Willy Duffy, the builder of this house, holds historical significance for his and his family’s role in the local economy of Hillsborough. Willy Duffy’s grandfather, William, emigrated from Ireland to Rhode Island but fled to the north after killing a man in self-defense.
By 1798, William had settled 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 became a crucial economic resource for the next fifty years. Albertite, a type of solid hydrocarbon found in Albert County, is a deep black and lustrous variety of asphalt and was the first source for refining kerosene.
In 1872, Willy moved a building that had housed the second Hillsborough Baptist Church across the road and transformed 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 in their careers. When William Duffy started his business in 1872, he was just one of thirteen grocers operating in the Hillsborough area.
Merchants like Willy Duffy played a vital role in establishing a barter-based credit system that allowed the region to prosper, even during difficult times. Although wage labor was becoming more common, the economy still operated on a cashless basis. Most people only had access to the land they were granted or inherited as currency. They used portions of their land as payment for equipment, food, and clothing, and storekeepers accepted their promise to pay in cash or kind. Both parties recognized these short-term credits as a necessary form of delayed payment, helping the economy navigate seasonal fluctuations and personal hardships.
By 1900, Mr. William Duffy had transferred control of his grocery business to his son, Karl. Willy focused on managing an ever-expanding tract of lumber land and entered the financing industry more directly. At that time, bank loans were only available to established businesses and the elite. Wealthy individuals like Mr. W. H. Duffy filled this credit gap by offering mortgages and personal financing that enabled their communities to grow during the first half of the 20th century. Despite his wealth and influence, Hillsborough residents remember Mr. Duffy as a good, just, and primarily a business man, while some bankers from the same period are still viewed with contempt today.
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