Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Day Tripper - Fairfield House

Fairfield House (1793) is one of those unique and beautiful heritage houses that I have often visited, but never entered. On a recent trip to Adolphustown, I captured some extra time to travel the Loyalist Parkway eastward to the outskirts of Amherstview, because I had read that the house was open for tours during July and August.
autumn at Fairfield

And so it was. Young Frank our guide undertook to tour a couple from Hamilton and myself around this rare for Ontario early house. It may have been something of a struggle, as we were all so taken by the early interior treatments, the original to the house furniture, the way the windows opened onto the lake, the many historical displays and artefacts, that he may sometimes have felt like a Grade 2 teacher on the first day of school.

The house is a Loyalist style house, in the New England tradition familiar to the UEL Wm. Fairfield family, originally of southwestern Vermont. Austere symmetrical 5 bay front, simple Georgian door with flanking sidelights, large chimneys at the gable ends. Steep roof typical of the early houses, and a footprint much wider than deep.

The two storey verandah is not original to the house; it was added in the mid-1800's. Our guide told us that the historic restoration team debated removing it, but that on her 1984 visit, Queen Elizabeth had liked it, so they retained it. View certainly fit for a Queen.

The interior - as I expected - was nothing short of astonishing. We started our tour in the cellar, hewn from the limestone bedrock. In places the builders used the natural strata of the underlying limestone to create shelves in the cellar for storing food.

Some of the original hand-hewn beams kept company with much-needed modern replacements.

I loved the tiny perfect kitchen tail

furniture original to the house - gorgeous settee

I love the light in the front hall; wonder about the
glazing in the transom - later?

The east side of the house was used as a tavern around 1802; a door opened into the tap room, the corner cupboard moved to the dining room.

The dining room features the dining tables (2 D-ends and a drop-leaf section), chairs belonging to the house, a corner cupboard originally in the tap-room, a wonderful painted floor, and a fine high mantel with panelling and built in cupboard above..
The verandah was added in the mid-1800's.  The French windows which lead to the second floor gallery were contemporary, as was the division of the east bedroom into two by a panelled wooden partition with grand double doors. Could this space have been a ballroom, when the occasion warranted?

The same shelves of limestone that line the shore pave the front yard (good for an inn-yard, bad for a farm) and combine with quarried stone to create the cellar walls/foundation.

the east bedrooms have become exhibit space

The gleaming painted floors were reproduced from a c.1850 sample discovered in recent years.

It was amazing to see the painted wainscoting of wide boards, the plastered walls, simple balustrade, stairs and door mouldings which have been in place for such a long time.

Fairfield at lilac time - a treat for the sense

Outside again, I stand and watch the waves of Lake Ontario roll onto the limestone shelves on the shore a few yards distant, across a lane which would once have been the Danforth Road....and time-travel.

If you've never been to Fairfield House, do go.

Now I get it...thank you Marc Shaw

The name rang a bell.
The front of the July issue of Foundations, that fine publication of the Frontenac Heritage Foundation, promised to tell the story of Annandale.

Annandale, I said to myself over the couple of days until I was able to have a look inside. Oh, Annandale! From the first words of Marc Shaw's in-depth article I recalled the appeal this building had for me when I did my Earl Street walkabout in June. How nice to have a chance to know more.

This is just a brief visit...let me share these photos while I read. And if you want to know more before I get back to this post, have a look at the Annandale Chronicle for current and historical photos, and an in-depth history. Really, need I say more?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Hold to Flush

506 Elgin
Merrickville has its share of uniquely constructed and clad buildings. Plank on plank,  log hidden under subsequent refinements still to explore.

But these two houses got my attention - for they are clad in flush-board -  wood siding applied flat, without any overlap. In some high-style buildings like Barnum House, flush-board attempts to simulate the smooth whiteness of marble.  506 and 306 Elgin Street were built by Samulel Langford, a gifted English mason identified with some of the town's finest stone houses. Turns out he was a dab hand at frame building as well.

This beautiful frame, with its lovely Gothic inspired barge-board and trims is gradually being restored. Patience my friends, you are doing important things here.

306 Elgin

The flush-board cladding of this second house, a block away, appears to be disappearing under vinyl siding? Now I'm not being judgemental - we too have stared into the eyes of the financial demands of an old house, and blinked - I just hate to see house history lost forever.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

It used to be my town too

 We walked the length of Merrickville last Friday - if enjoying every interesting house along the entirety of Mill/St.Lawrence Street is doing 'the length'.

We then returned via all the other streets, if that's not a geographical impossibility. The heat made it a challenge...but the hospitality at the delightful Dickens-themed Gad's Hill Place pub and restaurant had fortified us adequately.

William Mirick house (ca. 1821)
Our constant companion Katherine Ashenburg made the point that few Ontario towns are named after their founders (or few remained so, if they started out that way). That famous modesty of ours?

Merrickville, however, is an exception. There were Merricks. Although as of 1996, when Going to Town was published, Ms. Ashenburg regrets that there are no Merricks no more.

She also records that  two impressive Merrick houses, father William's and son Aaron's, are at the extreme opposite ends of the street we trudged. Which may imply lots, or nothing at all. There is certainly a difference in their style, and vintage .
Merrickville woolen mill ruins - the scenic
NHS Industrial Heritage Complex
 At the north end of town  facing the industrial complex and the river, its gable end wall to the road (and coyly distant from it) is the circa 1821 home of father William, said to be the third (as folks generally didn't start out grand). Although it's far distant from the road, and hard to see for all the exquisite trees, I detected the Georgian symmetry, multiple flue chimneys at each end, limestone.

 A second owner, industrialist William Pearson, appeared in 1869; he added the bargeboard and likely the verandah and carriage house.

William Mirick (1760-1841), UEL from Massachussets, arrived in the early 1790's, and established a mill on a spot along the Rideau which featured a handy fourteen foot drop.
river somewhat tamed by a flight of locks

Today, there is an interesting complex of early industrial buildings some still operating, and others artistically remembered in the fine National Historic Site ruins and find educational displays (more on this later, as the place was really a treat)

Sometime later,  the spelling of his name changed (one never knows if this was the owner's decision or the dodgy spelling of early registry office clerks).

Ashenburg tells a great story about local tensions around  intoxicating liquors. The village led the temperance march with conviction as early as 1830. William's sons must have irritated the righteous - Aaron and Terence are said to have built and operated this cozy little stone house at 106 Mill Street as an inn and tavern around 1830.

special seat in heaven for folks who preserve early chimneys

Ashenburg comments on 'the secretive look that comes from few and small windows and recessed door." With the wild profusion of old fashioned flowers, it looks to me a most inviting place indeed.

Aaron Merrick's house (1844 with later changes)
The plaque outside the eye-catching house at 905 St. Lawrence Street recounts that it was built in 1844 for Aaron Merick, who was elected first Reeve of the village in 1860.He sold the house in 1899 to William Postlethwaite, who sold it in 1922 to Harry Falconer McLean, head of Dominion Construction, builder of Abitibi Canyon Dam and Ontario Northland Railway among other megaprojects. A dynamo with an eccentric flair, he created a zoo on the property. He is also credited with the side porches, classical portico and dormers.  'Hilltop' was sold upon his death in 1961. We met an elderly gentleman in our wanderings who had stories of the day he was anxious to tell. Perhaps we should have listened.

Of more interest to lovers of  old houses however is the 'presence' this house exudes. The four French doors speak to its Regency taste (Ashenburg reports that there was a full verandah until the 1920's - wouldn't that have been lovely in this almost-country spot? She then remarks on the classical influences: symmetry, sharply pitched roof and its tall two and a half stories. Although tough to see from a distance, the stonework (attributed to Samuel Langford,  Merrickville's legendary builder) is of the finest quality.
a peek at the French doors
and the doorcase

Once question remains. Who can explain the giant portrait tulips lining the drive?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Old House Nuts

"early door-case with highish architrave"
'What are you doing?" politely inquired the cyclist meandering about an almost-in-the-country street at the edge of Merrickville. He had to circle a bit, as I too was meandering in the middle of the shady street, with my little camera, falling in love with this intersection of early houses.

Katherine Ashenburg compliments their "handsome simplicity" and notes "some stripped-down countrified Greek Revival touches; returning eaves, deep cornices and cornerboard like vestigial pilasters".

"finely moulded cornice
 I confessed to being an old house nut, gave the fellow my card, and invited him (and his University of Calgary art history student daughter of whom he is very proud) to visit 'ancestralroofs'.

Like us, my pleasant cyclist was camping, and enjoying that slower pace that tricks us into thinking we'll have time to follow through on all of our holiday inspirations.

I wonder if they will visit?

 I am delighted at the care that two of the owners have taken to restore the homes, retaining their heritage elements, and am hopeful for the third.

Notice that 305 is for sale?