Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Cottage Life

I have been going to the lake a lot lately, researching a story. I have enjoyed several wanders, and conversations with some super people.

A recurring theme of our walks and talks has been regret at the loss of the 'old' cottages. Seems we all want something more now. Cottages used to be small; life was outside. And simple. Four walls, a roof, a screened porch. A few chairs around the yard. A place to clean fish and tie up a rowboat. An outhouse. A firepit.

Another change at 'the lake', in addition to the proliferation of a new generation
of cottages, is the transition of many early cottages into year-round homes. That usually means adding to/modifying the old cottage beyond recognition, or (with great regret, when the original cottage owners make the decision, I'm guessing) demolishing and replacing it with something sturdy that can be insulated, ensuring any number of creature comforts - most notably water pipes that don't burst in winter, and heat, blessed heat.

A lake-dweller who spent childhood summers around the lake took me to see a few of the originals. These two in particular have a story to tell. Their so typical cottage architecture, the simplicity of the surroundings, and their state of near-collapse tell a story which has an ending, coming up quickly.

We discovered a hand-built table that had seen lots of family meals and crokinole games.
An icebox that held plenty of potato salad and fried chicken in its day.
The shore road is home to a number of new modern homes. These lots are likely next to sell, their cottages and cottage stories lost forever.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Free to good home

Well, not free exactly, but I made you look didn't I?
The 'good home' part is very definitely true.
I have written about the very historic Huffman-Smith house on Highway 33 between Adolphustown and Collins Bay, several times.
In my last post, I promised to let readers of this blog (and their historic house loving contacts) know when owner Malcolm Smith had listed the home.
Well, that's now.

Here's a link to the Gordon's Real Estate listing, with 61 photos of the place, the historic (c.1815) hand-made brick Conrad Huffman home, the Lake Ontario shoreline out front, the 50 acres of farmland surrounding it.
Muster up, heritage types.
This property needs to go to someone who will restore the rooms, value the historic detailing, keep its history alive, use the farmland for what it's intended...there are several vineyards in the area. Just saying. Not a housing development.

The link will give you all the details you need.

Like the $289,000 price tag. (Not to be indelicate, but if you sell your place in the Beach and buy here, you'll enjoy the leftover cash for life in your pocket.)
Like the Open House on May 23.

Thanks to Malcolm Smith, and his visionary hard-working parents for preserving the house, and its history.
Let's pay it forward.
Heritage house types, now is our hour! Let's be sure this house goes to the right owners.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Wharf Rats

Foster Ward Community Centre
I'm about to go off-line for a few days.
One of the things I will be doing is doing some research into the earlier times of Belleville, and one of its most colourful neighbourhoods, which lay between the tracks and the wharves;  an industrial neighbourhood of foundries and rolling mills, coal yards, oil tanks, trains, docks and some pretty tenacious folks.

The city's earliest houses (some of them hard fought for) are there. The old Foster Ward.

One of the streets was called Wharf Street; from it, the area's waifs and strays gained the nickname 'wharf rats.' Later, as folks were trying to change its (and theirs?) image, the street became St. Paul Street.

I have Bill Hunt's Dockside Democracy to give me a sense of the place, and David Bentley's ACO walking tour guide to assist. Then there are the fine house histories produced by the Hastings County Historical Society, and Heritage Belleville.

So I'm ready to start prowling the streets of the old neighbourhood. Just another Wharf Rat.

Lunenburg Longings

Regular visitor Mark joined the discussion about gambrel roofed houses recently. He queried my placement of  the gambrel roof's appearance at late 1700's in New Amsterdam, citing even earlier examples of the form in the Maritimes (can't recall where I got that date.)

Mark is an east-coast house nut, so I defer to his point, given that he included some incontrovertible evidence, in the form of photos and links (hey, I'm an informed enthusiast, not an expert.)

Here's a link to the venerable 1761 H. Romkey House,  a wonderfully old house in Lunenburg. My heart melted, and I was transported back to that incredible long day we walked every street in the town's heritage district, falling in love. I did go on about it somewhat, with posts in October and November 2010.

We will go back.
But for now, just to indulge myself, I'm posting some Lunenburg photos, and travelling back to the east coast.

Back in 2010, Blogger was less permissive about photo excesses.

Oddly, not a gambrel roof in the lot!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Comfortable Pews*

 "The better the day, the better the deed," our mother would say, on the rare occasions when she did a load of laundry or other chore on Sunday, her Methodist ancestors requiring some sort of accounting for this breaking of the sabbath.

St. Michael the Archangel Church (1905)

Sunday is church day for many folks. Last Sunday it was church day for me. On May 2 and 3, Belleville organizers held yet another wonderfully successful edition of the city's annual Jane's Walk, to commemorate that champion of the urban community, Jane Jacobs. I wrote about her after the city's first Jane's Walk, if you want to read more, or just look her up under 'urban activist.'

Victoria Street Baptist Church (1906)

The Hastings County Historical Society sponsored this Sunday event, a walkabout of the city's churches along (well, did you have to ask?) Church Street. Tom Plue led the tour. I had been looking forward to spending time over these wonderful structures, and to figuring out why the heck the walk leader's name was so familiar.

St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church (1895)

It came to me, just as we were entering St. Michael the Archangel church - I'd picked up a book written by him and dear P.J.Stokes, at an ACO event in Castleton. The book was a church preservation handbook titled Moisture the Menace. Although I guessed it unlikely I would be called upon to restore a church, I knew there was stuff to learn between its easy-to-clean covers. Correct. Like, never never cover up the vents in your attic. Tom Plue runs Sky-High Restoration, an exciting company which specializes in historic restoration. In fact, Orland French tracked him down to lead the tour, after inquiring about who did the restoration on the front and steeple of Belleville's wonderfully Gothic brick St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church.

St. Thomas Anglican Church (1858-1876-1975)
 Two of the threads running through Tom's excellent narration were good and bad mortar, and comfortable and uncomfortable church pews. St. Michael's had the most uncomfortable pews, but Tom, a Catholic, resigned himself to that fact, as "we're up and down often through Mass."
stunning interior - a courageous recovery after 1975 fire

 I dawdled behind, catching some of the architectural detail, the bricks and stones the builders selected to raise their congregations' hearts and minds upward. I'll let my (totally inadequate) photos speak for themselves. Maybe I will pass on  more of the stories I learned at church with Jane.

Bridge Street United Church (rebuilt 1886)

  Words fail. Go occupy one of these pews soon.

*Apologies to Pierre Berton for the title, a take-off on his blistering condemnation of the church's relevance to contemporary society. The Comfortable Pew (1965.) From the amount of social engagement in evidence during each of these church visits, I would say the churches listened.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

"That bastard Cromwell!"

I love old utilitarian buildings. Weathered barn-board. Rusting steel roofs. Collapsing wood ones. That fusing of resplendent weeds and deteriorating lumber. Not very useful of course, and unlikely, given their status, that they are long for this world.

Just recently, Orland French sent me on a wild goose chase. He knows my fondness for old buildings and history, so he drew my attention to some photos he'd posted on Facebook, of a pair of workmanlike buildings "on South Pinnacle Street."  So I parked along the street south of the tracks (the most interesting things happen on the other side) and identified a tumbledown grouping of weathered wood buildings running through the block between Pinnacle and Front. A Trudge along the tracks over to the Front Street side suggested a better camera angle, so I got myself there and began snapping through a gap in the wire fence.

Just then a thick Scottish brogue announced the somewhat unsettling arrival of William Todhunter, B.B., on the scene. (B.B.? I squeaked. Big Bastard, he announced, the name he'd acquired from miscreants, as Military Provost in an earlier life.) A few minutes of banter followed during which he pulled my leg unmercifully about expecting payment for the photos, his being Lithuanian, acquiring his long arms from carrying heavy pails on the farm, why I foolishly look for old buildings on the wrong side of the pond, and dozens of other subjects.

As our conversation progressed, I got to tour the enclave of old buildings (coal shed and stable, if you're interested,) the garden plot, the brick house next door. I met his grand-daughter, met the feral cats he feeds, who come when he calls, and admired original features of the house, built in 1817. The visit ended with us sitting on the front verandah in the stiff breeze, taking a page by page tour of photos of Scottish castle ruins ("that Damned Cromwell was responsible for that!") visited by his son on honeymoon.

So thanks Orland. I may not have found your buildings that day, but I did find a new friend. Next time I cycle by, I shall be sure to stop by to pass the time of day with William Todhunter, B.B.

Dutch Treat

charming Dutch duo 1924
Saturday night we gathered at a neighbour's house to celebrate Dutch Liberation Day, the 1945 liberation of the battle-weary Netherlands by Allied - most memorably Canadian - troops. Follow this Canadian War Museum link for powerful actual newspaper accounts from that time.

Together we shared our Dutch heritage (mine a faint recollection of a 1651 arrival and a farm at 52nd Street and the Hudson, New Amsterdam,) others remembering  more clearly family emigrating shortly after the war, or in the early 1950's. I recall my dad's admiration of our neighbourhood's newly arrived Pleizier family, who readily took their place among the hard-working farmers along our road.

one of a pair of 1924 Dutch Colonial houses in Belleville
Thanks to our hostess Annette, we ate Dutch food.  Oliebolen. Roll-mop herring. Edam and Gouda. Chocolate. I found a  Dutch Baby recipe online (would have been Yorkshire pudding just the other side of the channel) but no-one recognized its heritage.

We admired Peter's collection of Delft Blue plates and watched the stunning CBC documentary The Liberation of Holland.

To honour all Dutch connections everywhere, I offer this selection of Dutch Colonial Revival houses. I love their modest compact forms, the gambrel roofs, the restrained decorative elements, the warm and welcoming verandahs.
I recently made the acquaintance of this welcoming home
The form was one of the many architectural styles of colonial North America which were nostalgically revived during the early years of the twentieth century, and right up to the present day.

another Belleville example - notice the shaped dormers

The gambrel roof home was just one of the styles from Holland that were recreated in the new land - in fact, like all early settlers, new arrivals started out in log shanties. Many of the early Dutch Colonial homes were of stone, or brick. The gambrel roof shape came late in the colonial era, late 1700s that is.

Although it's unrealistic to expect extant versions from New Amsterdam in the seventeenth century, this one gets close.

The top two Belleville houses are oriented with their gable ends to the street; the white house turns the gable end with its neat shingles and their patterned detail, and a lunette, towards the neighbours. There are several other Dutch Colonial Revival examples in town; I'll add them later.