had not been kind to the dam that provides the energy source for the Mill. It has been repaired or reconstructed several times over its very long history, the last of which dated back to the 1950’s. Once the Sawmill had been updated and in working condition again, it was established that the dam, in its deteriorating state, must be rebuilt in a more enduring manner. In 2010, dam reconstruction was completed.
The Covered Bridge over the new dam was actually an afterthought during the time of dam construction. The suggestion and design, made by volunteer Peter Sporring, proved to make a fascinating and welcoming entrance to the Homestead. One that is now synonymous with O’Hara Mill.
In exactly three months, from March 23rd to May 23rd 2012, a group of volunteers hand built the Covered Bridge with the assistance of many skilled community members and businesses.
To read the story about the amazing collaborative effort of volunteers and supporting donors that made it possible, click here.
In days gone by, smoke and steam rising from the sugar shack meant one thing, Spring was coming! The production of Maple Syrup was common on many homesteads in the 1800s, and this was certainly the case for the O’Hara Family. The construction of our Sugar Shack was inspired by a photo from the O’Hara archives, and the stone arch remains of the original 19th century maple syrup operation. These remains are still visible on the O’Hara grounds, and can be located just off of the Lois Wishart Way trail.
These pieces of history, allowed volunteers to build a sugar shack that recreates the exact process the O’Hara’s used over 200 years ago. During our March ‘1850s Sugar Bush Event’, you can experience it all first-hand, as volunteers boil sap collected from our heritage maples, in a flat finishing pan over the wood fire, just as the O’Hara’s would have.
For the full story of our Sugar Shack, CLICK HERE.
Built in 1861, and known as S.S. #7, this pioneer log building is one of few remaining in Ontario. It was donated to the Moira River Conservation Authority in 1965 and moved to its O'Hara Mill site in 1966 from its original home at Johnson's Corners in neighbouring Elezevir township.
This pioneer school is a fine tribute to the O'Hara family, among the earliest settlers in Madoc township (1823) who promoted the establishment of the first school in the township. Like many other families at the time, the O’Hara children walked to school. Thankfully for them, it was just down the road to what was known as the O'Hara School S.S. #2, which was situated on the corner of O'Hara Road and Mill Road.
A number of renovations have been made to the building over the years to preserve its integrity including new shingles, the addition of a belfry, repainting, restructuring the foundation and building a new floor. All completed thanks to our dedicated volunteers, the one-room school house will continue to educate families for years to come.
One of the five original buildings on the O’Hara Homestead, the Carriage House is built of hand-hewn square timbers that date back over 180 years. Horizontal saw cut marks on the wooden siding show that it’s lumber was sawn on site here at the sawmill. The distinct vertical saw marks are visible if you look closely.
Naturally, the carriage house originally stored the family carriage and wagon in the summer, and their sleigh in the winter. Since this building served four generations of O’Haras, it witnessed the evolution from the horse-drawn carriage to the automobile. Crankcase oil stains on the upper storey plank floor indicate that this building, over the years, served as both carriage house and a garage.
Today, the upstairs level houses a variety of tools and implements that would have been used on homesteads in the middle to late 1800’s, and downstairs you will find a collection of carriages, wagons and sleighs from the early days on this farm.
Some pioneer farms, as they became established, had their own basic blacksmithing setup. However, very few early farmers had the skills to work with iron, so the village ‘smithy’ became a vital member of the community. On a homestead of this size and with a busily operating sawmill, the skills of the blacksmith were highly valued.
Much of what the pioneers used was at least, in part, made of iron, and everything had to be made by hand. With forge, bellows, anvil, tongs and hammer, the blacksmith manufactured all sorts of metal items - from nails and hinges, to axe heads and horseshoes.
The ring of the blacksmith’s hammer on the anvil can still often be heard at the O’Hara Mill Homestead during events and demonstrations days.
The Blacksmith Shop at O’Hara Mill Homestead is not one of the original O’Hara farm buildings. Very little is known of its origins as a pioneer log building, except that it was moved from the Sheffield Conservation Area in neighbouring Lennox and Addington County sometime after the Moira River Conservation Authority purchased the O’Hara farm in the mid 1950’s.
This pioneer log house is a newer addition to the O’Hara Mill Homestead. It was dismantled by volunteers on a farm near Boulter (North East of Bancroft) in 2007-2008, and rebuilt on the site of the original O'Hara log home. Only the log walls and some of the ceiling joists were salvageable. The remainder of the construction, the lumber, rafters, ceiling joists, were collected from a variety of dismantled 1850 era local barns.
The Log House is typical of the size and style of a pioneer log house built in the early to mid 1800s. The settler family would have built a crude dirt floor shelter to live in until they cut and hewed enough logs to build a house with windows like this one. In the case of the O'Hara's, their sawmill would’ve provide the necessary lumber for their first log home.
Inside is a massive working fireplace constructed from stone taken from local 1800s era barn foundations. During the cooler months, this fireplace is a popular one for visitors to congregate around.
One of the original Homestead buildings, it was first used as a wood shed and before it was converted to the carpenter shop. Ben Lear, James O'Hara's brother-in-law, was a talented carpenter. In fact, he built much of the family’s furniture, including a variety of pieces that are still featured in the O’Hara House Museum. Inside today’s Carpenter Shop, you will find many carpenter's tools, as well as the equipment for making shoes, barrels and other household necessities.
There are three drivesheds on the property.
1. The Stonepuller Shed is nearest the Visitor Centre and houses our massive, restored Stonepuller. Its name aptly describes its role on the farm, and its size and ability to create force is a sight to see.
2. The long driveshed attached to the Stonepuller shed was built by the Moira Conservation Authority in the 50s was recently raised and graveled to display all of ur volunteers’ restored equipment.
3. The third driveshed to the South, was also originally built by the Moira Conservation Authority in the 50s. It was renovated in 2010 adding electrical power from the house, to become an active workshop for volunteers. The remainder of the shed is used to store homestead equipment eg. the tractor.
An interesting note is that the original shed was built around the Stonepuller. When volunteers decided to restore this piece, they had to cut the building apart piece by piece, to remove the Stonepuller for transport to the workshop for restoration.
Built in 1850 by James O'Hara Senior using the late 18th century English Gate design, the O'Hara Sawmill, still located on its original site, illustrates the first technological advance over the "two man pit saw". It’s "Frame Saw" technology and massive wooden frame stretches the saw blade taut, while both the frame and the blade are driven up and down by waterpower. Water also powers the log carriage towards the moving blade.
The O’Hara Sawmill is reputed to be the only such water powered Frame Saw left in Ontario, and the only working one in North America.
This fascinating building is brimming with special character. Unique in design, it is a composite of different periods, comprising additions, interior alterations and continual improvement. It is a story of continuous family occupation for some 115 years and as such is a valuable subject for interpretation.
The interior of the house features; wood floors, plaster walls and ceilings in the parlor and bedrooms; wood trim around the doors and windows, a feature metal decorative ceiling in dining room and wood paneling in the summer kitchen; truly depicting the evolution of pioneer life from 1847 to 1935.
The construction started soon after the marriage in 1848 of Mary Jane Lear and James O’Hara Jr. with a two or three-room house, and expanded as their needs and family grew over the years.
For a detailed description of each room within the House, CLICK HERE.