Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


This is Chisholm's Mill north of Belleville, just off highway 37. Most painters would know the way, as it's a popular spot for local artists. I see its painted version often - the rather utilitarian structure with its picturesque rusting metal cladding and weathered signage, its varieties of forms and the elevation change of the river, with its weir and rushing water call out the poetic in most of us.

There's even a Manly MacDonald version (1949),by that celebrated local painter of the ordinary, at the National Gallery. Just discovered this lovely video about his work.

But what endears us most to the mill is that it's still there, and still working, an important and evolving part of the local economy.

A week or two ago we followed the sound of rushing water to greet spring at a number of favourite spots along the Moira and Salmon Rivers.

We founds what remains of the mill at Lost Channel, a back channel of the Moira, I suppose. A circuitous road off the old Hungerford Road got us there. There is a sense of an old village there, but it was hard to read.

The mill ruins are a garden feature on an idyllic modern estate, which is for sale. This is as close as I could get. In summer, just the sound of the rapids would be evident.

Later the same day. This is the Salmon River, at the old dam site at Forest Mills. The falls are called Buttermilk Falls - I wonder how many waterfalls got that name?

Forest Mills was once called The Falls; it had a rare bridge providing a vital river crossing. The first house was built in the 1830's.

Archie McNeil built a saw and grist mill here, so the name changed guessed it. McNeil's Mills.

In 1868 the name changed once again to Forest Mills.

The place smelled wonderful - we could breathe in the river, as the mist hung in the cold air. Across the river was a modern home with a huge workshop which held Den's attention for a long moment - until we discovered that the property (which appears to encompass the falls?) has just been sold. Hope they share.

Hidden in the sumacs was the stone ruin of one of the mill buildings.

Buttermilk Falls - what else would you call it?

A few steps further along was this picturesque barn. A large square brick house stood opposite, I should have recorded it, but it was no longer lovely.

Say Cheese

I grew up on cheese.
Cheese appeared, as did bread, at every meal, even those ample Sunday dinners at Grandma Striker's. Apple pie and cheese, oh yes.

Strikers were a 'cheese' family; ancestor Isaac was one of the county's first cheesemakers.
As a little girl, I remember one visit inside the cheese factory nextdoor to Grandma's - didn't care for it. Cold, dripping wet, smelled like fresh curd. The factory was in family hands until 1910, and closed finally in 1956.
Today the plain building is fancy Exultet Winery.

Even after the cheese factory closed, the Striker grandfather and uncles belonged to the farmer's cooperative which formed Black Creek Cheese Factory (yes, today's marketing grew it into a River) in the 1870's. Their website tells the whole story, so I won't go on, except to note that the place is still farmer-owned, and uses the old-fashioned open vat method and natural ageing to make cheese. It's nice to see something so darned wholesome do so well.

Early on, dad shipped out milk from our small dairy herd. I remember large cylindrical milk cans and smaller curvy cream cans left on the milk stand half-way to the barn. Underneath, in the summer's lush weeds, my playhouse.

But it was just the other day that I finally "got" cheese. Somehow, it was coming upon this building on a trip down Grills Road, Hastings County, winding my way cross country from Marmora, that finally connected me to the story.

For the building with its tall pitched roof (for ventilation, I've read) and the loading dock with canopy for unloading cans from farm wagons, told me the story.

Of farmers on isolated small holdings taking their milk, by horse and wagon, long distances to have it made into cheese.

Then the building of a factory in one's own rural community,  the convenience, the pride in building one's own plant close to home - of getting ahead in the world.

Now of course, 150 years or so later, they're mostly closed.

The buildings still stand in lots of former communities. Mountain View, Prince Edward County (c.1900-1970's) is one I pass often. A bit of dignity remains in its stucco, fancy lintels and quoins. I'm sure I recall it being in operation. Notice the old County Road 14 running right in front, now replaced by faster and wider #62.

Cheese factories sometimes morph into flea markets, antique barns or machine shops.

Once there were 26 cheese factories in Prince Edward county; 82 in Hastings (though maybe not all at the same time, thanks Orland.) There was a factory every couple of concessions.

Old cheese factory at Melrose
By 1867, Hastings Co. cheese was winning provincial honours at agricultural fairs, by 1872 a cheese board took on marketing, and 4 million pounds were shipped from Belleville. During the 1890's, in the Moira watershed alone, there were 33 cheese factories. (thanks for the facts, Gerry Boyce.) The industry peaked in 1900.

Farmtown Park in Stirling does an amazing job of interpreting the growth of the cheese industry (and every other facet of farming life.) Here's an account of a Farmtown Park we made some time ago, with some photos of the cheese biz.

A couple of years ago, the Hastings County Historical Society ghost town bus tour stopped to pay homage to the Melrose cheese factory in Tyendinaga township. The foundation wall of aggregate was capped by a row of fieldstones.

The old factory, built around 1875, burned in 1957. The fabric of this small community, begun so hopefully, named by the first storekeeper, Mr. Duncan, for his hometown in Scotland, was beginning to unravel.

Metcalfe cheese factory, South Bay
I wonder if the c. 1875 Metcalfe cheese factory is still standing? I took this photo a couple of years ago, in South Bay, admiring the old board and batten and the pedimented window trim. Cruickshank and Stokes deemed it "one of the oldest still standing" when they published The Settler's Dream in 1984 (page 79).

There's a lovely photo of the original Ben Gill cheese factory on page 19 of SD also.

Lunchtime. Fancy a grilled cheese sandwich, somehow.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Ingredients list

My trusted four-wheeled companion Blanche.

Fascinating old buildings anxious to reveal their secrets.

Silence and solitude.

Sun and warmth.

An historic river in spring flood.


A sun-warmed stone wall on which to spend a half-hour watching the river run.

And a story to sleuth out for my esteemed editor.

And across the charging Moira, its feet stalwart in the current, silhouetted against dark pines, a tree bursts into flower, while I watch.

All the ingredients for a perfect April afternoon.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Real Estate News

super Victorian verandah...
 Today I heard from the delightful fellow I wrote about last June in the post Highway 33 Revisited.

And he has NEWS.

At the time of our meeting, Malcolm Smith was travelling regularly from Winnipeg to visit his ailing mother and maintain the family home - the incomparable Conrad Huffman home, built of brick fired on the farm, in about 1812.

...slightly obscuring  the elliptical fanlight...
...and distracting a touch from the Georgian character
Fast forward to 2015 - this rare 200 year old house is now coming onto the market. It needs an informed owner who will treasure its heritage and preserve its character.

The house and 41 acres of farmland sitting on Highway 33, across the road from Lake Ontario, on the way to Kingston from Adolphustown, will be listed with Gordon's Estate Services ( I don't see the listing there yet, but will come back and add it when I do.)
the door alone, worth the price of admission

In the interim, here's something important to know. Gordon's has also been entrusted with the task of preparing an auction of effects from the home. The auction will go live this Thursday April 16 at 5 PM and will close Thursday April 23 at 12:30 PM; the items can be seen at it

Here are a few shots I took of the interior, so you may get a sense of the exquisiteness of the joinery, the taste of the owners and the wisdom of viewing both contents and home.

As my friend Brenda says, "Go on, have it if you want it."

Monday, April 6, 2015

Hope or Heartbreak?

As we explore the back roads of Hastings and L&A counties, it's impossible not to think constantly of the folks who arrived so optimistically in this hard land, and worked to establish a home and a farm to sustain their families and their hope.

Today folks cynically refer to them as 'rock farms'.

Just thinking of the building of these fences can break your heart, as they may well have broken the spirit of some of the first settlers.

On Easter Sunday we grabbed our road atlas, and struck out on a rural route which led us up the Old Hungerford Road. We got lost finding Lost Channel, squinted through the underbrush at the 1890 cement company ruins at Marlbank, but found an open coffee bar to compensate (thanks Trudeaus.) We teetered along Hog's Back road to circumnavigate Lime Lake, enjoyed the open countryside and the cement block church at Westplain, missed Pinegrove on our way through (so many former communities are just crossroads on a map now), and made our way to Forest Mills to enjoy the magnificent Buttermilk Falls.

 But all along the route, we viewed in dismay the small fields carved out from unyielding forest, their borders formed by piles of stones carryed or dragged there, to open the poor soil for cultivation. And each spring, as even our farmer father who was blessed with a good farm and deep soil would do (with our without our less than enthusiastic support), they would pick even more stones which the winter frost had heaved to the surface.

I wonder when the satisfaction of building a sturdy fence to contain cattle, or protect crops - that hope for the future - gave way to despair.

Imagine these fields! This endless work. The poor results for all that. Yet this farmer built a fine barn, and a brick house across the road.

 And few hundred yards down the road, the community built a school house in 1870. My guess is, it's built of logs.

More hope for the future.

My heart is full of admiration for these settlers, whose road we travelled yesterday.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Bright spot

Still in Moira.

I turned off Moira Road onto Carson Road (which led to a brush with Fuller a few clicks on) the better to park and have a good look at the 1854 Wesleyan church, now the community centre.

As I was about to turn into the parking lot, something drew my attention. Like the bright flash of an oriole in the forest canopy, this eye-catching place, well, caught my eye.

I first noticed the shadows cast by impressive cornice mouldings above doors and windows on the neat symmetrical front of this clapboard house. Although the house is well-screened with bushes (it would be invisible in summer) I saw enough to make me fall in love.  

Pilasters with capitals flanked the blind panelled sidelights, and the oversized Regency windows with their panelled dado below. Deep roof cornices lead to returning eaves on the side elevation. Then an Italianate front door.

And all picked out in wonderful cream and gold, with a dusky blue highlights and roof.

The proportions, and the wide roof cornice lead me to think it's an early house. The wealth of detail on the front, with some vernacular treatment, have me puzzled. The house actually makes me think of some of the richly moulded frame houses of Lunenburg or Mahone Bay.

I checked the Belden's 1878 atlas. There's a D. Vanderwater listed at Concession III Lot 13; I think this house may lie on part of that lot. The Ketcheson's were among the first settlers in the area. Could well be a very early house. Hope someone at Moira's Facebook sees this query and puts me out of my misery!

The Fate of Moira

east of town 
I paid a visit Wednesday to a stone village we've often admired but never photographed (and even then, this set of images doesn't do it justice - we'll need to wait for some green.) The residential hamlet is Moira, in Huntington Township, north of Belleville. Moira Road runs west to east between Highways 62 and 37, and is a lovely roller coaster of a country drive.

Incidentally, let's not  confuse this spot with Moira Lake or the Moira River, as it doesn't sit on either. Nor with Moira village, which was one of the early names for Belleville.
fixed up

There is an outcrop of stone houses in the area - doubtless demonstrating the "make do with what you have" ethic of the early settlers - for the land is rolling eskers of gravel and stone lying ready to harvest.

 From Moira's  fascinating Facebook page I  learned that the village was settled 1827. The fine stone homes are attributed to Scottish stonemasons, who had immigrated to work on the Rideau Canal. Their legacy graces so many communities.
Do visit this homegrown FB testament to the early settlers and the enduring history of this tiny stone village.

Church (1854) now Moira Community Centre
Gerry Boyce, in  his wonderful 1967 area history Historic Hastings writes (and with authority I might add): "Moira was a typical country village in the mid nineteenth century. Samuel Ketcheson operated a butcher shop, while F.M.Brenton ran a general store and a tailor shop. Alexander Irvine and his wife wove and sold homespun, and Mr. Irvine also made coffins, which he retailed for the modest sum of five dollars. Wool carpets were made by Mr. Clapp.The McTaggarts operated a fanning mill to clean the grain. The Dean family operated a furniture factory and kept a tavern, while Ira Hoskins made carriages, sleighs, farm wagons, buggies, cutters, and other vehicles. By 1870, the Moira Cheese Factory was opened." (page 288)

Another invaluable local resource, Orland French's 2006 Heritage Atlas of Hastings County (don't leave home without it) shows Moira on the long list of  former of local post offices -  1841-1968.

Later I learned that the General Store burned in 1991 (it had been closed years before, only used for Christmas craft sales.) And so, like so many former communities,  the commercial core of the community was lost. Fortunately, new life has been breathed into the former Wesleyan Church; it lives as the Community Centre.
Henry Ketcheson house 
Now to the houses. Here is "one of Moira's oldest houses, built by Henry Ketcheson who came to Moira in 1829. It was also owned by Vanderwater and Thompson families." (from Moira's Facebook page)   A 1954 photo appears there. Seems the house was uninhabited at that time. Sure glad someone had a second look before we lost this beauty.

There's so much to appreciate about this house.

The side placement of the kitchen tail. The three bay section of that wing suggests it might have been an early stage of the home. The large chimney makes me want to look for a cooking fireplace. I love the frame insert in the woodhouse section, with double doors and sidelights with panels below.

The regularly coursed stonework, that looks pretty good even today.

Then there's the main house. Finely detailed door-case. Verandah. One of two gable end chimneys.
in town farmhouse

At the corner of Phillipston Road and Moira Road stands this graceful farmhouse and sturdy barn. Across the road is the former stone township hall (1850), later a blacksmith shop, now the home of a pair of dogs who preferred not to have their home invaded by an admiring photographer.  Next visit.

Thanks to Moira resident Darlene for getting in touch with AR and providing some additional information.