Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Seeing in Colour

Friend and faithful AR reader Larry commented on the use of green in yesterday's post...ah, yes. Colour, when we had it. Today, November 13, our world is already smothered in snow - bright, crisp, beautifully lit by a conciliatory sun  - but snow.

Suddenly the earth is dormant, the heat usurped from the sun.

Which is why looking backwards (not so very far) to a wander around Portsmouth Village heritage district with fellow old building nut Jane is such a delight.
The buildings, the history, the topography sure. But the last of the fall colours in a clear fall light! Admittedly, it was a bit grudging early on, but burst forth enthusiastically in time for a waterside lunch at The Juniper, a short walk away.

The Portsmouth streetscape is so typically c19, front steps parked right at the pavement. I don't know if a bit of garden might have been shaved off to widen the too-busy street at one time. Sadly, for all their charm, individually or collectively, homes along King Street West must be just too noisy and dusty and, well, public, with the relentless traffic.

One charming (though likely frustrating to locals) feature in Portsmouth is the English village trick of trades vans parking two wheels up on the sidewalk to stay out of the traffic, effectively blocking both the path and the street. That feature, and the one-way system designed to calm some of the traffic, makes Portsmouth Village an ideal spot - for walking.



stone corbels, parapet chimneys, eaves


So much limestone to love. Jane's architect's eye spots things that get right past me, enthralled in my general wonder at the streetscape: unsympathetic chimneys, dormers, later expansions. But lovely with a touch of yellow.
lovely, with a past. Tall casements and a verandah?

 The village pump called out, but not too loudly. Coffee was the order of the day, and needs must. A national coffee chain, not especially sympathetically designed, was welcome, nonetheless.

Timber-frame decorated Portsmouth Tavern started life as Beaupre's (or Beaup's) across from the harbour and the penitentiary, in the 1860s. Bet this old place could tell some stories.
and just because, a gold car and an orange tree



funny how weedy ivy and sumac redeem themselves in fall
 More on these, to come.

industrial buildings at the shoreline





Tannery Cottage, with its bright orange door and window frames, doubtless belonged to the Maxwell Strange tannery (from 1855) at the foot of Mowat Avenue. Its loss by fire predated the takeover of the waterfront by high-rise apartments.



Delightful mid-century modern next door
 We end our junket where we began, stopping to admire the august parkside home on Kennedy Street behind.

This splendid red brick dates from 1818, and, as I explained in a long-ago post (link here) is the Gardiner house, which once stood at the water's edge, before some land reclamation took place.


It's now (if you'd care to look, here's Streetview pointing the way) sitting back of the historic town hall in Aberdeen Park, a good distance from the Portsmouth Yacht harbour across a do-not enter kind of parking lot.
Seen in profile, these houses are strikingly familiar. The red brick above has been researched and restored to give us confidence we're looking at an early c19 Georgian house.

The neat white double house at 140/42 just around the corner on Yonge Street is a relative. It's a double house, of 4 bays, but it doesn't take much imagination to see a former self. It's an old house, the limestone block foundation and giant tree give hints. But there are modern reproductions, which makes 'is it or innit?' a great game for  a walk like this.

No guessing here. This beautifully kept New England-y Georgian with tight eaves and a  stunning door surround is the John and Mary Pugh house, on Baiden Street, built 1860. Designation plaque says so.

Lovely Aberdeen Park (thank you community gardeners) and the village map which kept us scratching our heads for a while. No turning this baby upside down to get oriented.

In my first post about Portsmouth Village, almost 10 years ago, I mentioned Jennifer McKendry, Kingston historian, photographer and writer.

I'll close off this return visit with the suggestion that any ramble around this charming and historic place can only be improved by her wonderfully researched Portsmouth Village, Kingston: An Illustrated History.

 At the time of publication of the revised second edition, 2010, it would appear that she lived in the Pugh house, 1 Baiden Street. Couldn't think of a better owner.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Crosby, Still

A little over a year ago, July 2018 as it turns out, I explored some the self-described gems of the Rideau (although you wouldn't get any argument from me) thanks to a little pamphlet painstakingly researched and carefully printed by the good folks of the Heritage Advisory Committee of the Township of Rideau Lakes. Today I came upon this file of photos, and I love them still.

Although it's always tricky combining combing the horizon for architectural stories and keeping between the ditches, I managed to find a spot to pause and ponder the Robert Leggett Farmstead along Crosby Road.

The homesteader's story was played out on this hilly farm - a drumlin of rich soil, legacy of the glaciers - enough to produce some wealth, or at least the optimistic growth of a large barn quadrangle. It all started with a log house of course, in the way of such things. Then later, in the 1860s, a hopeful plain frame house.

By 1907, a fine brick foursquare house with a proliferation of dormers, and double enclosed porches obscuring some likely pretty fine brickwork. The guide suggests "an Ionic-style classic revival appearance." Not sure what that might be, but I suspect there could be some some Edwardian classical influences under all that verandah?

Couldn't get close enough to see the bell the guide describes either, but it's said to have been on the roof, for calling workers in for supper.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Tett Intensive II - St. Helen's


...I was sneaking at first, expecting a challenge, then boldly, as I recognized this was 'my' property too, as a  citizen of Canada, and clearly I meant no harm. From my contemplation of the low limestone building (might these have been the Morton Distillery stables?) I turned my steps uphill toward King Street West, along an unused driveway, and everything changed. First, the stone building I'd viewed from the Tett Center parking lot revealed an elegant facade with a lovely elliptical fanlit doorcase; it was labelled the 'Morton House' but is actually called Grant House (aka Building # 10) in this document . I wonder if the simple yet stylish limestone building now overwhelmed by parking lots was the family's first house?

(Morton's biography was fascinating- one of those c19 giants of industry, in those booming, risk-tolerant days. This link to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography entry reveals a business collection with Isaac Buchanan of Auchmar, Hamilton, another visionary.)

To my left opened an expanse of dessicated lawn, bordered by no fence, posted by no unfriendly signage. A low yellowish stucco building appeared, displaying neo-classical affectations and fine chimney. It was labelled the Red Cross Lodge.

I gave the building less time than it probably deserved, as I was drawn toward a large slightly down at the heels stucco yellow house gracing the crest of the slope, the very hill I had recently  navigated down and back up, next door at the Tett Centre, for coffee at the Juniper cafe, enjoyed from my perch in a lakeside Muskoka chair.
awning roof and treillage, basement kitchen, stucco over brick

I  noted Regency details in an overgrown verandah, and was gob-smacked when I crept around to the southern elevation to find full Regency Villa grandeur overlooking the lake. This was St. Helen's, the home purchased in 1858 by distillery/brewery owner James Morton as home for his family, and christened Mortonwood. A classic 'Picturesque Regency' dwelling, it's featured in Janet Wright's 'Architecture of the Picturesque in Canada' (1984, Parks Canada.) She enthused: "St. Helen's was one of the finest products of the retreat into the suburbs which became the fashionable practice for wealthy Kingstonians during the 1830s." p.97


 Kingston notables William Coverdale and William Newlands and sons are listed as builders on the Federal heritage designation.  The house was built in several stages, which may explain so much talent being employed.


grand chimneys, cantilevered eaves, portico, French doors

Not that it's immediately apparent, but the second storey at the west side of the house (with the delightful oriel window) is said to have been added by a later owner, Edward Pense, sometime after 1907.

The monumental portico was added by Morton, according to one article I came across. I am still struggling with the portico appearing before the second storey; I expect it was a simpler awning roofed type in that iteration?
The Regency relationship between the house and its surroundings is a delight, even now when landscaping is strictly budget. Left, the oriel window, and the view from it.
Another later addition to Morton's house is the porte cochere on the King Street side; it was built by Robert Barrow, who bought the house when James Morton went backrupt, around 1864.

Sadly I didn't get a photo of the wonderful ironwork fence along the street. Here's what Streetview saw


Here's the full 1988 Parks Canada designation statement. The document provides loads of facts; it'll be up to me to provide the emotion. For starters, their name for the house is 'Building No. 1, or the Main Building' of the St. Helen's Complex.' It's a 'Classified Federal Heritage Building, ' sitting unused, but bless 'em, not fenced off, so that someone like me can pop by to show it some love.

Sadly, in that 'dog in the manger' way the Gov. has, the building is unused, but falling into disrepair. I have found some reference to a proposed residential development in the property between the house and lake, which would destroy the Regency setting, but would help the old girl pay the bills. (I think of Brockville's Fulford Place; if you didn't have a feel for these things, you might not recognize that the property once extended to the water's edge and the posh boat-house on the river front.) Anyway, not to be self-righteous, this sort of Federal/Municipal dance is a slow one indeed.

St. Helen's (named for the wife of the original builder.....) The house and property are still SO beautiful, all the Regency values of setting and the blending of built and natural elements, the flow from indoors to out, the view, the trees - all a bit unkempt, but breathtakingly beautiful

Also on the property is the Red Cross Lodge. Clad in matching yellow stucco. I overlooked it at first, but its matching colours and classical detailing called me back. Here's its Historic Places listing; expect it was a domestic outbuilding of some sort - before it too saw war service.

Watch this space. Here's another of Kingston's Federal Correctional Services properties in limbo, untouched - in both good and bad ways. The fabric remains, still restorable with great dedication and dollars. But time is passing. What will the future hold for this lovely spot? *

*I've quoted the most excellent blog Spectres of Kingston Past on this site before. Blogger Francesca Brzezicki posted only from 2014-16 (she mentioned she was a student,so perhaps that phase ended?) but there's lots to enjoy. Her post dated July 2014, entitled "What's up with St. Helen's?" has some great photos. Her December 2014 update mentions that St. Helen's property was vacant for three years - now at 8 by my reckoning.

**This 2015 City of Kingston Report to Council reveals that the Government has declared it surplus. Haven't found anything online to give hope. Have you?

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Tett Intensive

Recently, while dear one was enjoying day surgery at KGH, I had an opportunity to explore a location along King Street that had been calling to me for ages. The J.K. Tett Centre and Isobel Bader theatre complex was created, not without difficulty, over a number of recent years out of a former brewery complex, on a beautifully treed sloping property right on the lake. As I began to take in my surroundings, a delightful staffer invited me to one of their Friday tours of the centre and theatre, but alas there wasn't time.

The buildings' connection with the arts is a long one. This undated, but pre-2014 Kingston Life article gives the background, and (happily) correctly anticipates today's beautiful complex. Here's the story again, in the Tett's own words.

 What intrigued me most, of course, was the built heritage - the history of the site, and the harmonious way that modernist aluminum structures were married with two hundred year old limestone.

The creators of this environment honoured the history in another way - a delightful book, the mother of all board books, stood at the entrance to the centre, inviting a browse. Historical photos, copies of paintings and plans...all my questions answered.  Here's a link to more history in case my ramblings here don't answer all of yours.

 The cultural complex was created out of a moribund collection of Federal heritage places, consigned like so many of them to limbo, with neither the will or money for maintenance or restoration, nor the imagination for adaptive reuse. Does Inverarden leap to mind? I mused about the inertia around that significant property last December - haven't heard any reports of progress from my Cornwall contact.
The limestone buildings on which this vision is built were the Kingston Brewery and Distillery, owned and operated by James Morton in the brewery boom years of the 1840s to 60s. Morton built a huge establishment, with a malt house, housing for workers, a stable. He purchased St. Helen's, the stately home next door to his operations, a rural property built by a mayor of Kingston, who found out to his chagrin that living out of town disqualified him for office.

Morton renamed the house Mortonwood; it's still standing. Just imagine when King Street West was out of town, home of other country villas like Bellevue House.


After the boom days for Morton's business (and for the city), the buildings stood empty until the First World War made it feasible to fully use the complex again - this time as a military hospital.
Perhaps, as a small tribute to the great suffering of the war's casualties, this peaceful and creative spot serves.





The little village that could...and did

 It's all about this house. Well, technically, it's about an artist's representation of this house in historic Queensborough. It sits across the road from the oft-painted millpond (indeed a painting was underway the day we visited.) But it's A.Y.Jackson's painting of this little Ontario farmhouse with its peaked Gothic gable, which created the buzz at Historic Queensborough Day last Saturday. The  painting, generously loaned by its owner, was the centrepiece of an art show featuring close to a hundred works portraying the village and its quiet beauty, at the restored Orange Hall in the hamlet.
A.Y.Jackson


Oh, yes, for a sleepy little spot, there is a great deal of buzz in Queensborough.

Katherine Sedgewick, one of the amazing volunteers for the day, whose promotion of the event spanned the globe (this post in her Meanwile at the Manse blog contains scads of history about Q'boro's artistic past) explained that Jackson's point of view was somewhere near the bridge; with his back to the millpond he painted this house and the shed beside it (gone now) and a view deeper into the hamlet.








 It took a visit to the hall, and a wander - Q'boro invites meandering - to orient myself within the painting.



 Visitors to this blog will know that I have a special affection for the hamlet of Queensborough, north of Highway 7, above Madoc, in Hastings County. I also have a special affection for the people there - two of whom I am pleased to call friends, and many other friends whom I haven't even met yet. You'll feel the same when your venture to the picturesque historic spot, because it is a friendly village, and a much 'improved one', sharing the love that the locals have for it.




















I wrote about the early days of the Orange Hall revival, after I visited in 2017. This post also provides a link to Katherine's more detailed history  and its renaissance. Enough to say that it was a perfect venue for the art show - have no photos to show you as there were such crowds that a vantage point could not be found!

home of the daughter of the Manse
 I've written about Queensborough and its renaissance several times on 'ancestral roofs'.' Here's one; for the others you'll have to use the handy search engine on the blog. And if my enthusiasm doesn't influence you, I suggest you visit the delightful blog Meanwhile at the Manse, written by Katherine, who is a daughter of the manse (she'll tell you the story) which is bound to win you over.







 For the rest, I leave you to wander at will. During my wander last Saturday, I was taken by the general friendliness of the place- visitors clearly absorbing the Queensborough mood. Smiles blossomed into conversations, groups forming and dissolving as we walked around, admiring, photographing, reminiscing about the way things were.

And just where a weary body needs one, a bench, in the shade, flanked by bright planters, a spot to watch the falls and the pond, and just BE.
best travelling companion