The boyhood home of an Ottawa Valley hero was up for sale in 2001. Set on a breathtaking piece of farmland, not far from the edge of the Mississippi River, the Georgian-style stone home, where basketball’s inventor James Naismith grew up, has been put on the market by the Almonte family who restored it during the past 12 years.
Owners of the Naismith home are asking $495,000 for the charming piece of sports history. Though the famed occupant’s original game involved nailing’ a couple of peach baskets to either end of a gymnasium, the driveway now features a beat-up basketball hoop, something clearly used by the four boys. Greg and Marianne Smith bought the 150-year old home when their four sons were young, hoping to make a homestead the boys would return to once they were adults.
But priorities have changed since the couple put hours of work into restoring the home. When they bought the 45-acre piece of land, the Smiths were keen to farm and bring their boys up with the farming traditions. They lived the dream, but now the boys are in their teens and their interests have changed. Galen, 17, is getting his pilot’s licence; Jonah, 16, is interested in cooking; and Colin, 14, and Darcy, 12, are getting into kayaking.
“We had horses and chickens and lambs, but we’ve evolved out ,” Mr. Smith said. Earlier on, the Smiths had subdivided their land so they could build a new home at the back of the property overlooking the Mississippi, an area Mrs. Smith and the family’s German Shepherd, Harley, walk every day. The new house will be bigger, with a solarium, hot tub, and screened sun porch. The design will maximize the picturesque view of the lazy, winding river. “If we could have taken this house and put it on a smaller lot on the river, we would have. We’ll really miss this house because it’s so full of character and all our memories,” says Mr. Smith. “Our youngest boy was born here. The oldest was four when we came.”
Outside the home, on County Road 29, a passersby can read a plaque detailing the connection to James Naismith. The local hero was born in November 1861, in a home on the same property, all of which was owned by his extended family. Unseen James Naismith Photos and his Real Birthplace
When he was nine years old, his father got work at Grand Calumet and the family moved. But typhoid fever felled both parents, leaving nine-year-old James, his sister and brother orphans. The young trio returned to the stone home and were brought up by their uncle. Today there are memories of James Naismith in the restored rooms. The Smiths were diligent in the restoration, repairing stone work, refinishing floors, re-installing the trademark wrap-around veranda’ and reshingling the roof with cedar.
The family also added a delightful sunroom, complete with a full wall of windows. This attractive room houses a computer, an upright piano and terracotta tiles that give this Ottawa Valley home a sunny southern feel.
Some of the work was done on the advice of the Ontario Heritage Foundation, which gave the family a $87,000 grant over three years to complete the $130,000 restoration. Inside, they returned the kitchen to its original location, adjacent to the old fireplace, which, needless to say, they no longer use for cooking.
The kitchen, with a long dining table, boasts deep inset windows set into thick exterior walls. The door at the formal entrance to the home, is surrounded by windows, but it’s the fanciful carved-wood veranda that defines the character of this stone house. The Smiths got most of their clues for the facade’s restoration from a 1890s photograph given to them by their neighbours and previous owners of the home, the Graces.
“When we bought the house, there was no trace of this veranda and the shutters were all gone,” said Mr. Smith. “But this photo really helped. We knew the kind of wood and exactly what it looked like, how it had a curved roof and came in just under this window. We found the corner posts and so we knew the exact dimensions. This photo gave us everything we needed to put it back the way it was 100 years ago.”
Thick-slabbed pine floors fill the inside hallway from the front door. To the left is Mr. Smith’s home office, where he works as a communications consultant. To the right is a double parlour, which the busy family uses as a living room and dining room. Upstairs, rather than refinishing the floors, the Smiths carpeted. The four bedrooms are basic rooms, with sloped ceilings.
The front gable and window would have housed a sewing room, Mr. Smith speculated, but has since been turned into a full bath. The fifth bedroom, which could be used as a family room, is on the main floor, just behind the kitchen. The home has changed hands a number of times over its long history. The Grace family, from whom the Smiths bought it in 1988, owned it for more than 60 years. “We’ve heard that it had been used as a grain storage house and that the farmers used it as a headquarters when they were building the highway,” Mr. Smith said. “It had deteriorated a bit- but no longer.”
Unseen James Naismith Photos and his Real Birthplace