Wednesday, June 19, 2013




Known in Hamilton as the historic Balfour House, this three-storey detached Victorian home was built in 1880 and designed by local architect James Balfour. Heritage designated, the home is one of Hamilton’s finest examples of a Second Empire architecture.

What is Second Empire architecture? This is an architectural style that originally flourished during the period of the "Second Empire" in France (1852-1870), when Napoleon's nephew, Napoleon III, ruled.  During this time, Napoleon III hired urban planner Georges E. Haussman to redesign Paris, and along the newly created grand boulevards, buildings in Second Empire style were built.  The style had the goal of impressing the visitor with a feeling of grandeur and class, and buildings are most easily recognized by their mansard roofs (named after Fran├žois Mansart who first helped popularize the design in the 16th century).  The mansard roof allows for maximum use of interior attic space, offers a simple way of adding an extra storey or two to an existing building without adding any new masonry, and their curved or convex nature allows for additional decorative functions such as iron trimmed roof cresting and elaborate dormer windows. The Second Empire style became popular outside of France.  In Canada, where its popularity peaked in the 1870s, there were variations of this style, including the use of central towers - which had a more Italianate influence - which acted as another focal point to draw the eyes to other decorations on the building.

Photo Credits: Tom Vogel, Vogel Creative


The home's second owners in the early 1900s (The Waugh family) on the front stairs where there previously stood a Victorian porch. The Waughs were wealthy merchants and purchased the property of the original owners, The Rutherfords, in the 1890s.

Side of the house (north side of Herkimer St) early 1900s before the side entrance was added in 1936 by long-term resident Dr. John F. Houston. Woman featured is possibly Imogene L. Waugh, named on the 1898 mortgage papers. The Waugh family, wealthy merchants, were the second owners of the property after purchasing off the Rutherford family in the 1890s. they sold to Dr. Houston in the 1930s who in turn owned the property until his death in the 1970s. Only 3 other families have lived in the house since then, including the current.

Hamilton Spectator archives 1967. Classic Regency townhouse. The exterior plan of 250 James Street South includes a balanced facade of arched windows, a neat George IV doorway with a split fanlight, an elegant mansard roof with a perfectly proportioned doormer, and the decorative contrasting brick detail of the period.
The home features 4 marble fireplaces. One of the original two Jacques and Hay 1880 mantle mirrors still remains in place.

3rd owner of the property, prominent local doctor, John F Houston. As a young private in the First World War, Dr. Houston bought his first small piece Georgian silver and became one of the finest collectors in Hamilton.

The original deed of land from April 28 1880. The home was built in the 1870s and was sold to Catherine S. Rutherford.

As featured in The Hamilton Spectator in 2004 when added to the Doors Open Hamilton Tour



  1. Dear Adam,

    my name is Alexandra and I am currently the owner of your former home at 378 Queen Street South. I do not really believe in simple coincidence but here is a little story to tell you how I found you. Like you, I love history and architecture. In May I was on a hunt for a Victorian house. My fiance and I searched Stratford, Guelph, Elora, Cambridge, and finally I proposed Hamilton. My fiance was very hesitant at first since Hamilton has a somewhat unfortunate reputation that has been tainted over the decades. I showed him the Hamilton I knew and I convinced him to buy a house here. The first time we walked into the Queen Street beauty we felt a very good energy radiating from the home. While the house was perhaps not my "ideal" Victorian home, we fell in love with it, especially the mantle in the living room. Like you said, it takes a few to find that one perfect home. The strangest part is, every time I take a walk downtown or drive by I am always admiring the red brick house with black shutters on James. Always thinking what a stunning piece of heritage! This is all before I connected the dots that you are actually the former owner of my current home and that you own the Balfour house that I so admire. Strange how the universe weaves people together.

    Today, doing a little bit of research on how our Queen home looked before all the modernization, I stumbled across your lovely blog. So after reading various posts based on your comments I connected the pieces. I would love to meet with you or just connect over FB so we can chat about the former life of 378 Queen.

    I really enjoy your blog posts and photos. I think your current home is a beauty! I am trying to bring our home back to its former glory. Orlando and Maria, the people who I assume purchased from you have stripped this home a little bit in an attempt to sell fast and make it modern. There is no dining room anymore and the outdoor terrace was enclosed and transformed into an addition. Being young and full of debt we are taking it slow but we have big plans for this home.

    Anyways, I think I also heard your name mentioned in the summer when Queen Street hill had a neighbourhood party to celebrate the closing of the street. All the neighbours gathered and someone mentioned about the couples who use to own our home and were running a flower business. Perhaps they were speaking of you and your wife?

    I would love to connect. Let me know what you think. I sent you an invite via facebook.

    Warmest regards,

    1. Dear Alexandra, I heard you may be looking to sell 378 Queen St S. Best of luck in moving on to your next adventure. But before you do, I heard you are thinking of removing the living room mantel. I urge you to strongly reconsider. That house has been pillaged more than enough. It deserves that respect. We would have loved to take it with us when we moved but we didn't. Total character castration. First the courtyard and now that. I hope you make the right choice for the home and the future home owner.

      Best Regards,

  2. It's funny. I was just admiring your house the other day as I was heading up the mountain on the bus. I was thinking how wonderful it would be to live there and I've been curious about the side entrance and what it was used for (besides a side entrance ;) Regards, Sheila Boyd

  3. Loved this post! Always enjoy learning about the history behind the lovely, historic homes in the Hamilton area that have been so carefully preserved. Your photographs capture how truly stunning this home is. They emphasize all the intricate details that make this home beautiful and worth noting. It is nice to see that it is possible to update a home without compromising its charm and character, as this home marries new age with the traditional seamlessly. I always enjoy reading your posts and learning the history behind each home. You have a unique and intriguing concept for your blog; I'm sure your posts will attract more inhabitants to the Hamilton area to experience and enjoy these beautiful spaces for themselves. Thank you very much for your post. Looking forward to the next!

    Best Regards,


    1. Thank you so much for the kind words, and for reading Marissa! I love that there still some preservationists out there as it means that there are a few more homes that won't fall victim to the sledge hammer. I love nothing more than coming across a home that has, behind closed doors and careful care, remained relatively untouched. Not because someone didn't have the money to modernize but because they appreciated it for what it was :)

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