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James & Isabella (McLeod) McDowell

Edith Nicklos, my great Aunt and the family historian of her time, wrote this family biography of James and Isabella (McLeod) McDowell:

“Jessie McDowell born on January 13, 1861 in London, Ontario, Canada. Daughter of James and Isabella McDowell. Her mother, an orphan, was brought at the age of 18 years from Inverness, Scotland by her Uncle William MacKenzie to Canada, her maiden name being Isabella McCloud. Her grandparents name was McKay and he was a sea captain. All came from Inverness or the Highlands. Isabella McCloud married James McDowell in London, Ontario. He too came from Scotland, but from Glasgow. When he married he owned a small hotel in London, Ontario. Isabella McDowell had five children – James, Samuel, Jessie, John and Sarah. Sarah married John Brown who had one son, Claire. John married, lived in St. Paul, Minnesota, had one son, Jack McDowell~ Son never married. Jessie McDowell married Charles Nicklos in London, Ontario. They had nine children.”

A rich record survives during this time in London, Ontario in terms of city directories, newspaper extracts, censuses, and maps that gives additional insight into the lives of the McDowell family. A cache of photographs was also been preserved (unfortunately James and Isabella were not part of the mix). So let us see how the above story survives under some scrutiny.

James and Isabella (McLeod) McDowell and their Children

The 1861 and 1871 Canadian Censuses clearly shows the entire McDowell family including a 2 year old Jessie in 1861.  The 1871 census includes tantalizing individuals “Colin McKay” and “Daniel McLeod” who may be connected with Isabella. Nothing more has been learned about her family. No Scottish birth record has yet been uncovered. Isabella came to Canada around 1841 which means she probably was left off the rolls of the useful 1841 Scottish Census. On James’ side, we see another McDowell family, led by John and Eliza McDowell. They about the same age, the family names are similar and they are engaged in the hotel business. John could be a brother to our James. Or not. This McDowell family claims Irish birth, and no definitive tie has been found. During the time 1855-1880, the two families are difficult to distinguish. They operate nearby hotels. However, by the 1881 census all the McDowells are gone from London Ontario. The other McDowell family has vanished. James, Isabella and son James have died. Jessie is married to Charles Nicklos, Samuel has left for Chicago and John is seeking his fortune in St Paul, MN. Only single Sarah McDowell, who is living with Charles and Jessie, remains.

The London city directories show the confusing McDowell picture (James and Isabella related family are printed in bold). Our James McDowell is running the City Hall Hotel, while the other John McDowell is running the Royal Arch Exchange Hotel and, later, the American Hotel. Later, our James and Isabella move locations to Talbot and York as proprietor of the Brock’s Hotel. Then a few years later Isabella, now widowed, moves to 71 Kings Street. Brock’s Hotel survived until the 2008 when it was burned mysteriously after efforts were made to perserve the old hotel. It is now a parking lot. 71 Kings Street now holds a massive apartment tower called “The Renaissance”, a fitting monument to the many years of McDowell hotel service.

1857McDowell, James, proprietor of City Hall hotel, King n Richmond
McDowell, John, proprietor of Royal Arch Exchange Hotel, Ridout st.
McDowell, John, captain London volunteer rifles, h Ridout
1864-65McDowell, Thomas, photographer, b Royal Arch Exchange
McDowell, John, proprietor Royal Arch Exchange, Ridout, foot of Market
McDowell, Allen agent for Ross, Strange & Co., Dundas bt Richmond and Talbot
McDowell, John, tavern keeper, h King, bt Talbot and Richmond
McDowell, John, h cor Ridout and King
1866-67McDowell, James, messenger Provincial Telegraph Company, bds American Hotel
McDowell, James, prop City Hall Hotel, King
McDowell, Mrs, American Hotel, cor King and Ridout
1868-69McDowell, Mrs. Eliza (wid John) boarding house, n e cor King and Ridout
McDowell, Thomas, artist, bds Mrs. Eliza McDowell’s
1871-1872McDowell, James, hotelkeeper, Talbot
McDowell, Thomas, painter, Talbot
1872-1873McDowell, Mrs. James, hotelkeeper, on Talbot west side, at York st, bet King & York
1875McDowell George, trader, h. Clarence, s s, n North
McDowell Isabella, wid James, h King, s s, bet Ridout and Talbot
McDowell James A, printer, bds King, s s, bet Ridout and Talbot
MCDOWELL SAMUEL, proprietor Farmer’s Home, Adelaide, w s, cor Pall Mall
1877McDowell, Mrs. Isabella, widow James, 71 King
McDowell, James A., printer, 71 King
McDowell, John, printer, bds 71 King
McDowell, Samuel, machinist, bds 71 King

There is also an interesting series of newspaper excerpts that are available online. Here are the McDowell related entries (again John & Isabella related family are printed in bold). We see that running a hotel can be hard work – taking verbal and physical abuse, stiffing the help. We see the death of Isabella and her son James. We also see a George McDowell is not a very nice guy (no indication that he is related – yet). However, the first entry is the most interesting. It implies that John McDowell of the other family may have been killed by a brother Samuel. If James and John were brothers, then we have uncovered an previously unknown family scandal.

NameNewspaper DateSynopsis
John & Samuel McDowel5 Sep 1865John, drunk, threatened to beat his wife, and his brother Samuel, also drunk, accompanied him home to prevent this, and in the argument, Samuel beat John with a club, and he died 2 Sep 1865
Isabella McDowell4 June 1870A. Carr charged by Isabella McDowell with disorderly conduct and using abusive and insulting language. Accused did not appear – warrant issued for arrest. On 6 Jun, A. Carr fined $1.00 and costs or 21 day in jail for abuse of Isabella McDowell
Isabella McDowell22 Mar 1873charged by Susan McDonald with non-payment of wages. Case was settled out of court
George McDowel3 Apr 1874James Shaw charged on 2 Apr 1873 with assaulting George McDowell on the Market Square. Fined $5.00
Samuel McDowell5 Mar 1875Joseph Stevenson charged by Samuel McDowell with assault. Settled on payment of costs.
Samuel McDowell14 Aug 1875landlord of the farmer’s Home tavern, charged a man named McKenna with stealing his dog, valued at $10. He was fined $9.90 with costs.
Fanny McDowell26 Feb 1878Fanny McDowell died 25 Feb 1878, age 7 yrs, daughter of George and Sarah McDowell
James McDowell5 Jun 1879James R. McDowell of London, age 31, died on 4 Jun 1879
William James McDowell29 Nov 1879married on 19 Nov 1879 to Elizabeth Adams, daughter of John Adams of Kencardine
George McDowell23 Jan 1880charged with turning a horse out to die on the commons of Kenzington which drowned 2 days later
James Alexander McDowell29 Mar 1880died in this city on 27 Mar 1880, age 27
Isabella McDowell24 May 1880Isabella McDowell, age 57, died 22 May 1880, in this city, relict of Jas. McDowell, fun. from res. brother-in-law, 521 Simcoe St.


John B McDowell
The record indicates he moved to St Paul Minnesota around 1880’s and worked in the newspaper printing business. After a first marriage in 1889 where he helped raised a stepdaughter, Ada, John then remarried Susanna Zimmer. They had one son, John B McDowell, who stayed in the newspaper business. John married Myrtle Peehl around  1941 and they had 3 children in St. Paul before moving Washington state (date unknown). So it appears that our family history is wrong, and that there may be remaining cousins out there.

Samuel McDowell
Samuel was kind of an enigma. No records are identified for him in Chicago or Ontario after the 1871 Census until his newspaper obituary in 1931. His death certificate indicated that he has been in Canada for 35 yrs which means he could have left Chicago as early as 1896. His obituary and death certificate make prominent mention of his pension. Here is his newspaper obituary

Chicago Veteran Was Born in London and Lived Here 12 Years
Samuel McDowell, a resident of St. Thomas for the past twelve years, died in the Memorial Hospital, Friday afternoon, after a week’s illness. He was 75 years of age. Mr. McDowell was a native of London, Ont., until 1880, when he went to Chicago. There he was connected with the Chicago fire department. After being pensioned by the department he came to St. Thomas to visit his old friend and life-long pal, R.D. Elslie, and decided to remain here. He boarded at the Iroquois Hotel. Mr. McDowell was a member of the Masonic order in Chicago. A sister, Mrs. Nicholas, resides in Glendale, California, and another sister in Oklahoma [probably should read “Oregon”]. The remains have been taken to the P.R. Williams and Son funeral home. Funeral arrangements will not be completed until Mrs. Nicholas is heard from.
From “The St. Thomas Times-Journal” 27 Mar 1931 (Jim Nicklos Scrapbook)

Sarah (McDowell) Brown
In the 1881 Census, Sarah is living with Charles and Jessie Nicklos. By 1900, she is recently married to John O. Brown, and living in Butte County, CA. Not sure what happened to her between those dates. She had one son, Claire, born somewhere in Canada, then the family settled in Josephine County, Oregon around 1909. Claire, who remained in Oregon, married Mary Raypholtz in 1932. No evidence of any children. No one was around to add his birth & death plate to the metal grave marker. It remains blank.

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