Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Graham House

When I was growing up, homes and farms were commonly referred to as "the old [insert original family name here] place. This happened in spite of how many subsequent owners there may had been and how extended their tenure.
I discovered that this tendency was still alive when I interviewed a local heritage expert regarding this wonderful property which captured my eye and my heart when first I saw it. She referred to the place as the Old Graham House.
The home is a classic Colonial Revival style. Shannon Kyles, in the outstanding on-line resource, provides a tongue-in-cheek checklist for identifying these homes. One of the qualifiers is: "if the house looks like it has just been placed there temporarily and really belongs in Mississippi, it is Colonial Revival." Check. She goes on to point out that many homes built in this style make spectacular inns; that is true of this mansion which is run as a very successful inn and tea room. I have seen some exquisite wedding parties being photographed on this lawn.
So, whose "old place" was it? Who built it and when? I have learned that this home was built about 1918 as a summer home by the wealthy Belleville entrepreneur, philanthropist and three-time mayor R.J.Graham as a present for his wife Grace Roblin. (The family home in the city still stands, and is an impressive eclectic Second Empire which I will write about one day, the Potts-Graham-Bone house, 1878). The country home was called "Montrose" after the Duke of Montrose in Scotland who was a distant relative. The house remained in the family trust until about ten years ago.
So there the history ends, until friend Brenda and I manage to go there for tea.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Bath - phoenix rises

This wonderful house sits on a lot at the northern limits of Bath, Ontario. The ample lawn is shadowy beneath aged locust trees: massive old trees are always an invitation to look more closely at the age of the house they shelter. I believe that this is the house that was built in 1819 by Peter Davy, son of a prominent family in the village. McBurney and Byers in 'Homesteads' (1979) mention a house in neoclassical style that was built by Davy, on the north side of Academy Street. They reported that the house was "empty and desolate" though once "undoubtedly the finest in the village". Last night as I browsed yet another library find, 'Rural Ontario' (1969) by Blake and Greenhill, I viewed with dismay a black and white photo of this very house, with its fine lines still evident, its exquisite woodwork bare and weather bleached, its roof rough with moss and neglect.
Who were the visionary heritage-minded folks who saved this house from oblivion and in the process saved for all of us an irreplaceable piece of our history? I would love to know their story - and to personally thank them for the plot twist in this once tragic and all too familiar story.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Intriguing Odessa

Why did the sawmill, gristmill and woolen milling families who established this village choose the exotic name of a Russian city for their new settlement on the old stage route between Kingston and York? And why did Philip, scion of the Booth family, choose this refined and fashionable Regency style for the home built on the mill stream? Just look at this place! What a huge change from the stolid and symmetrical Georgians favoured by the captains of industry a generation ago! Like all architectural styles, Regency had a message to communicate about its owner. Regency style communicated "man of the world". Many Regency homes were built by military men who retired to the colonies after completing their service in exotic locales. They were influenced by the lifestyle they experienced in the tropics and sought (perhaps unrealistically) to live in the manner to which they had become accustomed in the Upper Canada of the 1820's - 1860's.

This beautifully preserved 1830's Regency cottage demonstrates the characteristic low profile, the hipped "cottage" roof, tall chimneys and awning-roofed verandahs with treillage. The importance of the front entrance was downplayed in favour of emphasis on the french windows that permitted an elegant flow from indoors to the picturesque gardens beside the brook. Lovely in the summer, but perhaps the style was not the most practical for the Canadian winters!

Next stop...Glanmore

Today I jumped off the edge - another adventure for the dedicated lifelong learner. I called the curator of Glanmore House, a local National Historic Site and signed up to volunteer as guide or researcher. She was most welcoming - sounds like they are doing some succession planning in that area and would do a lot of volunteer development before they would turn me loose on tour groups. That would suit me 'down to the ground' as someone near and dear says.
I'm looking forward to learning more about this Second Empire house and the family who lived in it from the 1880's to its designation and purchase. Somehow SE houses always look like socially conscious matrons to me. The degree of decoration and detail in their architecture matches the exquisitely turned out Victorian mistress of the house - fortunately there was no shortage of domestic servants in their day to keep everything shining and starched! I may have to review my jeans and down vest wardrobe.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Good Bones

We took a drive through Consecon on Sunday. My husband, long accustomed to my pleas to "stop the car I need that one", was most patient while I leapt out to snap yet another house (always rehearsing my lines lest some angry soul on witness protection comes charging out to hurt me and my offending camera).
We had been admiring some beautifully preserved homes in brick and stone, and I almost let these two get away. But there was something about the proportions and hints of former fine detail that made me look again. And there they are - the monitor gracing the Ontario cottage form in the photo on the left below, and the pilastered doorcase and symmetry of the tiny house on the right, clues beneath the modern siding that point to their origins in 1845 and 1834 respectively.
I've just had a look at photos of these houses taken in 1930 by Eric Arthur, legendary professor of architecture at U of T. The photos in my tattered copy of Settler's Dream are lovely. Proof that good bones will always show.
(Incidentally, Arthur's magnificent No Mean City is a great favourite - it's a look at the Toronto we've lost).

Regency Redux

I had a lovely research day at the library recently - fun to move into a cubicle beside a sunny window, set up one's belongings and get comfy with a pile of books. I felt familiar resonances of university life as I abandoned the book-nook occasionally for a tea break (our library is so equipped) and a gallery visit. As I researched I was delighted to tie together threads from two previous blog entries (and the lovely Madoc visits that inspired them.)
While browsing one of the local histories I'd pulled off the shelves, I came across an entry about this house. I'd commented on this place in one of my August entries. I was fairly sure the house style was Regency Cottage but a few add-ons had puzzled me. The book I found, Fabric of a Dream, by Brenda Hudson, chronicled the settlement story of Madoc and Elzevir Townships. And Brenda describes the house as "French Regency Style", noting the characteristic shuttered windows and French doors , and the picturesque garden setting which is SO Regency.
Then Brenda answers my August question about the inhabitants: the house was owned by the Coe family. The father of the home's owner was an Empire Builder - a mining speculator involved in railways and the settlement of the area, who amassed holdings of some 15,000 acres. The nearby settlement of Coe Hill takes his name. The son lived large in the Prince Regent-inspired way. He built this home as a "showpiece in grand living", with stables at the back for the thoroughbred horses he raised, and a deer park. And the house that he built still has a grandeur about it.
And the other thread my research revealed? The author of the book, Brenda Hudson, was the woman who invited my friend and me in from our Madoc stroll to visit her and her home, the former Madoc Courthouse.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Whose Home is it Anyway?

Until very recently, my childhood home in North Marysburgh, Prince Edward County, housed a lovely yoga retreat centre. (We were always somewhat grateful that we did not get to hear my late farmer father's inevitable derisive snorts). Wendy and Darin cherished the home and valued its history. The farmhouse has recently switched owners again - another layer in its old story - another family makes it their home.

As a very young child, I recall my grandparents and my then unmarried uncle still living in the west side of the double house, while our young family occupied the older east side. My brother and I grew up in this house, free as 1950's and 60's country kids could be - free to disappear 'til dinner, free to wander and create and just 'be'. Our hardworking farmer parents required minimal output with regard to chores, belying the very hard farmer's life that led to the pragmatic decision to sell in 1969 - there being a dearth of farmers to be found in the family by then.

The house was owned by one or more small farmers after that, until it was bought and extensively remodelled/preserved by two physicians 'from away'. Then the folks of 'Shanti Yoga' made it theirs. So many changes, and most of those in the past 40 years.

That 1969 sale marked the first time the farm had been owned outside the family since John Pierce (born 1832) farmed Bayside Lot 50. The place was home to John, wife Lydia and their 6 children, one of whom was my great-grandfather. I have a photography of John, son Levi and grandson Clarence - my grandfather - seated on the front verandah of the 'west part of the house'.

The old place looks pretty good still. So many families have made the old home, HOME.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

introducing the Sign of the Pineapple

It occurs to me that it would be fun to do a bit of a profile on my House of the Week. Last week when I started the feature I posted a photo of a wonderful house on Highway 2 in Belleville- I still have to do the research to be able to tell its story. But, the wonderful Sign of the Pineapple building at 16 Queen Street in Niagara on the Lake is well-documented. I have several books discussing this lovely place which dates from around 1830. Peter Stokes in his 1971 publication Old Niagara on the Lake was circumspect in his description of this timber framed commercial building's preservation. I am really unsure, after reading his description dozens of times, if he completely approves of the building's late Regency style preservation which replaced the original small-paned shop-front, and the conversion of the top floor storage loft with its centre door originally outfitted with a crane beam and hook . Katherine Ashenburg was less coy - she states that "the graceful Gothic revival glazing is a 1970's reproduction". Stokes does note with approval the amethyst grey cast of the front windows. Whatever its story, I think this building is a beauty - cute!!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Thinking Mortar

Mortar...I'm thinking about mortar. It's inevitable - I'm doing some research and writing about cobblestone houses (detail at right is of one of the Belleville area's exquisite examples) in preparation for a wee article, and I am obsessing about the composition of the soft lime mortar that would make a pile of fist-sized rocks into a home that would last almost 200 years - it's all about sticking, folks. Today I ordered what looks to be an amazing book on the cobblestone buildings of western New York state (cousins of our Quinte and Paris Ontario cobblestone houses).The book, Cobblestone Quest by Rich and Sue Freeman, includes detailed car and bike trips of the area around Syracuse where 75% of the cobblestone buildings in that country are centred. Hmmm, road-trip?

Also studying the building materials section of T. McIlwraith's excellent book Looking for Old Ontario - tossing around delicious terms like post and beam, nogging, common bond and shale foundation blocks, with increasing understanding ...celebrating the resourcefulness and skill of our ancestors, and the enduring beauty they created.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Homage to Joni

I am doing a lot of thinking about what appear to be very different levels of will within communities to designate and preserve old buildings. I think I will put together an article on the topic, but 'til I get a chance for more in-depth research, here are some thoughts...
1. thinking about how emotional the response is when an old building is demolished (ref. Methodist church in Picton this summer) - I call it the 'don't know what you've got 'til it's gone' effect.
2. thinking about the article I read in CountyLive yesterday by Theresa Durning... wish I'd known about Cruikshank's visit -sounds like the event may lead to more active/proactive planning in Picton.
3. wondering how successful heritage activity gets going eg. thinking of Lunenburg's 1995 UNESCO World Heritage district designation, and how historic preservation planning has been taking place there since before 1978. Also, got a brochure about Heritage Oshawa when we did their Doors Open tour this fall - laying out what appears to be a transparent and invitational designation process (compare that to the empty heritage designation committee pages on the Belleville City Hall website!)
4. need to sort the difference between LCAC's and Heritage Advisory committees - which work, where are they working well.

In closing, the beautifully proportioned Georgian frame house, with neo-classical pilasters and capitals is in Bath. Suggest you have a look soon, while you can. It has fallen on hard times.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Cool Man Cool

Now what do we have here? This house has intrigued me for years; I drove by it every day on my trips to and from work for 12 years. This is the kind of house I dreamed of as a teenager living in a perfectly respectable white frame Ontario farmhouse with its wide Gothic inspired Marysburgh gable. But this house is so California, so Sunset magazine, so cool. It asserts 'break with the past', modern and iconoclastic. Even the name we attach to the style is so hip - Contempo.
Some of the features that define Contempo are the low slope of the multi-level roofs - one accommodating an entry porch and garage overhang - the plate glass windows in a variety of shapes and levels with minimal surrounds , clerestory windows for privacy, plain doors without transoms or side-lights, the wide chimney signalling a massive fireplace in the centre of the living area, the 'pilotis' supporting the sloping garage overhang, the brick planter and landscaping with evergreens.
The split level design, no historicizing detail, little adornment, a combination of finishes - typical mid-century brick and siding- this house is in the Mid-Century Modern or Contempo style. And isn't it funny how old it looks? I love this style now - I can imagine what fun it would be to find period furnishings to complete the picture.
Think I'll go find my black turtle-neck and tights.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Cottage Life

The simple one-and-a-half storey house with hip roof is found everywhere in Ontario. The 'generic' name for this type of house is the Ontario Cottage. Author Marion Macrae describes the evolution of this form in her scholarly 1963 work The Ancestral Roof. A stylized version of the basic cottage, with wide verandahs, treillage and large windows or french doors took its place in our built heritage between 1830 and 1860 as the Regency Cottage. (By the way, for an amazing story of heritage preservation - a rescue - visit Shannon Kyle's website, go to 'building styles' and check out 'Regency'. Shannon chronicles her adventures with dismantling a Regency gem. She's a preservation saint!! Follow this blog for more links to her rebuilding project in Consecon, Prince Edward County, or just Google her for an amazing story!

I photographed this lovely cottage yesterday, in a little old cul-de-sac neighbourhood west of the Moira in Belleville, an old industrial neighbourhood. Most of the houses are frame, and in pitiful condition, but with intriguing proportions suggesting their origins. This little beauty is in brick, with a rubble-stone kitchen tail with massive chimney and a delightfully crooked doorway at the back. There is a fine brick-work frieze under the eaves, which are supported with small brackets. The windows at the front are large and low - Regency pretensions? - with cut stone lintels and sills, while the side windows sport neat soldier lintels of brick. There is no porch of any kind. My, I would love to know this little house's history.