Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Room with a View

I'm a big fan of set-backs. No, not necessarily those events that sit me back on my...heels and call for a complete reassessment of the situation.
The kind of setbacks I'm fond of are the property variety, that longer-than-the-neighbours' expanse of lawn that draws the eye back to an interesting house and its almost always interesting history. Kind of the same as a car parked out of line in a parking lot catches our attention and leads us to wonder what's at play - did they jettison the car in a family emergency? Was this vehicle stolen and abandoned by romantic underworld figures? Or was there a lover's quarrel, tear-filled eyes and emotional drama preventing the usual precise between-the-lines parking?

These two fine old homes in Picton are 'out of line' in interesting ways. They've always caught my eye, but not 'til two recent pedestrian photo tours did I fully grasp the mystery of their orientation. And of course, retreating to my favourite resource, Cruikshank/Stokes/de Visser's The Settler's Dream, on my return to my study, provided all the answers to my questions.

The worthy home on the left is the Johnson/McDonald House, c.1835, a fine farmhouse built before the neighbourhood was subdivided, forever out of alignment with later homes built at right angles to it, facing Johnson Street. This house was built overlooking Main Street, with the kitchen tail facing Johnson. Later buildings blocked the view toward Main Street. A pretty grand property, whichever way you look.

The grandly-chimneyed parapet-walled c.1835 Washburn House is also in a precarious position, set back as it is from the line of important houses along the block (Merrill House, Wexford, Ross/McMullen, all built decades later). With its Loyalist Georgian symmetry and Greek Revival influences (thanks for noticing that, Tom et al.), it was originally built on open farmland, later surrounded by the town. In fact, it became the rectory for the St. Mary Magdalene Church, built in front of it on Main Street, in 1913.

I guess my proclivity for admiring those following the road less travelled applies to buildings too.

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