also known as
BEECHENHURST & BEECHCROFT
Hidden away in the north-east corner of Port Perry, far away from the hustle and bustle of this active and industrious community was one of the town's most magnificent and desirable properties during the early part of the twentieth century. Access to the property, located on the west shore of Lake Scugog, was along a narrow dirt road overgrown with trees which opened up at the top of a hill and sloped to the edge of the lake. From this vantage point, there was a panoramic south-easterly view of the lake and Scugog Island, as well as the docks and mills located along Port Perry's busy lakefront.
Historical documents for the property, which later became known as Beechenhurst, date back to the early 1800s. There have been numerous owners of the land over the past 150 years, including: Thomas Paxton; Joseph Bigelow; Hugh Lucas; James Carnegie; Madison Williams and Dr. John H. Sangster.
While Dr. Sangster owned the property, he built a huge home and began work on the grounds of the property. Unfortunately, a fire which began at 4 a.m. on March 7, 1881, completely destroyed the residence, valued at close to $18,000. A huge amount at the time. Dr. Sangster then built a huge rambling mansion to replace his earlier home. This home also became the victim of a fire, on February 28, 1893 (see Beechenhurst page 153).
The next owner of the property was Jonathan Blong, a longtime resident of Port Perry, who is probably best known as the man who built the beautiful "Blong Block" (now Settlement House Shops) on Queen Street. He purchased the "Beechenhurst" property from Dr. J.H. Sangster and built a large new frame house on the property. Although it was reported he was very attached to the estate, being an avid outdoorsman, Mr. Blong sold it a few years later to William E. Gimby and moved to Toronto after his health began to fail.
The Kent home, orginally built by Jonathon Blong
Mr. Gimby owned the property for only a short time before Frederick Kent arrived by car in Port Perry in May 1911 looking for a suitable location for a summer home. He ended up purchasing the house and eight acres of land from Mr. Gimby for the sum of $5,500.
On learning of the purchase, Port Perry Star publisher Samuel Farmer wrote the following article in the newspaper:
"We are pleased to be able to announce that the Gimby property has been sold to Mr. Frederick A. Kent, of Toronto, one of the firm of jewellers of that name.
Mr. Kent came to town last week in his auto. He said that he had been looking for a property suitable for a summer residence at a convenient distance from Toronto. By means of his auto the distance by time between Port Perry and Toronto is very short.
We congratulate Mr. Kent on having secured so desirable a property; and the town in securing so excellent a citizen. Port Perry is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful of Ontario towns and would prove a most suitable place for such persons who enjoy the freedom, and quiet of country life."
Frederick Kent became the man most responsible for the development of the property, turning it into a spectacular garden paradise in just a few short years. One year after purchasing the property, Mr. Kent was reported to have started extensive improvements to the land, installing new waterworks, reshaping and levelling the lawns, building a bowling green, a house for the caretaker and his family; and building a new driveway. On seeing the need for more acreage to fulfill his plans, he purchased an additional 17 acres of adjoining land from Silas E. VanCamp for $6,650.
Work continued for years as Mr. Kent developed the property, putting in terraced gardens and lawns, a reflecting pool, fountains, urns and planting thousands of flowers and installing all the necessary irrigation. It is believed during this period Mr. Kent renamed the property "Beechcroft", the name by which it was referred to most frequently during this period. In June 1921, Mr. Kent graciously announced that he would be opening the gardens of his Beechcroft home to the public everyday during the season.
After touring the estate in August 1924, Port Perry Star editor Samuel Farmer described the property as follows:
"For many years Beechcroft, the home of Mr. and Mrs. Frederick A. Kent, has been a noted place in Port Perry; but never so noted or so beautiful as it is today.
Years ago Dr. J. H. Sangster used to keep the grounds after the English fashion. In those days the natural beauty of the place was fostered by those who loved beauty and loved nature. Beechcroft has been sold a number of times during the past 20 years. Mr. Jonathan Blong was in the possession of the property for a number of years and took a real interest in the place.
About ten years ago Mr. Fred Kent bought the property, and from that time it has been improved year by year until it is one of the most beautiful properties in the Province.
Yet an uninformed stranger can come and go, little suspecting that such a beautiful spot is close at hand. Situated on the northern outskirts of the town, Beechcroft is reached at the end of an unattractive road and as you turn in the gate you will think "what a delightful place in which to rest."
You travel the well graveled drive in the shady coolness of the overhanging trees, through the openings of which gleams of brilliant color can be seen in the sunlight- perhaps a bed of tuberous begonias, some flaming cannas, giant castor beans, asters with great plumed heads in white and the many shades of red, mauve, and purple, or the glorious white blossoms of the hydrangeas.
And all above the trees, clumps of sturdy beeches just now loaded with nuts; evergreens whose branches sweep the ground and shrubbery in pleasing variety mingling with hollyhocks, sweet William, golden glow, delphinium, spirea and flowers that keep a covering of bloom on the well tilled beds.
With all the trees and flowers, there are spacious well-kept lawns, some with a delightful roll to them, and others terraced masses of close clipped green. In the trees and on the lawns, martens and song birds thrive.
Such is the approach to the Rose Gardens. In a place which nature seems to have reserved for just such a purpose as this, stands this crowning evidence of what man and nature can produce when they work in harmony.
Your first impression will be one of wonder that the richness such as lies before you could be hidden away on the lake shore. The trimness and cleanness of it all are emphasized by the mirror pool with its arched sprays playing in the sunlight. White urns containing boxwood trees stand sentry at each of the short flights of white steps that lead from the higher to the lower terraces. A sundial is placed here, and a great mirrored globe there, each in the place where it belongs, while at convenient viewpoints garden seats and tables in white are placed. Best of all in this white ornamentation are the summer houses in which you can sit and, through a visit of trees, look out over Lakes Scugog.
In this setting of green and white, the roses grow; hundreds of them. The collection includes many rare species, and individual flowers and masses of bloom vie with each other in securing the admiration of the visitor. As the season advances the roses come and go, but through all the summer there is a profusion of these glorious flowers.
Viewing with the rose gardens are the immense peony beds - now past bloom - and the dahlia and gladiola plantings.
You are at perfect liberty to visit Beechcroft and Mr. Kent has with unusual courtesy invited the public to visit the grounds. Such kindness is thoroughly appreciated, not only by Port Perry people, many of whom make frequent trips to the gardens; but by those from a distance. On a recent Sunday, fully fifty auto loads were visitors. Only last Sunday a party drove all the way from Hamilton to see the gardens.
There is one defect to this picture and that is the road that leads to and from the main highway to Beechcroft. It is too narrow and quite unsuited to the growing traffic demands, but it is expected that this defect will soon be remedied."
Over the next decade Mr. Kent welcomed visitors from all over Ontario to his magnificent property. On one occasion in July 1924 it was reported that over 2,000 peopled visited the grounds to view the Beechcroft Rose Gardens. It was estimated that more than 400 automobiles were lined along both sides of the road from the railway to the property, which had become known locally as Kent Estates.
The reflecting room in the gardens of Kent Estates
Many notables came to visit the property including Lucy Maud Montgomery who recorded in her diary; Saturday Sept 5, 1925
"Today we went down to see "the gardens" at Port Perry. A wealthy Toronto man is making a hobby of his gardens there. It is a wonderful spot, especially the "Italian Garden" and as I roamed about it and drank in my fill of beauty, life seemed a different thing and childhood not so far off. One felt safe from the hungry world in that garden. I came home with a fresh stock of courage and endurance."
L. M. Montgomery visited the gardens several times.
Interior view of the parlour of the Kent home.
Following the death of his wife, Ethel Henrietta, in January 1930, Mr. Kent announced he would not be opening his gardens at Beechcroft that summer. The entire town mourned the death of Mrs. Kent, who had formed many friends during the years she had lived in Port Perry.
Mr. Kent continued to work improving the property, doing extensive renovations to the rose gardens and grounds, but the death of his wife reduced his enthusiasm for the gardens and he closed them to the public shortly afterwards. He donated a large piece of his property, 300' x 370' fronting on Lilla St. (Simcoe), to the Community Memorial Hospital on December 21, 1951. He lived at Beechcroft until April 1955, when he passed away in the hospital to which he had donated property only a few years earlier. He was buried in the family plot at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto. Frederick and Ethel Kent had two children, Audrey and Beverly.
Interior of the beautiful Fred and Ethel Kent residence
On December 22, 1958 a plan of subdivision was registered on part of the Kent property, fronting on Lilla St. (Simcoe), Beech St., Kent St. and forming a new street called Beechenhurst Place.
The remainder of Kent property was purchased in 1973 by a local development group, Vanedward Investments Limited of Port Perry. The company was comprised of local businessmen Ted Griffen, Grant MacDonald, Howard Forder and Dr. Robert McNab, who divided the property and built homes in what is now known as Kent Estates.
The old Kent homestead still remains today, at 434 Lakeshore Drive. It was purchased by Hans and Dianne Kraupa in May 1975 and is currently owned by Kenneth and Joanne Dutka.
The once magnificent gardens of Beechenhurst, which attracted thousands of visitors from across the province, are now little more than a memory.
Another interior view