Friday, 16 November 2012

Paging....John Hoffman

Quoting an earlier post on this blog, I introduced some information that related to the log schoolhouse when it was in Berlin (near present day KCI) and its relationship (at least land use wise) to the former Mount Hope Cemetery and a man by the name of John Hoffman:

"... 1868 The town of Berlin buys two acres of land from John Hoffman (a self-made man and local political figure who owned a great deal of land in both Waterloo and Berlin--more on him in upcoming posts) in order to establish a municipal (Mount Hope) Cemetery.
Note:  In 1871 Berlin purchases an additional 10.5 acres from him to expand the cemetery (which is really two cemeteries-- the newer one as a Roman Catholic cemetery that was originally operated by Sacred Heart Church and the original (older one) that was located where modern day Grand River Hospital and KCI High School are. This would have also been near where the 1820 log schoolhouse or Levi’s “cabin” was located). As early as 1855 the first Mount Hope Cemetery (originally called Greenbush Cemetery) is listed on the map of Waterloo and was considered to be a protestant cemetery. In 1871 the Ontario legislation regarding schools changed, allowing for upper level grammar schools to become known as “high schools”. Around 1872 transfer of burials from the older Mount Hope Cemetery to the newer section began to take place.....(end of quote)

First of all, who was John Hoffman?
Now this is a real mover and shaker. John Hoffman was born January 17, 1808 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania (two years after Abraham Erb arrived here and established what was to become the city of Waterloo). When Hoffman arrived here in the early 1830's, he said that he arrived with "half a dollar to [his] name..."

As stated, Hoffman was indeed a self-made man and perhaps, more significantly, he was a leader within both of the communities of Berlin (serving as mayor from 1872-73) and Waterloo (where he was one of the first councillors and later Waterloo’s reeve from 1863-67). This was a man who stood out from the crowd--within twenty years of arriving here, he had become the largest land owner in the Berlin-Waterloo area when, in 1853, he purchased four hundred acres for $37,500 (a princely sum in those days, to be sure).  

Hoffman started with a small furniture business as a chair and cabinet maker, in Berlin, On (along with his brother Jacob who was also a strong character). John Hoffman was an ambitious man whose keen business mind served him well, allowing him to become quite prosperous and influential (both in local business and politics).  Hoffman was also a strong-willed man who got what he wanted--but he was patient and shrewd.  For example, when he first tried to purchase the swampy land in Greenbush near where the 1820 log schoolhouse stood (today the land between KCI/Grand River Hospital up to the corner of King and Erb Streets), he was turned down by the owner, Elias Snider (owner of the prosperous Snider Grist Mill). Hoffman promptly left the area to look for other investment prospects in the US. While he was gone, he received a telegram from his son-in-law, Isaac Weaver, saying that Snider had changed his mind and the land was now for sale. Hoffman jumped on it and quickly purchased the land. Hoffman's business interests were evolving and he established a grain and cattle market in the town of Waterloo, a strategic move that solidified the area as a lucrative agricultural hub. Some time later, Hoffman further developed Snider's former grist mill into what would later become Seagram Distillery. (let's face it, when you have grain and a means to grind it...., good water......and are thirsty.......).

A portion of this land, had been used as a cemetery--the earliest Mount Hope Cemetery (formerly Greenbush Cemetery). The bodies were eventually moved to the present day Mount Hope Cemetery, thereby incorporating the two cemeteries.
So, also quoting an earlier post, I said: "...on the land ownership over time of "Greenbush",...think Abraham Weber, John Hoffman and Joseph Emm Seagram or, what does a Conestoga wagon, a Mayor and a bottle of booze have in common)... ? "

Well, the answer, finally: We know a Mennonite named Abraham Weber came to lot 16 of the the German Company Tract (in a Conestoga wagon) in 1806. Lot 16 encompassed, in part, where the University of Waterloo School of Pharmacy is today along King and Victoria Streets--where older residents of the area would remember the BF Goodrich Tire plant used to be. This was part of Greenbush, where the 1820 log schoolhouse used to sit between 1842-1894. We also now know that John Hoffman, local business and land owner, (and former mayor of Berlin) purchased some of this land in 1855 (and more, entering into the town of Waterloo up to King and Erb Streets), developing the former Snider grist mill into what would eventually become Seagram's Distillery.....hence, a Conestoga wagon, a Mayor and a bottle of booze....

I love how history continues to interweave and then backs onto itself..... In fact, Joseph Emm Seagram eventually purchased that land after Hoffman's death in 1878 and later donated part of it (where the original Mount Hope cemetery was) in 1894 for a hospital--present day Grand River Hospital.
For more information on the Seagram operations and the collection at the City of Waterloo, see: