Belle Vue, Who Is In The Picture?


By Debra Honor UE, PLCGS

(Editor’s Note: This is the sixth in a series of articles by historian/genealogist Debra Honor regarding the Belle Vue house and its history. Honor is a member of the Belle Vue Conservancy.)

The earliest pictures of Belle Vue were paintings done by Catherine Reynolds. The earliest photograph of Belle Vue is a picture taken of the house when it had been transformed into the Italianate style by William Johnston. A family is sitting in front of the house, a father, a mother and three daughters. Both the Johnston and the Leighton family lived in the house during its Italianate period. So, who are sitting on the front lawn?

First, let’s look at the William Johnston family. William Johnston was a druggist who had stores in both Amherstburg and Detroit, Michigan. He married Mary Ann Venn in Detroit on 3 October 1859. They lived in Michigan during the early part of their marriage but in 1871, they bought Belle Vue and spent a lot of time and money renovating the property. Of their ten children, only five survived to 1883 when their mother died; one son and four girls.

Second, Perry Leighton of Colchester Township married Mary Jane Tofflemire of Leamington in Detroit, Michigan on 13 April 1869. They had four daughters. The first daughter, Clara, born 1874, died soon after birth. Their other daughters were May, born 1878; Belle, born 1881; and Lena, born 1884. The Leighton family bought Belle Vue in 1887.

BV Debra Honor

One way to determine the year of the photo is by looking at the women’s clothing. With the aid of the book “Dating Old Photographs, 1840-1929” the style of the dresses date the photo to 1880 – 1884.

The young girls in the photo seem to range in age from about 10 years old to possibly 19. The Leighton daughters would be too young but the Johnston girls would be the correct age.

Mrs. Johnston had died suddenly in 1883 which would date the photograph before her death. The youngest daughter, Stella was under five and was not in the picture.

We can conclude that the people in the photograph at Belle Vue are the Johnston family from left to right: Mrs. Mary Ann Venn Johnston, Mr. William Johnston on the grass, Ellen, Margaret and Amy.

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