Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

North Country Fair

Last fall (how long ago it now seems) I took the road less travelled along Central and North Frontenac county roads, following my nose for old buildings and stories.

This area is part of the well-known settlement story, of the tantalizing promises of the Colonization Roads which led immigrants hungry for land of their own, and a future, to break their hearts on the stony ground of the country north of today's Highway 7.

The story is usually told by the structures still standing...a tumbledown log house attests to the reality - the farm may have provided a small living for a large family, but there were never the resources to build that next house of frame or stone of which the settler dreamed.

Nevertheless, there were a number of fine farms and well-maintained homes and properties, attesting to the fickle nature of geology - they were the birthright of  folks whose land grant fell onto a band of good soil, which was all one needed - that and good health, extraordinary luck, and strong sons. Sounds Biblical.

so few general stores now

These are a few of the lovely places I visited - I don't know their story, but they have stories to tell.

 There's a terrific history of Frontenac County, published a number of years ago, titled County of a Thousand Lakes: The History of the County of Frontanac 1673 - 1973, published in 1982. Not surprisingly, it's a large volume; I've borrowed it twice through BPL's most obliging inter-library loan department, and still haven't made it all the way through.
resourceful sign-maker
So much more to see and learn about. Questions tumble out. Is there a desert in Desert Lake? When did cottages start to grow into monster-homes on the lake?

 Why are the stone buildings of Harrowsmith striped? Where did the old cabin resorts go? Can I find that great twisty road north of Sydenham again?

When did folks stop going to church here? What destroyed these small communities? Who are the folks who live here today?
thanks to Vintage Kingston FB

So many stories to tell.

There may just be a new book of Frontenac County history (from the ground up) coming soon. Stay tuned.

For now, a few photos to take me back to the back roads and communities of Frontenac- and hopefully entice you to go too.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

This too Shall Pass

Cold and getting colder.
Now comes the time of year when I have to accept that parking, wandering city streets and country roads, admiring and photographing historic and beautiful properties, just has to stop.

Whenever I think about a photo tour, I remember the January Hastings County road trip two years ago when some of these photos were taken. Bright and beautiful. Still, photogenic and minus 25 degrees.

(This is the rare and beautiful 1853-6 Wesleyan Methodist cobblestone church north of Belleville; I wrote about it, its history and its charming and creative owners Denis and Brigitte in the winter 2011/12 issue of Country Roads magazine.)

So, back to winter house spotting. My Denis waiting in the warm car, parked as safely as possible on the snow-covered road, because inching closer to the snowbanks for safety could mean dropping into a deceptively smoothed-over ditch. Fingers turning to insensate lumps - just trying to hold the camera, much less composing and clicking, becomes out of the question. And the equipment itself - can it really be good for a camera to move back and forth between freezing roadside and warm welcoming vehicle?

Until that sport becomes once again inviting and safe, here are some winter/summer photos of beauty spots in Hastings County. Reassurance that one day, this too shall pass.

This farmhouse north of Belleville was started in 1807. It's the Hartman-McComb house. Hard to say when it's prettier, winter or summer.

The Old Hastings Mercantile and Gallery  is beautiful in all seasons, its shelves filled with unique nostalgic gifts and must-haves for me. The building itself is filled with history, and most importantly with the warmth and generosity of the folk whose store it now is, Lillian Oakley and Gary Pattison. I was fortunate to meet Lillian several years ago, to find out their story, again for Country Roads magazine's Spring 2012 issue.

Just down a few steps from the Mercantile is another most wonderful treat - S.S.# 3 Limerick, better known as The Old Schoolhouse Tearoom. This forest destination is another nostalgic and inviting spot, filled as it is with school-house memorabilia, china cups.teapots and tiered cake plates. 

Ernie Pattison is chief cook and bottle washer of this absolutely delightful and tasty cafe. Anyone who has been a teacher - or a student - will enjoy browsing old schoolbooks and maps, sitting in old flip seat school desks by the parlour stove. Here's the website so you can check hours and make your plans to drive north to Ormsby, just south of Bancroft, in beautiful Hastings County. 
Here is a September photo with Elmer the Safety elephant guiding us safely across the road, mind spinning with all the delights just enjoyed at the Mercantile.                                                         
As a volunteer at Glanmore National Historic Site, I get to see this grand house in all its for your enjoyment are the ice storm of January 2014 and Porchfest weekend in September. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Not just Flower Pots

Indian Head Sask. - no relation 
Mark, a regular visitor to the blog and a old-house nut even more certifiable than I, recently sent me a photo of an astonishing house at 20 Jerome Street in Toronto; a workmanlike house in most regards, but for the fact that the exterior cladding consists entirely of terra cotta elements.

Now I haven't seen this place in person (yet) so I'll include the entirely trustworthy link which features a walking tour narration of the house and the builder's use of  this unusual material.

 Or go check out the unprepossessing neighbourhood via Streetview.

Here's another great article in BlogTO. This place has generated a lot of buzz, and deservedly so.

 For terra cotta, to which I have often been attracted, mostly because of the way it adds medieval gloom to some of Toronto's wonderful red brick Romanesque Revival houses, is a material well worth considering. It has a great history in 1880's and 90's Ontario, with a number of manufacturers gaining prominence.

One important producer was right in my back yard, the Rathbun works (for didn't the family run all the industry in the place?) Deseronto! Short road-trip! I've just had a look at the old opera house on Main Street via Google Streetview, and guess what! Terra cotta bits.

This is hysterical - the interesting terra cotta grotesque face keystones have been blurred out by Streetview - that could be considered malicious compliance (always loved that phrase) regarding privacy concerns, were it not an entirely automatic thing. But I digress. (In my real writing job, I have to be a bit more disciplined about these side-trips, but this blog is a bit like a chat among old house nuts, over three cups of coffee.)

 Turns out the Jerome Street house (still standing although the builder's first terra cotta house has been lost to condos) with its covering of decorative reliefs was the work of builder John Turner Sr. who was left with piles of decorative terra cotta after it fell sharply out of favour around 1895. So he put together this curious assemblage of large and small cast terra cotta elements, and the more you look the more you see,

By the grace of the google, I have been able to track down a couple of great resources on architectural terra cotta, learn some things I'd never have guessed about the material, and create a terra cotta photo tour wishlist to whittle away at.

The first great resource is an article by Barbara McMullen published in  Heritage Canada's magazine in 2008 (follow the link so you can see the wonderful colour photographs. Oddly, the French and  English editions contain different photos, providing a good tour).

 I found out that there were a variety of colours available - not just flower pot red but white, cream or pink depending on the clay used. McMullen explains that terra cotta is easily mistaken for carved sandstone (I feel so much better), but that its crisp details as well as the seams where small units are joined together, give it away.

Terra cotta was made into a variety of design elements - panels, bandcourses, capitals, keystones, wreaths - in painstaking steps. First, clay models were created from architects' drawings, then plaster of Paris moulds were made from the models. Clay was pressed by hand into the moulds, dried, turned out, covered with slip and then fired for days. And we wonder where all the manufacturing jobs have gone. 
animal and foliage designs
basketweave main floor facade

Following on the heels of the collapsed unglazed terra market, glazed terra cotta (almost always white, cream or grey) appeared on commercial architecture from about 1900 to the 1930's. This time, terra cotta easily passes as stone; it was imported from England or the U.S.
299 Queen West, Toronto
Winnipeg's Exchange District (bucket list!) contains the nation's best collection of glazed terra cotta buildings, according to Barbara McMullen. Closer to home, the facade of the 1914 neo-Gothic former CHUM-City TV building (in an earlier incarnation, the 1919 headquarters of the Methodist Church!) is white glazed terra cotta. And there's a bank in Kingston that is similarly clad.

Another good resource - the Toronto Architectural Conservancy has a super publication for sale,  Terrra Cotta: Artful Deceivers by Keefer, McHugh et al (1990) for a mere $15. It's on order.

Here is a terra cotta example from Napanee - doubtless supplied by the esteemed Rathbun Company. I will be looking more closely on my next ramble through town.

And incidentally, should you resort to googling your own sources, the Terra Cotta community hall is definitely a non-starter. Have a look.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

It's a Long Story

 This red brick, white trimmed Gothic-inspired home is not just another pretty Victorian face. It is the home of the UEL Heritage Centre in Adolphustown, Ontario. It is situated in an expanse of green park which extends down to the water's edge. And it's not just any park, or any shoreline. For this spot is the site of the landing of the first group of United Empire Loyalists, under Major Peter VanAlstine, which took place on June 16, 1784.

The house includes a museum dedicated to the home's owners the Allison's, and a first rate UEL genealogical library.
The first Loyalist cemetery, established the year the Loyalists arrived (sadly, it was already needed), is a short thoughtful walk away under the trees.The park includes a campground (Family Camping since 1784!) which is a source of revenue for the UELAC Bay of Quinte region. A big job for a lot of history-minded volunteers.
great  entrance - herringbone brick

The reason for my visit? I was 'on assignment', come to St. Alban's Church in Adolphustown to hear local history writer Orland French, who was guest speaker for the annual commemorative service which marks the anniversary of the arrival of the Loyalists each June.
carefully preserved Loyalist ancestors' gravestones

bateau replica - imagine the 1784 trip from Kingston?

The Loyalist park is beautifully maintained, and the UEL monument was restored this year by the tremendous folks at UELAC Quinte Branch. A lovely spot to come ponder your history.

a picturesque Gothic Revival church - inside, the famous
Minton encasutic tile UEL commemorative frieze
St. Alban the Martyr Anglican Church was the vision of the Reverend R.S. Forneri of St. Albans. He was distressed by the (then) crumbling monuments in the old UEL cemetery, and wanted a lasting monument to the Loyalists. Cynics abounded even then, and some suggested the church was about glorifying his tenure as much as God's. Not for me to say.

It's a lovely English village kind of church, built from the Church of England playbook. A round tower with open stonework and a conical roof, an irregular silhouette: it resembles a medieval church. The picturesque Gothic Revival elements continue inside - massive open timberwork, stained glass, and the rare impressive Minton encaustic memorial tile frieze.
a small part of the tile frieze - this church so worth a visit

St. Alban the Martyr is a must-see kind of place - and welcoming. Folks are proud of their church, and you might find someone inside cleaning or practising or tidying, who would be delighted to show you around. If a virtual visit it all you can manage, here a a couple of suggestions. Church history committee member Diane Berlet and photographer Graem Coles have produced an appealing book about the tiles, and the UEL individuals they commemorate. It's called  The Loyalist Tiles of St. Alban's.

For a less impressive, but equally fond look, you could find the Autumn 2014 issue of County and Quinte Living and have a look at the article I put together after several wonderfully welcoming visits to folks in Adolphustown late last summer.

Old Hay Bay Church 
At the St. Alban's service, in one of those interesting connections so esteemed among the curious, I sat beside Katherine Staples. Kathy is a dedicated trustee, treasurer, and resident volunteer summer custodian wrangler for Old Hay Bay Church a few kilometres away.

Orland - who with wife Sylvia has enjoyed several summer weeks as resident guardian at OHBC - referred to Kathy in his talk about Old Hay Bay Church. I popped by the plain and simple 1792 Methodist meetinghouse afterwards - one of many visits I have made over the years - quite a change from the tiny perfect elegance of St. Alban's.

If you, too, are curious, you may want to read more. The Winter issue of CQL takes you on a return visit to Adolphustown, its history and the wonderful people who live there. In this issue, I return to visit Daverne Farm (1816) and Alice and John, the lovely couple who have given it new life.

And finally, a visit to the UEL Heritage Centre ("the old Allison place" as they say where I grew up). Back to top of page.

See you in Adolphustown - its heritage buildings are waiting to tell you their story.