John G. Mullen

The Rebirth of Belle Vue in 1928

 

 

(Editor’s Note: This is the twentieth in a series of articles about the Belle Vue property, most of which have been written by Debra Honor. Honor is a local historian/genealogist and a member of the Belle Vue Conservancy.)

 

By Debra Honor UE, PLCGS

 

In March of 1924, Mrs. P. B. Leighton sold the Belle Vue property to John G. Mullen, president of the Mullen Coal Company, Amherstburg. The article in the Amherstburg Echo of March 28, 1924 described the complete history of the former owners from Robert Reynolds to his son, Dr. Robert T. Reynolds, to William Johnston, to Simon Fraser and then to Perry B. Leighton. (Simon Fraser only owned the property for a few days before selling it to P. B. Leighton). The house has always held a fascination to residents in Essex County.

The article goes on to explain that the Mullen family had ambitious plans for the property including “having the beautiful grounds landscaped by a landscape artist from Cleveland, the house will be remodelled, preserving and accentuating the style of architecture, the interior will be remodelled and modernized, making it one of the finest residences on the chain of lakes.”

Belle Vue 1928 (Photo originally appeared in the Border Cities Star)

Belle Vue 1925 (Photo originally appeared in the Border Cities Star)

The next year, 1925, the Border Cities Star, had a huge article on the “Reynolds House” being renewed. In the article, it described the house as having “red brick”. The picture they use does show the house as being of dark colour though earlier photos had shown the house with white paint.

During the renovation, Mr. Mullen added a coal furnace for heating, modern electricity, a second story above the earlier bay window additions and the attached gazebo at the south end.

In describing the house in April 1928, the Border Cities Star added, “Particular attention has been paid to the landscape and in doing this Mr. Mullen has added an additional property. At the rear of the house are sunken gardens and many very attractive floral arrangements which will make the spot one of the show places of the section.”

In December 1928, the Amherstburg Echo described the house. “The residence of John G. Mullen, river front attracts great attention this Christmas season because of the beautiful colored electric lighting strung along the front and the vari-colored Christmas tree, composed entirely of electric bulbs, which flash on and off, with beautiful effect. It is the most ambitious electric lighting decoration ever before attempted in Amherstburg.”

What better way to advertise his new electric business, of which he was a partner, than with Christmas lights!

Please support our fundraising campaign. One hundred per cent of your contribution will be used for restoration of the Belle Vue House. You will receive a full tax receipt and a Belle Vue gift. Visit amherstburg.ca/donate to help us open up Belle Vue once again or visit www.bellevueconservancy.com for more information!

John G. Mullen Family and Belle Vue

 

(Editor’s Note: This is the eighth 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.)

 

By Debra Honor UE, PLCGS

 

John Gallagher Mullen came to Amherstburg as an employee for a Cleveland Ohio coal company. Three years later, he bought out the coal company share in Amherstburg and started the Mullen Coal Company that had docks in Amherstburg and Sandwich to service the steamships on the Great Lakes. His docks at Amherstburg were large enough to fuel two steamships at the same time.

John G. Mullen

His office was an old fire hall on Dalhousie St. heated by a potbellied stove with the second floor used by himself and his friends to play poker. When he opened the office, he took the key and threw it into the river, stating that his office would never be important enough to be locked. Many nights, homeless men would find a warm place to sleep and never was anything in the office touched.

John G. Mullen was a philanthropist. Once he caught a needy man from town carrying a couple of bags of coal in a wheel barrow. Mr. Mullen responded, “Why didn’t you come to me and ask for coal? I never want anyone in town to be cold.”

In the 1870’s, John G. Mullen was involved in other new technologies such as the Great North Western Telegraph Company. By 1892, Mullen, along with Colin Wigle, John A. Auld, and W.D. McEvoy started the first commercial electric plant supplying electricity for the street lights and to those families who could afford it. He also ran for mayor for four years and was successful in 1893, 1894 and 1896.

The Mullen family undertook several renovations to the Belle Vue house, including adding the front portico to the home. Belle Vue is located at 525 Dalhousie St. in Amherstburg.

In 1927, St. John the Baptist Church was building a new vestry and the Mullen family pledged ten to twenty thousand dollars.

For about 45 years, the Mullen family lived at the old Gordon House. In 1925, at the age of 77, John and Isabella Mullen, bought Belle Vue. It took the family three years to remodel it into the house we now see. They removed most of the Italianate style William Johnston added in the 1870’s and added the gazebo at the end, the front portico and the little dock down by the water. Though John G. Mullen passed away in 1930, his wife and children lived in the house until 1944 when Mrs. Mullen passed away.

Please support our fundraising campaign. One hundred per cent of your contribution will be used for restoration of the Belle Vue House. You will receive a full tax receipt and a Belle Vue gift. Visit amherstburg.ca/donate to help us open up Belle Vue once again!