A Tale of Two Castles
The Tin Box Memories

A Tale of Two Castles

Author: Connie Carson

Connie is a well-known local story-teller and professional who has a passion for the history of the City of Belleville, in particular, the downtown streets.



Once upon a time, there were not one but TWO castles located at the north end of our fair city. Although most of the storied history is long forgotten, please join me for a look back at the bygone days of the Castles on North Front Street.

The dictionary describes a castle as ‘a large strong building,  built in the past by a ruler or important person to protect the people inside from attack.


The Man Behind the Castle

Dr. Peter VanAlstine Dorland was born in 1829 in Adolphustown, Ontario. Both his grandfathers, Captain Thomas Dorland and Captain Edward Huyck, from good ol’ UEL stock, were among the earliest and most prominent settlers on the Bay of Quinte.

Dr. Dorland graduated from Victoria College in 1856 and was a member of the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Edinburgh and a graduate of the New York Eye and Ear Institute from Philadelphia University. He practiced in Belleville for a short while but moved to Savannah, Georgia, where he studied cholera during the devastating cholera epidemic.

This charismatic and adventurous young man was hired as a personal physician to accompany a group of gentlemen on a year-long 63,000-mile trip to Egypt and the Nile River. His fearless spirit for adventure was evident when the Civil War broke out, and he volunteered to deliver the mail over a dangerous country that even a stagecoach would not cross.

When his cabin, along with the rest of the village, was swept away by a raging

spring freshet, he returned to Canada. He opened a medical practice in Belleville, where his late brother, Dr. Enock Dorland, had lived and worked, helping to take care of the poor. In a few short years, he established the busiest and most popular medical practice in our area.

Dr. Dorland was a genial, highly skilled and well-qualified doctor, and his patients loved him. An astute businessman, he became very wealthy and owned over 30 properties, including a block on Front Street near the upper bridge. He was a valued member of our Town Council and active in municipal affairs. On January 14, 1874, Dr. Dorland gave a stirring speech at the Native Canadian Society meeting at Town (City) Hall), promoting patriotism, progress and union.

Most of Dr. Peter Dorlands personal history is lost, but we know he was briefly married to Martha from Middlesex London and had a daughter Gertrude in 1859.

He was an extensive traveller, and it’s been said that a description of his travels would fill a book.

In the early 1870s, Dr. Dorland commissioned the construction of a grand elaborate Victorian castle, covering several blocks at North Front and Earl Street in Belleville.

The Governor of Upper Canada and various leaders would stay at his ostentatious property when visiting the area. The baronial brick estate featured an imposing three-storey mansard roof, a grand four-storey tower, unique weaving pathways, and an elaborate fountain. It was popularly known as Dorland Castle.

Sadly, the admirable and brilliant Dr. Dorland suffered a mental breakdown during the great depression of 1875. His home and investment properties were sold, including Dorland Castle; he was cared for by his family for 20 years and passed away at a Kingston Facility in 1895. On April 2, 1903, a massive fire destroyed a multi-unit building that had once been the beloved and majestic home called Dorland Castle.


The Castle That Charles Built

Charles Lester Coleman was the son of Captain Thomas Coleman, who settled in Belleville at the end of the war of 1812. For his service in the war, he was given 800 acres of land and created a vast fortune by building stores and mills along the west side of the river. Coleman Street was named in his honour.

Young Charles, born in 1821, did not follow in his father’s footsteps and chose instead to become a lawyer. He graduated from law school in 1845 and was appointed to the esteemed position of County Attorney in 1863. Charles and his family lived in a white frame house at 77 South Front Street for many years. He was an individual with a high social standing and reinforced it through the construction of his new home on North Front Street.

In 1872 Charles commissioned a grand, opulent house to be built in the centre of a park-like setting that extended from Coleman Street to North Front Street and from the Grand Trunk Railway to Earl Street.

Designed in a Victorian Italianate style, with a slate mansard roof, this opulent brick 10,000 square foot, twenty-room house sat on over 8 acres of land. The three-storeyed residence was perched on a hill and provided a sweeping view overlooking Belleville and the Moira River.

Charles Lester Coleman passed away in 1884, and another well-known, successful lawyer in Belleville, Willian Barton Northrup, purchased the home.

He became a member of Parliament and was appointed as the Clerk of the House of Commons. The family moved to Ottawa, and Coleman Castle became their summer home until Mr. Northrup passed away suddenly in 1925.

The property at 68 North Front sat boarded up and vacant until Grant Funeral Home purchased it in 1939 and later sold it to Rushnell Family Services, where it currently operates as Quinte Cremation and Burial Services.

The dictionary describes a castle as ‘a large strong building,  built in the past by a ruler or important person to protect the people inside from attack.

 Although not actual castles, these two palatial properties were impressive city landmarks built on the same street two years apart! A few of our grand ‘castles‘  in Belleville have survived, but some have not.

 Take a stroll along North Front Street and pause for a second look at Coleman Castle, which still remains and also picture Dorland’s Castle along the block of Harriet and Earl Street. What a grand sight they must have been!