On a Sunday drive through the town of Smiths Falls, this elegant mansion is difficult to miss. Situated at the intersection of Brockville Street and Lombard Street, we might guess that the original owners, Ogle and Isabella Carss, intentionally built their lavish home in this location for maximum visibility. It appears like a grand and glorious castle, a stately haven of tranquility rising tall and proud amidst the hustle and bustle of passing traffic, honking horns, and the curious stares of passerbys.
Roclyn Mansion is an example of the Queen Anne Revival architectural style, as seen in the multiple sloped roofs, the cast-iron railings, the tower, and the long elegant verandah. Today, we can only wonder what went on behind those tall red brick walls in the early days? Who sat on that spacious sweeping verandah, sipping cool drinks, sheltered from the hot sun, living a life that few could only dream of?
It’s been said that the lady of the house, Isabella, designed the home, working alongside the architects, overseeing many of the particulars of the room dimensions, function of the living spaces, and directing the interior design and decoration. The end result was spacious, elegant, and fit for a prominent wealthy family like theirs. Isabella’s husband, Ogle, was a captain of industry in the town, owner of the Canada Clothing Company, he also operated the steamship, “Olive”, that sailed up and down the Rideau River. He was a respected member of the Smiths Falls Board of Trade, served as Mayor in 1890-91, held the rank of Grand Registrar with the Masonic Order, Town Councillor, local land developer, and was a generous contributer to the funds raised to build the Smiths Falls Hospital.
Ogle (1846-1925) was born in Phillipsville, a small hamlet south east of Smiths Falls, the son of James Carss, who came from County Wexford, Ireland, and his wife, Alice Wilson, also from Ireland. At the age of 26, Ogle married Isabella Niblock, age 25, (1847-1937), daughter of James Niblock of Belfast, Ireland, and Sarah Ann Foster, of Rosscommon, Ireland. They had four children: Lila, (1873-1968), James, (1875-1934), Ethel (1877-1881), and Henry (1879-1882). Of the four children only Lila and James survived to adulthood. In a diptheria outbreak the two youngest children, Ethel, age 4, passed away two days before Christmas, December 23, 1881, and their youngest, Henry, died three weeks later, on January 13, 1882. At that time there was no treatment nor cure for diptheria.
Lila and George Carss
Lila, like her mother, was gifted musically, and, following in her mother’s footsteps, she became a music teacher.
Lila, age 47, moved to Toronto in 1920 with her parents, when Ogle retired from public life at age 74. James, age 45, was already established in a law practice there. Both children remained in Toronto and chose to live out their years there.
“Mr. and Mrs. Ogle Carss and daughter, Miss Lila, left on Thursday for Toronto, where they will in future reside. Mr. and Mrs. Carss were among the oldest and best known residents of Smiths Falls and their removal from town will be regretted by a large circle of friends. They had lived here for more than 40 years, and in all those years Mr. Carss had taken a prominent part in the life of the town. He had served in the coucil, and had been Mayor, and during his residence of two score years was actively interested in many enterprises.”
July 17, 1920, “Ottawa Journal”
Lila and James, 1882
Lila Carss, during her days as a music teacher
Lila continued her career as a music teacher, and after her father’s death, she and her mother, Isabella, lived in a lovely home in the Forest Hill community. On Sunday, November 28, 1937, at her home, 393 Tweedsmuir Avenue, Toronto, Isabella Carss, died in her 91st year. Lila passed away in 1968, at the age of 94.
“Ogle Carss is head of the Canada Clothing Company, one of the long established mercantile concerns of the town. He is one of the town’s substantial citizens, and has been a resident for many years. He has served as Councillor and Mayor, and has been long connected with the Board of Trade.”
Feb. 8, 1913, p. 26, “The Ottawa Citizen”
Their son, James Carss
James studied law and became well known in the Toronto legal circles of his time. In 1921, at age 46, one year after his parents and Lila moved to Toronto, he married Mabel Kilner, age 25, daughter of William Kilner and Jemima Carroll.
James Ogle Carss
Mabel (Kilner) Carss, on her wedding day, June 1921
James and Mable had three children: Thomas Ogle Carss (1922-2015), Marjorie Kilner Carss (1924-2006), and Carol Isobel Carss (1929-2022)
Building the Mansion
Although some sources say that Ogle and Isabella Carss built their home in 1895, there is an article in the “Almonte Gazette” from August of 1878, which mentions a severe thunderstorm in Smiths Falls, which causes some damage to Ogle’s ‘new house’:
in the Old Days
Ogle and Isabella Carss’ mansion, Roclyn, in the early days
in Modern Times
In the fall of 1992, well-known local artist, Ben Babelowsky, (1932-2019) captured the splendour of the grand old Roclyn House in Smiths Falls. At that time, it had been converted to a restaurant and was known as the ‘Roclyn Roast Beef House’.
Oct. 18, 1992, p. 33, “The Ottawa Citizen”
Kilt and Castle
Another restaurant opened in Roclyn House, called the “Kilt and Castle”, and after it closed, the building was purchased in 2017 by Lisa McLean, with the intention of converting the property to a bed and breakfast.
In an article on Roclyn House, published in the Smiths Falls Record News, “Inside Ottawa Valley”, April 11, 2018:
“According to a town report presented to council’s committee April 9, 2018 the property is in a state of disrepair, and currently unusable.
The new owners are in the midst of repairs and renovations that they hope will be completed by August 2018.“
(The owners were applying to the town of Smiths Falls for a reduced tax rate while the building wasn’t fit for habitation, with the understanding that the property taxes would be reinstated after the house was deemed safe for occupancy.)
Will the Roclyn Mansion ever be restored to her former glory? Will another family enjoy cool drinks and a warm summer breeze on the verandah like socialte Isabella Carss and her lovely daughter, Lila? Will the house once again be filled with the sounds of music as it was in the early days when Lila taught music to her eager students, while Isabella looked on with pride?
We can only imagine the glory days of Roclyn House, when this prominent Smiths Falls family graced the rooms and hallways, entertained prominent members of the local politcal and social community, and gazed out from their lofty perch on the top floor, of this very special architectural gem.
sources: news clippings – various – “Almonte Gazette”, “Ottawa Journal”, Ottawa Citizen”, “Inside Ottawa Valley”, Carss family photos: Ancestry.com. Public Member Photos & Scanned Documents, other photos: Library & Archives Canada – public domain.
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