Exeter was first founded in the winter of 1832 by the Irish settlers James and Jane Willis accompanied by the explorer Sir Michael Jacques. By 1853, Exeter had grown into a community of over 300 with the help of Isaac Carling bringing immigrants from the Exeter and Devon areas of England. On July 1, 1873, the villages north and south of the Ausable River (Francistown and Exeter respectively) merged to form the Village of Exeter. Exeter eventually became a town of more than 4,700 people. Paintings of some of Exeter’s historical citizens, by the late artist Harry Burke, may be seen at the Exeter Legion Hall.
Heritage Homes Tour
1. The Richard Pickard Home – 66 John St. E.
This home was owned by successful businessman Richard Pickard, who arrived to Exeter in 1855, and was one of only 14 homes in the settlement in its day. The initials R.P. can be seen above the centre window over the front door. Richard Pickard partnered with George Samwell in a dry goods establishment located on Main Street.
2. The Robert Pickard Home – 56 John St. E.
Richard Pickard built this home for his son Robert – the house is located immediately to the west of the original family home. Much of the Victorian elegance of this home and its original features, including the stained glass windows imported from England, have been preserved.
3. The W.J. Carling Home – 73 Huron St. W.
Built by William Carling, son of Isaac Carling Sr., this stately home is one of Exeter’s designated heritage properties.
4. The Thomas Carling Home – 527 Main St.
Thomas Carling was another son of Isaac Carling Sr., one of Exeter’s earliest settlers. The house, reported to have been built in 1885, features the typical Italianate style of architecture. Experience the heritage charm of this home while enjoying a meal at Eddington’s of Exeter.
5. The Willis Homestead – 18 Simcoe St.
When James and Jane Willis made their way along the Huron Tract in the early 1830s, they chose this plot of land to build their first home. Originally, a log cabin was built to house the Willis family but in later years, as the settlement grew, a more substantial brick home was built that still stands today.
6. The George Samwell Home – 82 John St. E.
George Samwell was the business partner and neighbour of Richard Pickard. Mr. Samwell, like many of the original settlers to the area, emigrated from Devonshire, England. He built this stately home in 1880, with grounds surrounding the entire block.
Historic Main Street Tour
7. Old Town Hall, 322 Main St.
The Town Hall was built in 1887 for a total cost of $8,000 and boasted a Hess Clock with wooden works built by Zurich clock maker, George Hess. In the early 1970s, the building faced demolition, but was restored and reopened in 1980 after the efforts of the Exeter and District Heritage Foundation. After an addition completed in 1995, the municipal offices and public library now reside in the Old Town Hall.
9. 386, 388, 390 Main St.
386 Main St. – Established in 1872, partners George Samwell and Richard Pickard employed 40 clerks to run their dry goods and household essentials business.
388 Main St. – Next to the dry goods store, Hugh Spackman sold hardware. The room above was an early meeting hall for the Masonic Order.
390 Main St.- The Exchange Bank of Canada, established in 1870. While the stores were very successful, the bank failed in 1882.
412, 414 Main St.
412 Main St. – W.J. Heaman opened his hardware business in the north retail space in the early 1900s. In later years, the business became part of the Home Hardware family.
414 Main St. – This building housed the offices of the Jackson Manufacturing Company that produced a quality line of work clothes sold across the country and provided employment for many young ladies.
417, 415, 413, 411 Main St.
417 Main St. – This sturdy brick structure was built by Isaac Routledge Carling Jr. and was where he practiced law well into the 20th century.
“The Carling Block”: 415, 413, 411 Main St. – Home to Isaac Carling Sr.’s General Store, which had a presence on Main Street for over 60 years. After outgrowing the original frame structure, built in the late 1840s, a new brick building was constructed and still stands today.
Reprinted with thanks to the Exeter and District Heritage Foundation. Visit the Grand Bend Welcome Centre for the full brochure. The Heritage Foundation thanks its supporters including the Municipality of South Huron, South Huron Communities in Bloom and the Exeter Business Improvement Area (BIA).