Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Monday, August 13, 2012

'til the next time I'm in town

Credit to Chet Atkins for the title...from Neck and Neck, a lovely album with Mark Knopfler. A 'see you again' song I played every weekend, when I commuted each Sunday night from North Bay to Belleville for work - saying goodbye to my family and our 18-something log house.

This next-time promise is for long-time friends La and Doug, whom I just dropped at the station, after 4 lovely days of catch-up and what-if. Old Belleville houses played a large part in the conversation.

So here you are guys - til the next time you're in town.

Working Class Hero

There's nothing that calls out to you from this structure. No lovely sun-dappled lawns of mature black locust and walnut trees, of heritage flowerbeds, no neatly restored bargeboard or inviting vine-shrouded verandah.

Well wait...that crack stair-stepping down the front does catch the eye, in an 'uh-oh' sort of way.  The rich texture of the massive limestone rubble construction, the sturdy quoins of lighter stone are appealing. And the shed roof shape is pleasing. The many stopped-up uneven windows and alterations of entrance hint at a history of change. And of course there's that frame structure beside it that doesn't add much to the aesthetic. And the roofline, what's up with the roofline?

But wait...and wait is what I did, the scant two days needed for our amazing Public Library system to source the book I requested online, from a nearby town. Good on ya Trenton, for making sure you had a circulating copy of this treasure! Credit to the incomparable PJ Stokes and T Cruikshank for 'Rogue's Hollow:The Story of the Village of Newburgh through its Buildings', published in 1983 by the ACO.This book is unique among heritage architecture surveys (even more detailed than The Settler's Dream). It contains a detailed 'village analysis' which includes dozens of sketch maps of the village neighbourhoods at different periods in its well-documented history - topographical, traffic patterns, building locations and street plans, including an entertaining bird's-eye view of the village as it was in 1983 - all drawn by Tom Cruikshank. (Bird's eye maps were very popular in the 1800's and provide built heritage researchers with volumes of information, dated and detailed as they are).

As soon as I opened the cover, I made a mental note to visit Abebooks, my favourite online used bookseller, to get 'my' copy, only to find to my consternation that the cheapest copy available is $60 plus, an unusually steep price for used archi history, and one outside the limit of my book-nerd budget. I expect it's those pesky maps - I could see it used as a textbook for restoration architecture courses (think Willowbank) and planners of designated heritage districts in our old town centres.

Rogue's Hollow tells the story of this c.1850 rubblestone industrial building (one of the earliest of their many stone factories), which stood in the 'industrial core' of the village. Newburgh, a service centre for the surrounding farming community, was an early developer in the region, with established mills by the 1820's. It's astounding how many industries were listed in the 1858 directory - blacksmiths, carriage-makers, a foundry, 5 millers and many many more.

The curious roof-line of this little structure results from the building's orientation to the river (to its right in these photos) rather than the street. The building was the Madden Carding Mill in the 1860's, becoming the cabinet shop of George Eakins in the 1870's.

More on the Newburgh's mills in a later post. Here's the lovely Hooper's Woolen Mill to get us started.

Hooper's Woolen Mill (1864)

Friday, August 10, 2012

dealing with Aging

Another last look at my little Mouck house

The Miller's house, VanAlstine's Mill (now Lake on the Mountain)
Most of our friends are dealing with aging. We decry our unreliable memories. Occasionally we head to the doc for a tune-up. The ladies grab for fans.
No less inevitable, but less emotionally charged (perhaps!) is the aging of buildings in our memory. Our past is present in these structures. We may have known them in our youth, may have passed by vaguely aware of something unusual about a
particular building. "The old Pringle place" of my youth, a weathered frame eyesore to our dad, turns out to be (thanks to PJS' sensitive eye to such things) "a well-proportioned timber-framed farmhouse of the 1820's" with "sophisticated joinery." (Settler's Dream p.21) It's long gone. Sorry I didn't pay more attention. The old war song "Johnny I hardly knew ya" plays in my head. Likely we laughed at your unpainted condition and your old-fashioned trim, with its implied lack of industry scorned by our industrious parents.

Sometimes we just tidy up. And demolish the old thing. I happened by the day a satisfied team of workers had just finished smoothing the earth flat where the very significant little Mouck house had once stood in South Marysburgh. Had, in fact, until earlier the same day.
But there are some happy (though guarded) outcomes. The Miller's House, at the top of the escarpment which fed VanAlstine's extensive mill complex at Stone Mills (now Lake on the Mountain/Glenora Ferry) sat unattended for years, and is recently the scene of renewed industry. I had a chat with a fellow working inside the old structure earlier this summer. Told him the place had been a somewhat notorious  dance hall in the 1940's (for they had engaged 'negro' musicians and caused a fuss), and later the restaurant and activity hall for the resort which operates there still (and the scene of my first formative experiences as a waitress in high school). The chap believes the owners of the fine restaurant in the old stone store opposite are planning another eatery.

Hope they don't fail to notice the fine Greek Revival detailing - easy to overlook with the distractions of insulbrick siding. The eaves returns, the deep cornice. This place looked pretty good in Belden's 1878 Atlas (image scanned from SD, as the mighty Belden wouldn't fit under my scanner). The house is top centre, just in front of a toy sailboat on the lake, to the right of the stone store. A temple form building, dated 1850. 

Watch this space.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Another Salvation story

One of the finest things about Upper Canada Village is the costumed interpreters, who portray life as it was lived in 1860. The style of dress, the activities and professions they recreate for the visitor (and our federal government's cost-cutting plan is recommending they be replaced by audio-guides like you rent in art galleries. I DON'T think so!) are endlessly fascinating.

More on all this later - I am still unpacking a multi-layered day at this astounding living history village, which will keep me thinking and writing for some time.
The brick building above is Cook's Tavern, moved from the path of the encroaching waters of the Seaway Project, and recreated here, restored to the mid c.19. A book of reminiscences of the drowned viillages, as they are called, describes the actual Cook family preparing meals for visitors, in the days before their community disappeared.

The woman in this photo is in role as a 'goodly woman' of the community, in conversation with the 'innkeeper'. She was a child when the local church was moved out of the path of the flooding. The event was  immortalized in the photo (below) that Peter John Stokes has taken for the cover of his book about the creation of Upper Canada Village.

This iconic photograph shows the 1957 voyage of Moulinette's frame 1837 Episcopalian church from the path of the flooding, 20 miles along the St. Lawrence to the Upper Canada Village site. The woman told me about that day. She and her brother spent hours sitting by the roadside, waiting for the church to pass by. Their mother brought snacks and encouragement as their patience began to fade. Finally, at the end of a long afternoon, she recalled, the treats gone, replaced by boredom and discouragement, the spectacle unfolded.

The church passed by, on a pretty rudimentary float pulled by tiny trucks. A local Barney Fife, puffed up by the drama of the event, directs the entourage sharp left.

That little church was recreated at Upper Canada Village as Christ Church, beside the Lutheran Minister's house. It represents the church home of a congregation of the 1860's.
where there's life there's hope

Monday, August 6, 2012

Pick up Sticks

I  used to pass them by on my way to impressive places like Crysler Hall and Cook's Tavern at Upper Canada Village, hastening to connect with domestic interiors and costumed interpreters. But thanks to Shannon Kyles' Ontario Architecture course, I have grown to love log buildings. And not before time, I think. I have just finished researching PEC examples for Orland French's upcoming book 'Wind, Water, Barley and Wine', and this very morning am writing (or am supposed to be writing) about an outstanding Mel Shakespeare rebuild in Hastings County, for 'Country Roads' magazine.

But although I still have to check my notes before pronouncing on Swedish keying or colombage, I confess to a completely physical love affair with log buildings. A feast for the senses they are, soft weathered grey, radiating the warmth of the sun on their smooth flanks, their voice the midnight snap of frost or the creak of wood on wood as doors open and feet tread their glossy plank floors.

So far in their past is life as living breathing beings in the vast forests which are part of our collective settlers' memory. So inaccessible is the desperate UEL experience of felling these giants and forcing them to our will as simple shelters. Now we love them with a Walden Pond sort of nostalgia, or a craftsman's appreciation of the artistry of their construction. Hard for us now to remember how quickly the UEL settlers wanted to move on, to recreate the fine Georgian frame or stone houses they left in that other country before 1784.

Oh kill me now!

Upper Canada Village...once I get over the guilt I always feel, at walking over graves in this living history museum (more on the drowned villages later), I am always astounded at this place. Understatement it would be to call it old house nut heaven.

I'm reading Peter John Stokes' book 'A Village Arising', about the creation of this astonishing place - the removal of many worthy UEL dwellings in the path of the cultural tsumani which was the St. Lawrence Seaway project in the Victory era 1950's, when 'the future' trumped 'the past' and dynamite ruled. He wrote in the front for me "in memory of lost buildings and in celebration of those we've saved", in his 'fine Italian hand'.

We have to be eternally grateful to folks of vision who preserved some of our built heritage in this place... the scholarship, the expertise, the fidelity to so many aspects of the rebuilt and recreated landscape - from streetscape to eaves return to lost farming and domestic skills.

Thanks PJS.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Mallorytown, by George!

SO and I just spent 8 days camping in and around Charleston Lake Provincial Park - I say about, as for the two nights there was no room at the inn, we decamped to a favourite pleasant commercial campground near Mallorytown, the better to organize ourselves for a weekend trip to Upper Canada Village, further along the 401.
early tiny square attic windows

I had a ramble around Mallorytown, and picked up a local history (have I mentioned how much I LOVE local histories, written by locals, who give time and attention to the recollections of village elders?). This little book was called Fact, Folklore and Fiction: The History of Mallorytown. I got the impression the writer, David J. Wells, was being a bit coy about which was which.

Peter Gibson tavern c.1850, said to have sheltered the infamous  Frank James 

half-round fan-lights proliferate

typical 5-bay Georgian, end chimneys, small windows
Although this lively book didn't give me the architectural history detail I'd hoped for, it did people the little village with interesting characters I wasn't likely to meet on my ramble.

And did you know that Mallorytown was home to the nation's first glassworks from if they could just agree on where it was! Passionate collectors and museums seem to have an appetite for the workmanlike ware, with the Mallorytown pitcher claiming special place.

Mallory Coach House, c.1853
Other than this bit of industrial history, I was unable to determine the source of the early prosperity that led to the building of some proud and substantial Georgian houses in brick and stone. Seems to have been a proud and self-reliant UEL settlement. The town was a bit far from that centre of marine commerce, Mallorytown Landing, where Vermont Loyalist Samuel Mallory landed in 1784 to begin a new life.

 So, my guess is, logging, given that a large numbers of the farms seem to have produced healthy crops of rocks.