Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ancaster - an officer and a gentleman

May I come in?

In early September, we spent a delightful afternoon wandering Wilson Street in Ancaster. When our feet told us it was time to get back into the car, we headed out to look for good old houses along Sulphur Springs Road and down through the delicious depths of the Dundas Valley.

I  wanted to suss out some of the rural homes mentioned in The Governor's Road, that wonderful social, family, architectural history written by Mary Byers and Margaret McBurney (University of Toronto Press 1982). Sulphur Springs Road. Mineral Springs Road. The deep woods and twisty bits through the Dundas Valley. The houses along Concessions 2, 3 and 4 (another trip, a better map). There the proliferation of monster homes and businesslike pushy traffic along scenic narrow winding roads made even the spotting, much less the careful appreciation of significant older homes, difficult and dangerous.

 So later I travelled the slightly safer electronic highway, The Governor's Road in hand. A bit of online searching turned up a couple of stories about Book House, (p. 160 Byers and McBurney) lost by fire in 2005, then being considered for a move in a later story. Huh? I really must get over there.

The 1835 Philip Shaver House (p.163 B&Mc) is now a posh restaurant. Better news here. Woodend, the stone 1862 Gothic Revival John Heslop house on Mineral Springs Road  appears in Historical Hamilton, a handy online documenting of Hamilton's architectural history. Love these guys. Woodend in also the home of the Hamilton Regional Conservation Authority. Good match. It also has its own ghost walk, another money-spinner.

Another place with a ghost walk is The Hermitage. From what I can glean online, the ruins of the Hermitage (1859, burned 1934) may not be as they seem on page 156. This 2013 Hamilton News article suggests that the ruins may have been further ruined. Safety issues - a nod to the lawyers no doubt.

Springfield, renamed Brockton,(page 154) built by Henry Papps in 1851, doesn't appear
anywhere in a google search. How can that be?

Finally on page 155 Byers and her colleague tell the story of Fairview (1859), the picturesque Victorian home of the beloved Dr. Henry Orton and his wife, built of local stone, and no stranger to tragedy.
I realize I sound a bit whiney and grumpy. Thwarted and sulky. Although how could anyone who has just found a resource like Architectural Styles of Stone Buildings of Ancaster complain? Now really?

Let me close with the nicest thing that happened to me in Ancaster. Denis had stopped the car on a tiny scrap of pavement off the line of traffic at the beginning of Sulphur Springs Road. I wanted to photograph a lovely stone Regency cottage I'd spied among the trees. I took a shot, then was drawn away to another interesting structure in the trees across the road. When I returned, the owner of the cottage had come out to make sure Denis was okay, and upon hearing his explanation for our hovering, invited me in to tour the gracious home. The home reminded me (not surprisingly) of The Grove, William Gott's fine Regency cottage, whose interiors appear on Shannon Kyles Regency Rebuild site (scroll down). This lovely stone house is said to have been built some time after 1846, and named Milneholm. Byers and McBurney conclude:"given the propensity of military families to build in the Regency style, it is likely that Alexander (Stover Milne) was the man responsible for Milneholm. His father, and officer and a gentleman would have approved." Appears that Milneholm continues the tradition of gentleman owners, even today.

The "too bad about the windows" chronicles Part I

by some reports, the oldest frame house in Hastings Co.
One of my very favourite ways to spend a day is road tripping or walking tours, shooting old buildings. The only possible improvement on that kind of day is to join with like-minded enthusiasts who think nothing of walking down the centre of a street, snapping to right and left, raving about brackets and pediments and oblivious to folks peeking apprehensively from windows and porches.

And that abandon can only be topped by the presence in that merry band, of folks whose encylopedic knowledge of the field means that I get all my questions answered! Brilliant. Festival for the Curious.

Yesterday was that kind of day. Despite a bit of drizzle that asserted itself whenever we walked outdoors, it was a delight to explore built heritage from Shannonville to Bath and points in between with my architecture history prof Shannon and her colleague Sabine, who just happens to be a classical art and architecture scholar.
Frontenac County Court House - intimidating since 1858

We started the day with what Bill Hunt on one of his bus tours described as the oldest frame house in Hastings County. It is truly lovely, despite its appalling condition - check out the windows, doorcase, fine clapboard, the moulded roof cornice and eaves returns. Shannon suggested it was the first time she had seen insulbrick siding as a structural element - looked to be holding the dear old place up.

On to Deseronto and a visit to the picturesque historical stone church Her Majesty's Chapel Royal of the Mohawks (1843) - but no tea at the famous O'Conner House because those good folk need a day to clean. Then to Napanee and its impressive Greek Revival town hall, to lovely Macpherson House (1826), and to Frontenac County Courthouse where the weary bailiff, immune to our enthusiasms, had to herd us out of the courtroom so he could lock up.

Sabine parked on the sidewalk, so pressing was the need to check out the 1872 East Ward Public school turned Gibbard warehouse turned entrepreneurship centre - with its cuvy tower roofline recalling St. Martin in the Fields, sans clocks.

Couldn't miss the Regency cottage in Odessa, where my intrepid companions failed to gain entry but did get that Regency feeling with the views from that perfect wrap-around verandah.

Later, while Shannon dealt with the beekeeper on the phone, Sabine and I roughed out our plans for a perfect event venue at the Babcock Mill along the lovely river.

A recurring theme during our explorations was "too bad about the windows." Shannon is a vocal advocate for rebuilding old windows rather than replacing them with vinyl versions, which instantly destroy the character of an old building. And she can prove the cost effectiveness and energy efficiency of that decision. Just ask her!

Bath's delicious Layer Cake Church is ailing

We had a lovely chat with the owner of the tiny perfect 1819 Peter Davy house. Shannon couldn't restrain herself from knocking on the door to enquire after the health and safety of its wonderful sash windows (they're in wise hands) so we had a chat with the owner, who is chair of the municipal heritage committee about saving/marketing heritage - and why that is such a hard sell.

Peter Davy house (1819) these windows are beautiful - and safe
Sadly, we learned that the gorgeous Carpenter Gothic Layer Cake Hall which I've visited many times is suffering from structural problems and needs help.

W.H.Davy Store c.1817 - modern replacement windows

paint needed at the 1849 Bath United Church
interesting double house - modern sash

James Harris house c. 1844 - a lovely sensitive restoration

 The perfect ending to the day was finding Bonnie Crook and Ron Tasker at home and at work on their astoundingly thorough restoration of the 1816 Ham House. I began worrying about that house here in 2010, and rejoicing about it after tours in 2012  and 2013 showed this important piece of our history slowing coming alive again under careful knowledgeable owners. Yesterday the couple (and Eric the delightful resident basement archaeologist) described the last big jobs pending before finishes go on inside and out.

Needless to say, Shannon's experience with her own old house rebuild guaranteed a kinship.

 I for one plan to be there to lift a glass at the opening celebrations of the pub that Ron and Bonnie plan to open in the next year or so.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Day Tripper - Proctor House

This past summer I promised myself that no matter how busy I got (too busy) I would take myself on a visit to a few of the area's heritage homes open to the public.

 Now I have visited these spots on many occasions, always admiring their setting, their gardens, their architectural uniqueness. But most of these heritage houses are run by volunteers (or summer students if they are very fortunate) and as a result, they tend to be open only during July and August.

In late August I combined a trip to Brighton for two errands, and a cuppa with a dear friend, with a visit to this stately home overlooking Brighton Bay.

all mod cons

Proctor House was built in 1853 by Isaac Chamberlain Proctor (the austere back wing) and expanded under the Italianate influence by J.E.Proctor in 1869. Proctor was a successful entrepreneur whose enterprises including shipping, milling, and local politics. The belvedere enabled him to check on activity at his wharf on the shore.

Proctor House is built in several stages, which makes it a wonderful educational resource, blessed as it is with a great collection of artifacts donated by the people of the community, and portraying life across the years of the Victorian era. On the day of my visit,
Emma and Janet were my welcoming and informative guides.

the stairs to the rooftop belvedere
the view toward the harbour

and on down to the foyer
down to the bedroom level

the two-storey privy - don't ask
The house was slated for demolition in the early 1970's, but a determined group of citizens for the Save our Heritage organization, and the house was rescued, restored, equipped and opened to the public in 1976. My hat is off to these amazing visionary volunteers.

The Barn Theatre stages performances and plays

Castles in the Bush

Richards' Stone Castle (1889)
One of my objectives on this week's junket around Frontenac County was to check out the state of this rather peculiar stone house. It sits on a sideroad off the main road between Snow Road Station and Plevna and a more out of the way spot you cannot imagine (though the fall colours were heartbreakers). It feels out of the way in 2014; just imagine how remote it was 125 years ago.

Now admittedly, the northern regions of the county were flourishing during the Mississippi River (no, not that one) lumbering days of the mid 1800's. Come to think of it, a lively quarrying enterprise threatening to undermine the town (literally) attests to our determination to make a living off the land to this day.

In 1860, a road surveyor named John Snow (for whom the road is named) opened up the area, leading to the creation of a road in his honour. Towns (well, small clusters of houses around a store and a lumber depot) grew, and the 1883 arrival of the Kingston and Pembroke (locally named the Kick and Push) led to the creation of another village, Snow Road Station.
the picturesque place is beautifully maintained
It's this railroad which lured Massachusetts resident William Richards into the area in 1883; stone was quarried from across the river and the stone 'castle' was completed by 1889.

Now it's not a lovely house, but it is imposing, especially when you consider his neighbours would still have been living in log cabins or small frame houses. To this day there aren't many stone houses in the area. Quoins, stone lintels atop narrow square-headed windows,  tower with a bellcast roof, good doorcase, 2 and a half storeys - shame about the modern door and the plate glass windows, and the loss of what appears to have a verandah, and a front door in the east wing. I'd love to see inside - I've read there's a large foyer and a curving staircase.

The house (and the above bit of history) is featured in a delightful guide by back-roader Ron Brown - Castles and Kings: Ontario Mansions and the People who Lived in Them (Polar Bear Press, 2001). If you haven't run across Ron Brown's series of road books, check him out. He'll get you off the free-ways and into Ontario history like few can.

The stone castle is located almost on the border of the next county, Lanark. These two signs are a few hundred yards from each other.

Mystery in Colebrook(e)

 I was on a photo quest one colour tour day this week, when I heeded that side road siren call, and made the turn into Colebrook (or is it Colebrooke, the road signs seem to debate the point.) I visited one of my favourite Georgian houses, and once more marvelled at the frame house next door with its very similar portico. And loved the leaves, and the reflections in the peaceful Napanee River.

 I was heading into Frontenac County, but for some reason, turned the wrong way onto Colebrooke Road and began immediately to look for a turnaround spot in this rural subdivision area. When I spotted this....this barn! What was someone thinking? Add your questions here: _________

Fortunately the place was for sale, so I searched for the Remax listing. It advertised 'Vacant Land' with a 60x40 barn in good condition. I'll say - although the neoclassical portico is on the wrong side of the building, technically, and the fanlight tracery is painted on. But what rules apply in this case, I just really don't know.
a frame front-gable house...

love how similar the two door treatments are
...with its haughty neighbour in limestone
 So if you are fortunate enough to live in Stone Mills township (as they call it post amalgamation), let me know the story! Here are some of the reasons I would consider myself fortunate, were I living in Colebrook with an E.