ROGERS, THOMAS, architect, office holder, and land speculator; b. 1778 or 1782 in England; married and had two sons; d. 27 Feb. 1853 in Kingston, Upper Canada.
It is not known when Thomas Rogers and his family immigrated to the Canadas but his son Thomas was born in England in 1811. The elder Rogers may have begun his career as a craftsman since he left his carpenter’s and joiner’s tools to Thomas in his will. His surviving drawings, however, show that he must have had training in an architect’s office at some stage. The family may have been connected to another Thomas Rogers, an English architect who died after 1808. The likelihood of this relationship is strengthened by an examination of the latter’s best-known design, the Middlesex County Sessions House, Clerkenwell Green (London) (1779–82). Its decorative, Adamesque qualities and the use of the Greek Ionic order reflect the sort of architectural grounding which one might assume for the Canadian Thomas Rogers, on the basis of his known works. A letter which appeared in the Kingston Chronicle in 1831 suggests a familial tie to Whig poet and wit Samuel Rogers. Samuel’s cousin Richard Payne Knight was a great amateur architect and aesthetician. These connections may help to explain the apparently immediate success of the architect in Kingston, and his attainment of a long professional career throughout the province.
Rogers’s first known commission, in 1825, was for a large stone structure to replace the small, wooden Anglican church at Kingston, St George’s. His plans called for a two-storey, galleried basilica, with a shallow apse at the altar end, an elaborate bell-tower at the entrance, and a grand Ionic portico. Only the main body and part of the tower were erected to Rogers’s designs. His tower was later replaced by the present one and the body of the church was substantially enlarged, but his finely sculpted quoining, the upper parts of his massive side-window surrounds, and much of his side walls still survive.
At St George’s, Rogers would have met John Macaulay, a prominent Anglican and office holder. Over the next decade Macaulay’s name is frequently found in connection with Rogers’s works, suggesting that he may have become the architect’s chief patron. For example, in 1829 the Cataraqui Bridge was erected at Kingston to Rogers’s designs, the commission coming from the Cataraqui Bridge Company, of which Macaulay was a director. As commissioner of lighthouses for Upper Canada, Macaulay was responsible for commissioning three lighthouses from Rogers: False Ducks (1828) and Point Petre (1832, destroyed 1969), both in the Prince Edward District, and Nine Mile Point (1833) on Simcoe Island near Kingston. It also appears that Macaulay was behind Rogers’s involvement in the new parliament buildings at York (Toronto) in 1828–29. Rogers provided some drawings, specifications, and criticisms of proposals made by others. In April 1829 William Allan, chairman of the commission for erecting the buildings, informed Rogers that he had already written to Macaulay, asking to know if Rogers, in the midst of his busy schedule, “would be likely to engage for the superintendence.” Rogers did not accept the complete superintendence, which Allan offered him, suggesting that he had decided to make his primary base in Kingston. In the 1820s and 1830s Kingston appeared to many to be the place in Upper Canada with the greater future.
Yet Rogers continued to accept short-term commissions in York and places other than Kingston. In 1831 he provided designs for the second St James’ Church, York. As Macaulay had been a pupil of its rector, John Strachan*, and was in close touch with him politically, it is likely that Rogers obtained this commission on Macaulay’s recommendation. The plans for St James’ show a colonnaded tower inspired by John Nash’s Church of All Souls, Langham Place, London. But sadly, Rogers’s design for the tower was not used and the whole structure was destroyed by fire in 1839. He may have been involved in superintending the erection of the second market in York in 1831.
In Kingston the early recognition of Rogers’s professional ability had led to his securing at least one public office. From about 1827 he was employed by the Midland District Court of Quarter Sessions as street surveyor for Kingston and, later, as a police officer there. In May 1827 he paid the Reverend George Okill Stuart* £50 for part of a rural lot now situated at the intersection of King and Barrie streets. On this lot, with its splendid view of Wolfe and Simcoe islands and out to Lake Ontario, Rogers had built a house for himself and his family by 1832. He was evidently an active gardener. In September 1837 the Chronicle & Gazette noted that growing in his garden, “near Stuart’s Point,” was a “Radish measuring in circumference two feet eight inches and a half.” His house has been almost completely engulfed by later additions, but some of the ground plan can still be discerned. Rogers’s purchase of land for his own house was only the first of a series of property acquisitions from Stuart. They were wise investments for the land was annexed to the city in 1850. Rogers, however, was able to reap considerable rewards even earlier; in 1842, after Kingston had become capital of the united provinces, he disposed of several building lots. Nor was his land speculation confined to Kingston. In 1846, for example, he bought 100 acres in Loughborough Township from the Canada Company. As well, he lent out considerable sums for mortgages, some of which may have been attached to buildings which he designed and supervised. What emerges from all these transactions is the picture of a shrewd, successful businessman.
The domestic architecture of Rogers is the least documented, yet in some ways it is the most interesting part of his work. Knaresborough Cottage, which he designed in 1834 for John Macaulay’s mother, is the only house which can be verified as his work. Although the house, on King Street near Earl, has been considerably altered, the original main entrance, on the side, survives. The tall door is surmounted by an elliptical arch, inscribed with semi-circular glazing bars. The outer stone surround consists of an arch of massive voussoirs, of alternating large and small stones, supported by imposing, monolithic piers. The striking effect of the entrance is the result of a combination of Adamesque elegance in the woodwork and primitive simplicity in the masonry which matches in mood the rough texture of the main walls and the quoins. The latter, like the masonry door surround, are ashlar, simply grooved or furrowed.
The distinctive characteristics of Knaresborough Cottage enable us to identify Rogers as the architect of a whole group of early Kingston buildings which might otherwise remain anonymous. Variations on the doorway are found in houses built for Henry Gildersleeve (1825–26), James Nickalls (Charles Place, c. 1828–32), John Counter* (Plymouth Square, 1833, now destroyed), the Reverend Robert David Cartwright (1832–33), John Solomon Cartwright* (1833–34), and Charles William Grant (Alwington, 1834, now destroyed). The Commercial Bank of the Midland District at 44 Princess Street (1833) is related stylistically to these buildings; a letter which appeared in the Kingston Chronicle in 1831 suggests that Rogers may have had an interest in designing the bank. The central block of the Kingston General Hospital (1833–35) has been said to have been designed by Wells and Thompson of Montreal and only superintended by Rogers. But stylistic features such as the quoins, the monolithic window surrounds, and the umbrage or recessed porch (found also at Charles Place and Plymouth Square) seem to point to Rogers as the designer.
Most of these structures have quoins on either the back or the front. In several cases elongated quoins touch the long stone jambs projecting from adjacent windows. This distinctive feature is particularly prominent on the corner wings of Charles Place, on the back façade of the Gildersleeve house, and on the side of the Commercial Bank. The feature is also seen on two more Kingston buildings which may thus be attributed to Rogers, one at the corner of Ontario and William streets (1841–42) and the other at 65–67 Princess Street. Farther afield, the peculiarity is found in two stone buildings in Perth, the Matheson house (1840) and the triple house at Gore and Harvey streets. These structures may also be designs by Rogers.
Quoining belongs to the rustic, basic mode of architecture. Contrary to expectation, the peculiar linking of quoins and jamb blocks seems to appear only once in the works of Italian Renaissance theorists and not at all in the designs of the early 18th-century English architect James Gibbs. Indeed, it was evidently not used to any extent in England until the 1840s, or elsewhere in Upper Canada until its appearance on Frederic William Cumberland*’s and William George Storm*’s Hamilton Post Office (1854–56). The device is found, however, in French architecture, prior to, but most frequently in, the work of Claude-Nicolas Ledoux (1736–1806). Did Rogers go to France before coming to the Canadas, was he influenced by publications, or was the influence perhaps indirect? Conceivably it came through the architectural milieu of Lower Canada. However the idea of linking the quoins and jambs came to Rogers, it probably appealed to him because of its combination of the decorative and the structural, and its emphasis on the simple, primitive forms of architecture.
Rogers’s architectural sophistication clearly reflected the social elegance so evident in Kingston during the boom days of the 1820s and early 1830s. In contrast, his office of street surveyor exposed him to the vagaries of local politics. On 30 Nov. 1835 James Sampson*, a prominent Kingston physician and magistrate, brought two charges against Rogers before the Court of Quarter Sessions. The first was one of “violent conduct” towards Sampson while Rogers was “under the influence of liquor”; the second that Rogers was “so much addicted to drinking as to render him an unfit person for the situations he holds as Police Officer and Street Surveyor.” The first charge was accepted as “fully proved”; the second was dismissed. At this distance it is impossible to unravel the case. Edward John Barker*, the editor of the British Whig, wrote on the day after the trial that Rogers, “by his attention to his duty and general good conduct, had won golden opinions from every person in this town, with the exception of Dr. Sampson, and the consequent excitement of the public, when so serious a charge was alleged against so deserved a favourite, was great. . . . The whole affair reminds us of the sacred story of Haman and Mordecai the Jew.” Barker thus implied that Sampson was deliberately, and unjustly, trying to vilify Rogers. And indeed it emerged during the trial that the physician and the architect had had an earlier disagreement about the cutting down of trees near Rogers’s property.
The court decisions were a considerable rebuff for Sampson. He was unable to convince his fellow magistrates, who included John Macaulay as chairman, that Rogers was unfit for office. All that Rogers received on the first charge was a reprimand. Among the witnesses who spoke on his behalf were Edward Horsey, a fellow architect, and Antoine Boisseau, a French Canadian mason who had apparently known and worked with Rogers for several years.
There is no evidence that Rogers’s professional career suffered from the Sampson affair. He continued to receive substantial commissions, both public and private, for many years afterwards. In 1837 he built the Victoria District Court-House at Belleville (destroyed 1960). A simple but imposing two-storey structure with a grand Ionic entrance portico, it had quoins and massive window surrounds of the kind used earlier on the J. S. Cartwright house and on Plymouth Square. Two years later Rogers was asked to make substantial changes and additions to the Midland District Court-House, originally designed by John Leigh Okill in 1824 (taken down in 1855). The Prince Edward District Court-House at Picton, apparently built between 1831 and 1840, has been attributed to Rogers but has none of his peculiar stylistic features.
In 1838, following Kingston’s incorporation as a town, Rogers petitioned that he be retained as street surveyor. He was unsuccessful and was replaced by John Cullen. But 11 months later, after Cullen’s death, Rogers petitioned again for his former office, this time successfully. In April 1841 town council asked William Coverdale* and Rogers each to prepare a plan for a new market house. At the same meeting, the latter was asked to prepare an estimate of the public work he had in hand. On 1 May he reported projects worth £584, an increase from the £497 reported in July 1839 and doubtless a result of new commissions ordered since the town had become the provincial capital in February 1841.
On 17 May 1841 council met to discuss the office of street surveyor. It moved that because of Rogers’s “infirmity” and the “circumstances of the Town requiring the Services of an active and efficient officer,” the position be declared vacant. It has been stated by historians that Rogers’s “infirmity” was alcoholism, but council’s motion probably meant no more than it said. Rogers was then around 60, and the duties of street surveyor were heavy and had been expanding. An “active” officer was indeed required, not only to supervise the increasing amount of street flagging and sewer construction, but to check wharfs to see that they did not infringe on street rights of way and to inspect chimneys and stoves to see that they were not potential fire hazards. Ironically, an alderman who tried to prevent Rogers’s dismissal had had his chimney condemned by Rogers two years before.
As late as 1852, one year before his death from dropsy, Rogers is listed as an architect in William Henry Smith*’s Canada: past, present and future. As yet, however, little is known of his last years. In 1844 a pair of elegant stone houses, at 53–55 Earl Street, were built for one Alexander Somerville. Four years later they were mortgaged to Rogers. This fact and some stylistic evidence (elliptical door transoms and a carriageway arch, all with stone voussoirs of alternating colours) suggest that they may have been designed by Rogers. Two fine brick houses, 195–97 Earl Street, listed in 1855 as unfinished and owned by the builder, James Renton, may be among Rogers’s latest designs. The careful interlocking of finely cut elliptical arches and quoins suggests his hand. Though Rogers is claimed to have had a part in designing George Okill Stuart’s great villa, Summerhill, none of the architect’s personal stylistic characteristics appear there. Rogers’s grandest late design may be the three-storey stone building erected at the corner of Princess and King streets in 1847 for the widow of Henry Cassady, a former Kingston mayor for whom Rogers had done work. The strip pilasters on the Princess Street elevation recall those employed at Plymouth Square, while the use of quoins superimposed on large ashlar plates is similar to the treatment of the corners of the J. S. Cartwright house.
Thomas Rogers occupies an important place in the architectural history of Upper Canada. He was perhaps the most competent and versatile practitioner of his profession in the province in the 1820s and early 1830s. The variety of his work and the widespread demand for his services attest to this. Although many of his buildings have been destroyed, or radically altered, enough survive to show that he was a designer of considerable individuality. In Kingston his consistent use of stylistic features of a rustic or primitive kind gave a distinctive character to the town’s stone architecture. From this George Browne*, who arrived in 1841, was to develop more fully his architectural ideas of Kingston as a primitive, Tuscan town. Browne’s Presbyterian manse (1841), with its monolithic door and window surrounds (albeit bevelled), is unthinkable without Rogers’s J. S. Cartwright house. (Not surprisingly, the latter has been attributed to Browne.) And the basement rows of elliptical arches on Browne’s Town Hall and Market Building (1841–44) are symbolic witnesses to the firm foundation Rogers had laid for Kingston’s distinctive architectural style.
ACC-O, St George’s Cathedral (Kingston, Ont.), minutes of the building committee, 15, 20 April, 24 Dec. 1825. AO, MS 78, Stanton to Macaulay, 23 March, 15 April 1831; RG 21, Victoria District (later Hastings County), council minutes, 2 April, 8, 19 May, 1, 8 June, 2 Aug. 1837; 22 Oct. 1839; RG 22, ser.159, 1808–59, no.259. Cataraqui Cemetery Company (Kingston), Burial record. Frontenac Land Registry Office (Kingston), Loughborough Township, abstract index to deeds, concession 8, lot 24 (mfm. at AO, GS 3976). MTL, William Allan papers, letters received, 1820–52, Allan to Rogers, 6 April 1829. PAC, RG 5, A1: 36447–48, 48585, 49077–80, 128862–63. QUA, Arch. of the city of Kingston, assessment rolls, 53–55 Earl Street, 1844, 1848; city council minutes, 17 May 1838, 9 April 1839; J. S. Cartwright papers, Givins corr., 1835; John Macaulay papers, corr., May 1834; Thomas Rogers, signed plan for St George’s Anglican Church, Kingston, 1822; unsigned plan for Cataraqui Bridge, Kingston, 1829. St James’ Cathedral Arch. (Anglican) (Toronto), Thomas Rogers, drawings for St James’ Church, 1831. Town of York, 1815–34 (Firth). U.C., House of Assembly, Journal, app., 1832–33: 218; 1833–34: 184–86. British Whig, 1, 8 Dec. 1835. Chronicle & Gazette, 23 May, 9 Dec. 1835; 27 Sept. 1837; 22 June 1839; 26 March 1842. Daily News (Kingston), 1 March 1853. Kingston Chronicle, 22 June 1827; 6 Aug. 1829; 3, 24 Dec. 1831. H. M. Colvin, A biographical dictionary of English architects, 1660–1840 (London, 1954), 512–13. Heritage Kingston, ed. J. D. Stewart and I. E. Wilson (Kingston, 1973). W. H. Smith, Canada: past, present and future. City of Kingston, Ontario: buildings of historical and architectural significance, ed. Margaret [Sharp] Angus (5v., [Kingston], 1971–80), 2: 66; 4: 217–19; 5: 48, 207–8. MacRae and Adamson, Cornerstones of order, 31, 57–58. MacRae et al., Hallowed walls, 204–5, 207. Margaret [Sharp] Angus, Kingston General Hospital, 1832–1972: a social and institutional history (Montreal and London, Ont., 1973); The old stones of Kingston: its buildings before 1867 ([Toronto], 1966). J. D. and Mary Stewart, “John Solomon Cartwright: Upper Canadian gentleman and regency ‘man of taste,’” Historic Kingston, no.27 (1979): 61–77.
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Cite This Article
J. Douglas Stewart, “ROGERS, THOMAS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 29, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/rogers_thomas_8E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||J. Douglas Stewart|
|Title of Article:||ROGERS, THOMAS|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1985|
|Year of revision:||1985|
|Access Date:||May 29, 2023|