Auchmar was built in 1854 on land that the Honourable Isaac Buchanan had purchased two years previously. Its name was taken from the Auchmar estate on Loch Lomond, Scotland, which Buchanan's family owned. Over the years the magnificent house on the Hamilton mountain was visited by such notables as Sir John A. Macdonald, Sir Allan MacNab, Pope John Paul II (when he was Cardinal) and the Prince of Wales during an 1860 Royal visit. Auchmar still stands on 10 acres of an eighty-six acre spread that Buchanan called Clairmont Park. It was considered an elegant example of gothic revival architecture with its arched windows, eleven chimneys, gables, and French doors.
In July 1936, Isaac Buchanan's daughter Elsie shared her memories of Auchmar's early years with a reporter for the Spectator. She said that the family's original intention was to live on the Mountain only during the summer months, as they maintained a winter residence on Henry (now Cannon) Street. Buchanan, however, was so enamoured of the Mountain location and views that he resolved to make Auchmar his full-time abode. The Spectator article noted, "Isaac Buchanan said that the first time he climbed the Mountain and saw the view, he felt like running down and asking people why they didn't build up there. His enthusiasm grew with the years and he was ever an advocate of the idea that the town should be built on top and not under the hill."
Elsie Buchanan said that there were originally glass-enclosed verandahs running the length of the house's front and back, as Isaac was determined to experience the health benefits of the sunshine even when it was too cold to step outside. Years later this 'indoor exposure' practice was used to combat tuberculosis, prompting Miss Buchanan to point out with pride that her father was a thinker ahead of his time.
Auchmar's interior was finished in beautifully grained soft wood, and almost all the inside walls were brick, making the house nearly fireproof. 10 fireplaces were on the ground floor. A long hall in the shape of a Roman cross occupied the main floor, and stairways with bright, large windows ascended from each end, allowing free circulation of air. At the west end, halfway up the stairs, was a niche in the wall containing a French bronze statue called 'Night'. Plans to have a corresponding statue in the east window called 'Morning' never came to fruition.
Miss Buchanan said that from its earliest days, Auchmar had a bathroom and a furnace, both features not found in too many residences during the 1850s. "Another proof that my father was ahead of his time," she said in 1936.
The builders originally planned to make the ground floor consist of four large rooms with identical dimensions of 18 x 20 feet. Then it was decided, probably at the suggestion of Mrs. Buchanan, that the dining room be more generous in size, in order to accommodate the lavish parties that the Buchanans intended to hold for government officials and political associates. There was also a music room with cane lined walls (similar to the bottom of a chair), in which Mrs. Buchanan, an accomplished singer, gave recitals. The unique wall covering improved the tone and resonance of all sounds.
Most dignitaries and political figures visited Auchmar whenever they passed through Hamilton. Elsie Buchanan recalled how the house was once filled to overflowing with the entourage accompanying Sir John Young (later Lord Lisgar). Lord and Lady Dufferin, Sir John A. Macdonald, and the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) also enjoyed the Buchanans' hospitality.
When Isaac Buchanan died in 1883 at the age of 73, Auchmar was sold to Captain Trigg, a military man from India. In 1900 James Buchanan, Isaac's fourth son, bought the property back. Some of his sisters, Elsie among them, lived there for years afterward. In 1926 the family sold Auchmar to A.V. Young, who lived there with his family until September 1943, when it was rented to the Royal Canadian Air Force as a rehabilitation centre. The Hungarian Sisters of Social Service bought the mansion and land in 1945 and retained ownership until 1999, when Auchmar was acquired by the City of Hamilton.
Auchmar is recognized by the Ontario Heritage Trust as having significant historical value and is currently owned by the citizens of Hamilton.