December 5, 2022


Willy Duffy House – Hillsborough

Willy Duffy House – Hillsborough

The builder of this house, Willy Duffy, is historically significant because of the transitional role he and his family played in the development of the local economy of Hillsborough. Willy Duffy’s grandfather, William, emigrated to Rhode Island, from Ireland but fled north after killing a man in self defence.

By 1798, William was living on an eighty hectare farm in Salem, Albert County with his new wife, Katharine Steeves, daughter of John, one of the seven sons of settler Heinrick Steeves (Steif). In 1849, Willy’s father Peter and his uncle discovered the Albertite deposit which fuelled the local economy for the next fifty years. Albertite is a type of asphalt in the Albert Formation found in Albert County. It is a type of solid hydrocarbon. It is a deep black and lustrous variety, and is less soluble in turpentine than the usual type of asphalt. It was from Albertite that kerosene was first refined. 


In 1872, Willy, moved a building which had housed the second Hillsborough Baptist Church across the road and remodelled it into a grocery store. During the 19th century, not all store owners became wealthy, but all wealthy men were store owners at some point during their careers. Although he would eventually see success that would allow him to build a house befitting a man of stature, when William Duffy began business in 1872, he was but one of a baker’s dozen of grocers who were already operating in the Hillsborough area.

Merchants such as Willy Duffy were integral in creating a barter-based credit system that allowed the area to flourish, even in lean times. Working for a wage was becoming more common, but the economy still operated on a cashless bases. The only currency available to most was the land they had been granted or inherited. They offered parcels of their land as tender for equipment, food and clothing and the store keepers accepted their promise to pay in cash, or kind. If the obligation was met, the merchant realized some profit on the goods originally purchased. If the debt was not paid, the merchant lost the value of the goods sold, but increased the size of his real estate holdings. Both parties recognized these short term credits were a necessary form of a delayed payment plan that floated the economy from season to season, or over personal difficulties. 

Willy Duffy House - Hillsborough

By 1900, Mr. William Duffy had passed control of his grocery business over to his son, Karl. Willy’s time was spent managing an ever increasing tract of lumber land and moving into financing on more direct basis. At the time, bank loans were extended only to established businesses and society’s elite. Men of means, such as what Mr. W. H. Duffy had become, stepped into this credit void. They became lenders of first choice, providing mortgages and personal financing that allowed their communities to grow through the first half of the twentieth century. Despite his wealth and power, Hillsborough fondly remembers Mr. Duffy as being a good man, a just man, but, above all, a business man, while some bankers from the same period are held in contempt even today. 


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