Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Monday, March 18, 2019

Storming the Battlements

This image popped up on my screen-saver slide-show just now. I'd put the photos we took during our summer of '18 peregrinations with Cousin Elaine on to 'cycle.'

The wall has a medieval feel - the efflorescence on the concrete creates an ancient effect that belies its mere 120 years of existence. And those arched openings with the grills - so evocative.

And then this monumental entrance, hidden in the shadows. A heavy cornice, blind round-headed door topped by hood mould with bosses, applied to a slanting monolith looming above? Whassis? Entrance to a mausoleum? Sheltering bank and trees lend the spot an air of the sacred.

Then there's this pylon tower with string course, topped with a dignified cornice, its massive presence somehow conjuring pylons of Egyptian monumental gateways. Strength and beauty.

What we're looking at is an "engineering achievement of national and international renown" according to Parks Canada.

beauty and function

This is, of course, the breath-taking Peterborough Lift Lock National Historic Site. The lock was completed in 1904, built of steel and concrete, built by men who worked with shovels, and operated horse-drawn equipment.

Logging which continued in the north country, and ongoing fears of  American expansionism spurred its development; the growth of post WWII recreational boating kept it going.

Courtesy Trent Valley Archives

These historic photos were taken on opening day in 1904. The Historic Places account tries to capture the wonder felt by this neatly turned out crowd: "When completed in 1904 it was the highest hydraulic lift lock ever built with a vertical lift of nearly 20 meters (65 feet) and was reputed to be the largest unreinforced concrete structure in the world."

photo used with permission. Credit: Trent Valley Archives

The website PTBO contains several more archival photos, and '15 neat facts about the construction of the Peterborough Lift Lock.' Neat. Do visit.

See the boaters peeking out from the upper chamber?
Even today, it's a marvel, and draws crowds. We were especially lucky to have time to enjoy the immaculate shady grounds and interpretive centre, then to watch a batch of holiday cruisers descend from up-river (up-Trent Severn Canal) to our vantage point under the trees.

The structure itself, with "towers, caisson pits, breastworks, two chambers and mechanical works" both visible and invisible, and the lock's operation, I leave to those who know and love things mechanical. Follow the links in this post to get the facts.

 I'm here for the aesthetics, folks. Like the park-like topography created by the construction of this marvel, which seems so serene, giving not a hint of the huge raw site of earth and water-moving this would once have been.

And like the other 'character-defining elements' including the ornamental railings and the interior finishings of the lockmaster's cabin - expect we have to take their word for it, as I doubt the tiny white tower room would be accessible to visitors (and the lockmaster's job might be one requiring intense concentration.)
the lock-master in his flag-topped cabin..
lowers them gently down..

touch-down, and down to Ashburnham

For your further enjoyment of this amazing place, here's the Ontario heritage plaque and a somewhat silly Hallowe'en video (suggest you turn the sound off) which nevertheless takes one on a rare visit inside the structure.

And thanks to Jimbo Wales, here's a history of the Trent Severn waterway. Not an easy job, it wasn't.

(all quotes from Historic

And finally: almost as good as being there. Here's a YouTube video that takes us through the locks. Gloriously uncrowded. It gets exciting at about the 11 minute mark.

Monday, March 11, 2019

A Hall For All, is it too much to ask?

Town Halls have been top of mind lately, as I read the passionate postings of many Picton residents, over the fate of the Picton Town Hall. The fine website Save Picton Town Hall contains several handsome photos of the 1867 red-brick structure. Sadly, I have only this one, but it's illustrative of an important fact. Picton Town Hall has always been here - this 1975 image records a time when it was just across Ross Street from home, when Mom and Dad owned the fine old house at 62 King Street.

On another visit from the west, I recall attending with mom, one of the first Art in the County shows in a bright room with shiny wood floors, upstairs from the former fire hall.

And now Picton folks face the prospect of losing their town hall, seeing it become one more holiday rental, instead of a place by and for the people of the town. Council is flirting with development plans for a pod-type hotel (give me a break.) Truly, though, for elected officials, this is a judgement of Solomon.

photo courtesy Gilles Miramontes
The SPTH website identifies the original occupants of the building - a fire engine hall with hose tower, council chambers, a clerk's residence and an upstairs public hall, which has served in many capacities during its 150+  year history. As a fan of old opera houses, I'm very taken with its rebirth as the New Bijou Opera House in 1898. Now isn't that grand?

Here's a Streetview link so you can amble around the building for yourself. You'll notice the pedimented north facade front was altered for larger modern fire engines at some point, with three assertively plain doors cut into the facade, and the resultant building scars still evident. Although it lacks columns, the front is dignified by four brick pilasters, a dentilled band course under the cornice, round-headed windows centre-front and in the pediment, brick voussoirs and lintels supported on corbels.

poster available on the the SPTH website 
I'm looking for a pre-alteration photo of the facade. I understand from SPTH campaigner, Gilles Miramontes, who provided the photo above, that there's a dearth of views of the hall. There's a fascinating early 1900s image of the adjacent market building surrounded by stalls,  similar to the ones in Trenton and Napanee. Wish the photographer had wandered a bit further!

 The website has loads of historical information; I won't go into detail on the SPTH campaign as their site makes the case full well, and follows the ups and downs of the campaign, and the hall's fortunes. Here's a link to their Facebook page. The 'History' section is also available in a YouTube video.

Tomorrow night's council meeting will be high drama. Here's local press coverage, thanks to County Live. Of course, despite all the arguments on both sides, my allegiance lies with the heritage folks who are fighting so hard to retain a community space. By now, everyone realizes that the work will be just beginning, should the decision go in favour of community use. But it's a start.

And now perhaps, as we all like company during the vigil night before a big event,  here are some contemporaries of the worthy Picton Town Hall, to keep it company.

Notice the same classical revival form of the Napanee town hall, a larger hall, with a bit more historic detailing applied.

And then there's one of my favourites, the Trenton Town Hall. There are so many similarities - its location on a side street comfortably close to downtown, and its classical revival inspiration - although Trenton's hall has more Greek Revival touches - the eared window trims, the fluted corner pilasters, the heavier detail all round, in stone and white painted trims.

I wrote about Trenton in this (appropriately titled) post You Can Fight City Hall. It hasn't been easy for the friends of this hall, either.

Good luck, SPTH folks. We're in your corner.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Looking down on Westport

The day was so very hot, wilting by 11AM. I had left my cool Murphy's Point campsite in the pines to follow a walking tour around Westport.

So I heeded my instincts and headed for higher ground, a place our mom and dad visited often, the Foley Mountain Conservation area. After a walk down to the cooling shore of Upper Rideau Lake, I stormed the heights, gaining a rocky foothold from which to feel the pine-scented breezes and love the town from a distance.

My travels through the town began and ended at the impressive little Westport Museum which would be a strong contender for the most local artifacts in a single structure.

Lots of interpretation, as well. From the hand-lettered signs on displays, I learned more about hair wreaths and sacred swastikas than I had ever suspected. The board and batten clad building was built in the 1850s. Once home of a boat, furniture and coffin manufacturer, it was later outfitted with two forges and bellows and converted to the blacksmith shop. Really got my attention when I read that the resident blacksmith and family lived upstairs. The day of my visit, it was stiflingly hot up there, no need at all for a couple of hot fires below. Poor family!

But the best thing that happened there, was picking up a copy of The Historic Walking Tour of Westport, Ontario. Just the thing. Gave me motivation to soldier on in the heat (but the Continuation School must just be down Rideau Street a bit..." No, never did make it.) answered a few questions about some of the distinguished homes along the shore, and opened up to scrutiny the areas's now invisible industrial history .

This late c19 woodworking shop with the conspicuous tin-clat false front housed the town's Oddfellows, Masons and Lions (consecutively or simultaneously was not clear.) It's now a printing shop.

The effect of the bracketed cornice is lost now that it stands alone. The profile of the building can be spied so easily as it is missing its neighbours, Pickles Rice's Gas Station and Byrnes Undertaking and Harness Shop (both visible in a 1936 photo.) Isn't it just the shiniest thing, clad in tin, pressed in a rock-faced pattern? Sure was radiating heat the day I ventured by.

Nice fretwork trimmed porch, nice trees. This was the Church Street home of the boat-building Conleys. I recall the link between the skills of the boat-builder and those same talents expressed in his home, from when we travelled in Lunenburg and Mahone Bay.

Join me in my trudge along Church Street?

Next door is the home of Dr. Barry, then Dr. Stevens, the dentist. Like the Conley house, it was set far enough back on its property that it escaped fires that destroyed much of the village in the early 1900s. The gracious home is now The Victorian, luxury suites and spa. The Loft, a 'modern rustic' retreat, is nestled behind the modified Palladian window with brick voussoir in the gable. Bird's eye view of town and lake, I would expect.

Love the feature window on the main floor, with the stained glass transom.

Sweetest little houselet just around the corner on Spring Street. Didn't make it into the guidebook. Plain little thing, but the builder blew everything on the pilastered doorcase with full entablature. That feature managed to survive the vinylizing of the structure, the vinyl trim snugging neatly up to the doorframe.

Also at the corner of Church and Spring was this mansard roofed (note the glassed in bump-out window, a modern take on the elaborate dormers of the day.) This impressive brick started out life in the late 1880s as the home of A.M.Craig "the inventor of the one-piece harness buckle."

Now I'll not have you laugh. There was a factory devoted to its manufacture, in two locations (the first destroyed by fire in 1909.) The buckle's second manufacturing location survives today, as condominiums!

But back to 18 Church Street. In the early1900s this was the Hecht general store, later it housed local pharmacy, doctor's office and pool hall (there's talk these days about doctors writing prescriptions for arts and athletic pursuits) until the 1920s. The C.W.L. was the longest owner, 1921-1988.

Across the street, ironically, was the 1889 Methodist church.

And now, some houses, just because I liked them.

This pair is on Rideau Street, the way into 'downtown' Main Street from Highway 42.

Now it's getting exciting. Behind 51 Main Street, at the corner of Rideau street, behind an iconic summer home we catch a glimpse of Rideau Lake. Some Queen Anne details of the dwelling have survived the application of white vinyl, offset by crisp black paint.

Fish-scale shingles in the gables with half-moon vents, billet detail below the eaves and along the raking cornice, interesting detail along verandah roof, posts and portico (do I see a Gothic arch?)

A bit further along Main Street is the Post Office.

post office mascots - lizard and squirrel
Misty conditions on the previous day, when Den and I were conducting our initial recce of the village prevented me from doing justice to the 1935 'Collegiate Gothic' Post Office, or to the work of the Quebec stone carvers who turned out  the lizards flanking the main doorway, or the squirrel on the corner of the tower. Not sure of their significance, but the handcrafted weather-vane of a mailman on the spire, delivering in rain, snow and sleet makes sense. Can you make him out?

lizards to the left of me...
Best thing about the above photo is the great coffee I had on patio at the Vanilla Bean (everyone else was queuing up for ice cream) when I returned to the area the following day. It's housed in an 1890 stone building which first served as a windowless stone-cutting and monument making business. By 1924 it was an ice-cream parlour (perfect!) then a pharmacy. Their great coffee was good medicine for this Westport wanderer.

Tipping down toward the shore of Rideau Lake is the stub end of Spring Street called (for reasons I haven't checked into) Fetch Murphy walk. A hot day draws everyone to the water's edge - there was a time when it was even more inviting. For here is Westport Spring. Where a communal tin cup used to serve all comers, the spring is now sealed off, the more cautious municipal drinking water standards people having moved in during the 1990s. But water will find its own level, and a remnant of the spring now serves visiting dogs well.
A footbridge has connected this picnic area with Goat Island offshore since the 1960s. Once goats were pastured on the island during the summer. Don't goats swim?

Refreshed and returned to busy Main Street, I pause to study this old stone commercial/residential building. Part of the facade is of large ashlar blocks, the rest neatly trimmed and laid rock-faced cut stone. Can't quite figure out why - maybe the builder had leftovers from another project?

Of all the happy places in Westport, this is my happiest. This is the grand Foley House, built in 1867, a red brick British classical home and mercantile built by Declan Foley (hazard a guess where he's from?) Westport-made brick, limestone details like quoins and lintels quarried and cut nearby and transported to the build site along the Rideau.

Sir John A. spend the night here. He certainly did get around didn't he? So many places claim "SJA slept here" that one wonders if he ever climbed into his own bed.

Just love the shop front, looks original, and so wonderfully restored and painted, probably during the 2009 renovation I read about in the tour guide.

And there's more. When I visited the place was listed for sale by Sotheby's. And of course, there a virtual tour.

Real estate links provide great opportunities to see properties inside and out, and I include them where I can, but they often end up broken, when the place sells.

Foley house is listed at $1,800,000 so perhaps this link will provide AR readers with a sneak peek for longer than most.

This sprawling white frame structure houses The Cove Inn, housing some nice rooms, a wonderful restaurant and patio under the trees overlooking the Millpond, and a great pub which seems to be an entertainment hotspot for the area. 
 The white house across the street has served as an extension of the inn until this winter. I've just read of a fire which severely damaged the Fredenburgh Guest House across the street in January.

Very sad to think that when I visit this lovely spot next time, it will be missing this grand home which once belonged to a family which operated a furniture factory just down the hill at water's edge.
(former?) Fredenburgh Guest House

This is a glance back uphill to Main Street, taken from the bridge between Rideau Lake and the Mill Pond, once the site of substantial industry - as it was in all small communities where people made their own necessities. A couple of old photos in the guide show how congested the area was. (when it is summer again, I will contact the museum for permission to reproduce one here.)

The yellow-painted building is Hiram Lockwood's store and home, built 1872. By 1898 it became the Union Bank, and now, in summer, sells ice-cream to tourists.

Now we're on the bridge over the channel connecting the Mill Pond (once called Sand Lake, if I'm not mistaken) to Rideau Lake. In the days of water-power, this was an industrial hub, as the stream was harnessed for water-powered mills. A gristmill, later Fredenburgh's furniture factory stood on this site. A luxury hotel was built, and burned (suspicious circumstances) before its scheduled opening in 1930. Purchased in 1949, the site became the home of TomKat bats (you'd have to be a baseball player, I suppose.)

This much-improved structure, dubbed The Mill Retreat, transformed the lakeside property after 201l. You can visit it here, or in person. Looks very inviting.

Remember A.M. Craig, discoverer of the one-piece harness buckle? Admittedly,  this is a long post, so scroll back up to the corner of Church and Spring Street to pick up the story.

This brick industrial building housed Craig's second factory, the first having been destroyed by fire in 1909 - becoming known as the Westport Manufacturing and Plating Company. That name, and a view too! And adaptable - from saw mill to dance hall to fish hatchery to condominiums by 1988.

Although it's close to a busy road, the units are also temptingly close to the lake. A Streetview link provides a look around the property - seems to be a little park at the waterfront.

From this spot County Road 10 charges back up hill on the way to Perth.
Or you could take the turnoff, enter Foley Mountain Conservation area once again, and look down on Westport, and all of its amazing history.

Is anyone still with the tour? Orland? Sylvia?

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Room at the Inn

We've driven by this historic spot for years. And I've read about it in several of my architectural history resources for even longer. On a recent trip to Kingston, thanks to writer Dan Buchanan jogging my memory, we finally made a stop along historic highway 2, to take a photo.

 I say thanks to Dan Buchanan as it was his delightful history thriller 38 Hours to Montreal that started me putting together a travelogue of the spots he (and William Weller) visited back in 1840.

original inn to the left, bar-room at right
Here's a link to an AR post I put up after reading Dan's book.

This lovely Ontario farmhouse is a well-maintained, well-mannered private home - with an interesting past. The owners of this former coach stop are truly custodians of history. For this lovely place is Fralick's Inn, near Morven, one link in a chain of essential coach stops during the early to mid 1800s along the Kingston Road. Established every 16 miles or so, the inns provided basic (emphasis on basic) accommodation, fresh horses for the coaches or sleighs, and food and drink (of sorts.)

It's fun to read the reaction of well-bred English travellers to having to rub shoulders (at the very least) with the common folk, and those disreputable democratic Americans, no respecters of class. Here's a quote from Tavern in the Town, by prolific heritage writers Margaret McBurney and Mary Byers (1987), attributed to dandy Charles Fothergill,a visiting Englishman: "Frelick's inn by no means so good as represented, full of people, obliged to take tea with divers Yankees of no agreeable cast...The kind of freedom of manner, amounting to downright impertinence, & a great mixture of rank & persons in Yankee inns or where Yankee customs are prevalent, is extremely disagreeable to an Englishman." Sniff.

Bucolic and sedate it looks, but such was not always the case. The authors  recall the days when inns and taverns doubled as polling stations (why not, after all, when the earliest taverns were the only public buildings in infant settlements?)

Given that no-one had thought of suspending liquor sales during highly contested elections, the tavern/polling station would have been the site of spirited well-oiled debate during several days of voting. Dan Buchanan recounts that "The Fralick tavern at Morven was a reform haunt, and John Gordanier's tavern, a few miles east...was a Tory stronghold." Things could get testy.

In Homesteads (1979) yet another Byers and McBurney collaboration, I came across this description of the plain white building, so beautifully kept all these years later: "Its special character is due to a common but striking combination of narrow clapboard, original glass, a pillared verandah and simple bargeboard." I didn't think it quite appropriate to do a telephoto snoop to check on the windows, but was reassured by the presence of storm windows.. It appears that the cladding is still wood, as there are signs that a spring repainting will be undertaken on the west side.

The owners have made the place quite delightful, preserving/enhancing details like the casement windows, the plain but elegant bargeboard, wide mouldings around the door, and nice detailing on verandah posts and pilasters.The main house was the inn, with the mini-me addition serving as the barroom.  Note the graceful round-headed window in the main gable, refined doorcase with half-sidelights. I expect that many of these elegant touches date much later than the heyday of the inn, the early 1800s.

In Homesteads, I read that the house was once surrounded by a picket fence, with gates and stiles at the driveway entrance. The prospect will be softened in spring,when the young trees burst into leaf.

I especially took to the stable building across the road. With its pedimented window heads, a patchwork of doors, warm grey weather-worn siding, and gentle sway-back roof like a friendly old horse (the siding drooping in concert) it conveyed a warm welcome.  I imagine the relief all round when the tired teams of horses pulled into inn yards along the route, to end their shift.

So much history revealed by one small house along an old road.