History | The Battersby House | Back 
An edited transcription of a pages 1 and 8 article from the 5 Aug 1953 Simcoe Reformer

Simcoe Reminiscences: The Battersby House
by Lafe Lafortune

History has it that Simcoe's first telephone was set up at Brown's livery stable and from there wires were strung to the Dr. Smith home, and to the Battersby Hotel, in 1885.

Brown's Livery stood approximately on the site now occupied by Austin's Hardware store. Around the gay nineties the livery was a busy place. The proprietor, James Brown, spent considerable time at the Battersby Hotel contacting commercial travelers who might require horse and rig to drive out calling on country merchants. 
It was characteristic of Mr. Brown to frequently appear dressed in a smart brown suit, brown derby hat, and a neatly-groomed light brown moustache. It is more than half a century since the barn was torn down.

Recently the Battersby Hotel met the same fate to make way for the new Woolworth store.

It is believed George Battersby built the hotel in 1873, one year later than the coming of the first railroad train to Simcoe.

A story is told that when Mr. Battersby made it known that he intended to build a large three-storey hotel, much bigger than any other in Simcoe, some of the village fathers raised their eyebrows saying: "Why, the man is daft."

Simcoe already had six hotels and a population of only 1,850. Despite attempts to discourage him, however, Mr. Battersby went ahead and built the hotel. New and modern as the period, the interior was furnished with expensive equipment.

(Mr. Battersby also built a fine. large brick house on West Street. just over the railway track. This was for some years the home of the late Sheriff Jackson.)

Before the turn of the century, John Dixon and Robert Mead were managers of the hotel for a short time. 

After them, William Battersby, son of George, became manager. William was known to be a dressy man. He was slightly taller than average, well-built. and of dark complexion. He usually appeared attired in the latest-style expensive suits, plus wing-collar, boiled shirt, and gorgeous diamond.

He had many friends among the travellling public who were loud in their praise for the excellent meals and good service they received from the hotel's employees.

Mr. Battersby had a passion for serving extra good food to his guests. This probably stemmed from the fact he was an epicure. There are some older citizens today who may recall their boyhood days when they received a day's wages for a few hours' work in supplying Mr. Battersby with some mushrooms, some frog's legs, a small basket of mint, watercress. occasionally a fine trout.

A description of the Battersby Hotel would seem incomplete without mention of two of the well-known employees, Lem Grey and William Wilkinson. The former was the colored porter and assistant manager. His cheerful disposition, his sense of humor, his deep southern dialect, were a source of amusement to those about him. His son, Bruce, was an outstanding hockey player for the Simcoe team more than 50 years ago.

William ("Push") Wilkinson was for a number of years employed by Mr. Battersby as the maintenance and all-around handyman. He won local fame for his daring exploits before he came to work for Mr. Battersby. He spent a time sailing on the Great Lakes and was a sail-rigger and repairman. He was an expert swimmer and saved several people from being drowned.

As a steeple-jack one of his outstanding and dangerous stunts was climbing the Dean's Hotel flag-pole, adjusting a pulley and rope. This was said to be remarkably daring. Some citizens advised him that the pole was not safe. But he ignored the advice and made the climb. A few years later the pole was officially condemned and removed (around 1890). For many years, "Push" Wilkinson was a familiar figure around Simcoe. His death occurred in 1921 and he is buried in Oakwood Cemetery.

The two business places which are said to have had the first phones in Simcoe have passed from view. Likewise the persons mentioned in this article. However, it is safe to say that the wrecking of the Battersby Hotel brought back some nostalgic memories to older citizens. 

It might have been a memory of a particular event occurring half a century ago when on a splendid June day Jimmy Brown's sleek horses, shiny carriages and coachmen, with care and decorum, did their part as they conveyed the wedding party to the church. Or it may have been of attending a sumptuous banquet, and later whirling in the hotel ballroom, to the bewitching strains of the London Italian Harpists.

Battersby House

Sheriff Jackson

"Push" Wilkinson

Also see:
1941 Norfolk
Phone Directory


Copyright 2014 John Cardiff