Early History

In the early 19th century, Pelham Road was an essential transportation root for travelers, especially during the war of 1812. Because of its location on this prime transportation route, John’s son Adam transformed a section of the house into a tavern and an inn for travelers, and there is purported to be a license to distill liquor in Adam’s name. At this time the front hall was divided by a partition of 2” x 24” whitewashed pine boards, probably as a throughway for food carried from the kitchen to a “birdcage bar” constructed at that time in the rear of the ground floor parlour. 

The remains of the birdcage bar were found behind the Victorian wall to the left of the fireplace in the parlour, and date from the years when Adam operated the building as a coach stop. This style of tavern serving counter consists of a small square cubicle which contained the supply of liquor, ale and crockery from which the bartender served liquor to patrons. It would appear in this case that food was also dispensed from the same cubicle. Separate from the tap room, these “birdcages” are known to have been an integral part of many early inns between 1700 and 1840, but few have survived. This rare feature is one of two documented known examples still in existence in Ontario. 

 On the upper floor, the original “ballroom” has been divided, and it is currently thought that this division took place sometime after the original construction and prior to 1825, due in part to the nails used in the wall’s construction. We speculate that the division was made to accommodate Adam’s children, born between 1807 and 1823, or to have rooms available for occasional travelers.

Additionally, based upon a mention by William Hamilton Merritt of his Dragoons retreating to the house after a particular skirmish, there has been speculation that the house was occupied at times by the company during the war of 1812. Bayonets and muskets were reportedly found under the kitchen floor during an earlier renovation of that part of the house, although this has never been documented. The Decew House was used as a base, primarily after John DeCew was imprisoned in Pennsylvania in 1813. It may be that the company (or others, British and American) used the John Brown house to stop upon certain occasions, rather than as a base of operations. Any weapons found under the floor may even have been the family’s militia arms. 

Upon the death of their mother in 1818, Adam and Abraham jointly inherited the present site as part of a 100 acre parcel, including attached lots in Thorold and Pelham. Abraham, however, immediately transferred sole ownership to Adam, as registered in March of 1819. Adam's son Jacob inherited the land in 1855, "under conditions" that he pay certain "charges and liens" listed in the will. Three years later, in 1858, he sold the property to a Mr. Joseph Chellew for 525 Pounds.