|Belleville's Marble Hall|
**Article originally published in the January 2018 edition of Outlook newsletter.
The building known as The Marble Hall, 395 Front Street, is located at the north end of downtown Belleville near Pinnacle Street and is just opposite one of our two famous 1930 concrete double bowstring bridges.
Photo: The Marble Hall, c.1860 standing to the right of the Henderson Building CABHC HC00477
How did I find the history of The Marble Hall? Over the years I have read our microfilmed newspapers and listed articles about “New Construction in Belleville.” The Hastings Chronicle for August 19, 1857, gave me what I needed: “Mr. Thomas J. Higgins has put up a three-storey building on Front Street, directly opposite the upper bridge, and to him belongs the credit of first introducing Marble for building purposes in our town. The coins, window caps and sills throughout are of blue marble variegated with white, the second and third stories are of white. The blue marble is from Madoc, the white from the Troy quarry, Hungerford. It was cut and dressed for the purpose by Mr. P. Salladin; one solid piece of blue marble, forming the door-cap, we are told, weighs 23cwt. The building is 24 ft in front by 64 in depth; the lower storey, 12 ft clear, is intended for a store; the second storey, 14 feet from floor to ceiling, is to be fitted for a Concert Hall; the third storey, 11 ft high, is intended for a Public Hall. Gas pipes are being inserted throughout, and the wood work of the interior is of the most substantial kind. The entire cost of the building is £1500. George Nielson Esq. is the Architect; Mr. John Carscallen, Joiner and Finisher; Mr. John Callaghan, contractor for mason work.”
The previous month, on July 30, 1857, an advertisement had appeared: “To Let – The large first class Merchant Shop, Marble Front, cellar &c attached, opposite the Upper Bridge, so as to command almost the entire grain trade of the town, is now being finished in the latest style, and will be ready for use by the first day of September next. Rent moderate. Apply to the owner, Thos. J. Higgins, Belleville.”
Who was this Thomas J. Higgins? He had purchased the lot in 1854 and at the same time he also purchased a brick house on George Street. In September 1855 he advertised: “Daguerreotypes – Front Street.” In August 1857, a notice appeared in The Intelligencer: “A meeting of the Sidney, Rawdon & Victoria Road Co. at my office for the purpose of leasing toll gates, Thomas J. Higgins, sec’t.” Finally, the assessment roll for Ketcheson ward, Belleville, lists T J Higgins as a marble dealer. What better advertising could he have had than cladding the front of a building with marble? In 1860, he sold all of his real estate to Ezra William Holton and seems to have left town.
Our Archivist Amanda Hill provided further information. Thomas J Higgins was born in July 1827 in Hallowell, Prince Edward County, according to the 1851 census of Sidney Township, where his family had moved by then. His father was Bennet Higgins and his mother was Hannah, possibly Hannah Morgan, according to Ancestry family tree. Another family tree suggests that Higgins married Phoebe Sheriff in Belleville in 1854 and the couple moved to California by 1862 where he worked as a real estate broker and where they had three children. Thomas died in San Diego in 1907. Phoebe died in 1915.
The Marble Hall was occupied by various merchants over the years. In 1862, it was the Furniture Warehouse & Manufactory of T & D Cherry. One of the longest tenures was that of the Snell family in their butcher shop from 1870 to the end of the century. Penny readings under the patronage of the Good Templars of the Town were conducted on the upper floors in 1867, and the building housed a cigar factory in later years.
Today, the 160-year-old Marble Hall is the home of Thomas Estevez Design where unique jewelry and art may be purchased.
Photo: Butcher Edmund Snell, c.1870 with family and friends in front of his store on Christmas Day CABHC HC0251