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|
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.
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.