Century-old artifacts unearthed in Grimsby at condo site

Home of James Willison Grout Nelles in Grimsby Excavation of the property occupied by the former home of James Willison Grout Nelles in Grimsby. Photo credit: Andy Walker, Niagara Info

Anyone passing by Nelles St. and Main St. East in Grimsby might think they are seeing a massive excavation that is more than just landscaping, and they’d be right. An archeological dig is currently underway.

The dig began as a routine ground assessment in September 2019. It was required for the pre-submission process of a five-story condominium project proposed by Homes by DeSantis. But when the initial dig began last year, it stirred up more than just dirt.

Century-old objects have been found on the site, according to an official report from AMICK Consultants Limited, the Cultural Resource Management firm hired by the Town of Grimsby and Niagara Region to conduct the dig. “The property assessment resulted in the collection of 123 artifacts from 32 positive test pits,” the AMICK report said.

Object descriptions have yet to be made public, though, for a Stage 3 site inspection to take place, a minimum of 20 artifacts must be older than 1900. The found items could be ceramic fragments, pearlware, bones, or shell remains.

Whatever was found prompted the need for further investigation. The report said that the cultural heritage value or interest in the site has not been completely documented. However, it said, “there is potential”.

Home of James Willison Grout Nelles

The red-brick building on the site was built around 1865 and was owned and occupied by James Willison Grout Nelles and his family. (He is buried in the cemetery at St. Andrew’s Church in Grimsby.) The Nelles are a founding family of Grimsby. They were United Empire Loyalists and settled before the War of 1812 with the United States.

The family nicknamed the red-brick home “The Folly” because it was so big. The house was built in the Gothic Revival style with two high-pitched gables that are trimmed with gingerbread.

There was considerable family land around the house stretched from the escarpment to the railway tracks and from Nelles Road to Baker Road. Peaches and other fruit were grown on the property. The farm also had sections of forest on it. The family would also skate on a pond, where Central Avenue is now. Ice was cut from it to provide refrigeration in the summer.

For the Stage 3 site inspection ordered on the property, archaeologists will dig deeper. They will do a more invasive examination, sifting through each layer of subsoil. Further research is needed to establish the details of the occupation and land-use history of the rural township lot, AMICK said in its report.

The archaeological assessment may also require a Stage 4 investigation. AMICK’s report suggests that if that’s needed, it will be complete by the end of the year. “It is anticipated that the fieldwork and reporting of the Stage 4 Mitigation of Development Impacts (if required) will be completed by 2020,” the report said.

133 Main St East development by Homes by DeStanis
Rendering of 133 Main St East development by Homes by DeSantis.
Photo credit: Homes by DeSantis

DeSantis plans a 148-unit building

Serina Carbone, Director of Sales and Marketing for Homes by DeSantis, said development plans on the site will continue, but are subject to approvals from officials. “We are (still) planning to build at Nelles and Main…we are not certain when this project will be scheduled as there are a number of outstanding issues,” she said.

The building proposed by DeSantis currently consists of 148 residential units and 205 parking spots, both underground and at ground level. It will also incorporate the historic home that’s currently on the property. DeSantis’ plans will restore the vacant century-old red-brick home.

Nelles house showin context against rendering of 133 Main St East development by Homes by DeSantis.
Photo credit: Homes by DeSantis

The design will also have commercial space on the first floor, similar to the four-story condo the builder is developing in downtown Grimsby. That project was approved by the Grimsby town council on Sept. 17.

The town will review the Nelles project further at an Oct. 29 meeting. Development plans can be viewed at the Town of Grimsby website.

This article was created thanks to an inquiry by a reader. If you have a question about your community in West Niagara, you can ask us here at Niagara Info and we will investigate. Email info@niagarainfo.ca.

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For more information, see the archeological report filed by AMICK after the Stage 1 and 2 dig (PDF).