Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Give my regards to...Kingston

Had an outstanding day last Saturday at the Kingston Historical Society's conference on the war of 1812...a topic I'm fascinated in. A scholarly and entertaining lineup of speakers covered a vast range of topics of local interest. Of course, I was enthralled with the story of the Onandaga armoury, an early stone structure in upper New York state, with a ring-side seat to that conflict.
Gardiner House, 1818, Portsmouth Village
A very fine lunch in a room with pigeon's eye view of the Customs House and the dome of St. George's Cathedral (one of my lunch companions lives with that view!) and ample pauses between sessions made it possible to network and get a good look at local resources. I got to spend time in the company of 'townies', fans of Kingston who live, walk and work in downtown of this old city, and of course found old-house connections  in this wonderful old-house town. In their honour, I post a few favourites of mine.

parapet walls in Portsmouth Village

a worthy stone house along Princess Street

Ann Baillie Building - 1909 Nurses' Residence, KGH
Among the best contacts was a chat with David of the Frontenac Heritage Foundation. We visited the website, talked over the vision and projects of the organization and discussed training needs in heritage restoration arts (an opportunity to share my enthusiasm for the heritage conservation program at Willowbank in Queenston).

So many links: writers of my favourite Kingston built heritage resources, Margaret Angus and Jennifer McKendry were represented at the FHF display in a tribute volume written about Mrs. Angus by Ms. McKendry. The group's website displayed photos of a recent Margaret Angus honouree receiving the award from Mrs. Angus' daughter. One of this conservationist's projects was to remove and reassemble the original Mallory log home from Mallorytown (a town I fell in love with this summer) on Amherst Island, which I have never visited despite growing up on nearby Prince Edward County. It's now on my list! Later I got a chance to meet Jennifer, who regaled us with stories of her photo essay experiences (with snakes) in Lake Ontario Park.

I think I'm meant to join this many pleasant coincidences must be a sign. As I looked through the website later, checking out upcoming programming, I learned that a fellow we met in Bath this summer is scheduled to show the group around his family's Kingston home in December. The gentleman is Ron Tasker, who graciously toured groups of 1812 event visitors around his restoration work at the c.1819 Ham house, a fine neo-Classical house with a great history, on a punishingly hot July day. I had worried about that house for years and blogged about its potential for death by neglect. Rescue came just in time via a FHF member!

David replied to an email question about membership, and commented on my blog. He suggested he might mention it to FHF members, so by this post I welcome them. With such an informed group possibly visiting, I shall have to do even more careful research as I post in the future!

Ron Tasker, FHF member, explaining restoration
of Ham House, c.1819, Bath

Sunday, October 28, 2012

"Curiouser and curiouser" *

Just got an email from my brother with a link to a Quinte News heritage designations in PEC. Anywhere! Always good news.

But I am curious, and intend to investigate, the designation of 'The Stryker Log House' which, I am wondering, might be this worthy building, spotted last spring. I did a double-take at the time, as it was standing in its distinctive glory in a field that had been empty when our grandparents, Wilmot and Helen (Dodge) Striker, lived their lives next door in the stone house built by our UEL ancestor there in about 1865.

This log structure, which was salvaged and meticulously restored by the owners, was brought from another location - and I believe it was moved into PEC from outside the county.  It certainly tells log construction story very well, but it misses the mark when it tries to tell the PEC settlement story - especially that of the Strikers (who incidentally, were using the Striker spelling by 1779).

Must check it out with the very informed owners. In the meantime, the designation remains a curious one.

*Just ask Alice at Askville

...and curiouser!
A day later,  I spoke with the owner of the log house above, imported from Lennox and Addington county to this field. BUT, and this is the interesting part - the Stryker log house which has just been designated came from even farther afield, from Waterloo County, and has been carefully reconstructed at Long Point, PEC. It has been designated for its very unique log building detail - can't wait to find and see it and photograph it - and add it to this post!! And the most curious part? It was built by a family named Stryker (the old spelling of our maternal line) in 1840. Both Janice, the owner, and I are now very keen to revisit the Stryker/Striker family history books to see if an ancestor might have migrated north later in the Ontario settlement story.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Making do

Mom used to have an expression, "making do." No doubt the expression and the discipline arose from her childhood on a frugal farm, peppered with a bit of The Great Depression to deepen the lesson. "Making do" meant mending, improvising, or readjusting your expectations (something our hugely entitled age is not very good at). The alternative was "doing without."

My sister Jo and I went for a lovely walk at Massassauga Point Conservation Area recently. On our way home, I had to stop to take this photo of a homely old barn foundation, limestone rubble bejewelled with round pink granite fieldstones.

My better camera would have gotten us closer

A house in Picton with fieldstone quoins

A kitchen tail in a beautiful Point Petre home, with fieldstone
So often these granite fieldstones, glacial litter left by the great ice sheet's careless passing on the way back north, found their way into foundations - rounded edges, irregular, one would think a poor choice in a foundation made largely of limestone more or less linear in shape, and glued with mortar. But they were solid, and filled the space, and they were available, rising as they did each spring as the frost left the ground. So farmers and builders "made do."

And left us a lovely legacy, an invitation to visit and understand the lives of our ancestors.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Let's hear it for the little guys...

little houses for the little people
...or, Ozymandias goes to the beach.

I stopped to admire a bracket fungus array on an ancient maple, on the road to West Point, the warm October sun belying the strength of the cold wind whipping the lake waves into a para-sailing paradise.

On foot this trip, I took time to truly appreciate the tiny cabins nearby. A neighbourly woman came to chat; she identified their owner, and revealed their story.

The tiny shed-roof cottages to left and right (joined by the later addition) are thought to be maid's cottages, residences of domestic servants who catered to the wealthy tourists beginning to pour into Prince Edward County in the nineteenth century.

(See, there IS nothing new under the sun).
Bracket fungus...the dying tree's gift

The maids worked at Lakeshore Lodge (c.1876), a grand resort hotel (sure, not Lake Como, but elegant nonetheless with its gallery verandah  and its incomparable location on a rocky bluff overlooking Lake Ontario and the dunes of the baymouth sandbar at West Lake.)
Lakeshore Lodge - courtesy PEC Library & Archives, and the lovely Krista

The LSL crest in the terazzo floor from
 a dance pavilion of later date
you're still welcome to come in to dream
Lodge...clearly missing from this image
Lakeshore Lodge was destroyed by fire in 1982. It had sat abandoned for some time after the land was sold for the new Sandbanks Provincial Park, and succumbed to a devastating fire while plans were being floated to restore it for a year-round hostelry. Our dad always wondered if some local with a practical and not-at-all tourism oriented attitude had played a role.

This is NOT an eaves return

No Mr. Property Developer, this is NOT an eaves return.

Shannon Kyles first drew my attention to the appalling misuse of historical architectural elements in today's over-the-top residential developments. Although it is not in my nature to mock, I admit to cringing at the sight of a lintel with three, count 'em three, keystones along its length  in an expensive-enough-to-know better executive enclave north of Richmond Hill. And that was just one of the oddities I observed, as I waited for my fella to come out of a meeting.

I'll grant that the misuse might be based in some sort of homage to early building, or at least the bit that sells.
Shannon insists that it's because most students are not taught to see or to draw, nor of course, are most of them taught any architectural history. It's unlikely they come to love old structures, or they wouldn't hurt them so.

What's not to love about eaves returns? I must say, of all the alluring bits of an early building, the part that catches my eye first is that subtle fold just below the roof. An architectural feminine principle at work ...sinuous, secretive, protective, strong, elegant, multi-layered and complex, and in the case of the 'Aultsville cornice' honoured by PJS, curvy. Eve returns?

'Village store', Upper Canada Village
What are eaves returns?

Quite simply, they are how builders transition from a wall to a roof, providing weather protection and decorative possibilities in the process. It seems those decorative aspects appeared endless to the builders of the Greek Revival (heyday in the 1840's ) whose bold detail of layered mouldings is so appealing.

Cabinet-maker's shop (c.1850, Williamsburg  twp), UCV

I resort to quoting a definition by PJ Stokes, avoiding the foolish urge to say it better than he. "Eaves return: the extension of the eaves around the corner at the gable ends forming a return of the cornice". With his delightful twinkle he continues "..and with a flat top sometimes used by birds for a nesting place; hence the carpenter's term of 'birdhouses' for such features."

Lutheran Pastor's home (1842-44, Riverside), UCV

(that definition from the glossary of Rogues' Hollow, his fine collaboration with Tom Cruikshank on the village of  Newburgh)
Physician's home (1840's, Aultsville), UCV
The 'Aultsville cornice' was noted by PJS, and named for the area (one of the villages lost in flooding for the St. Lawrence Seaway) where it was often seen. It too is a very feminine thing: curvaceous, flexible and diplomatic, a bevelled board creating an effective and beautiful compromise between the horizontal and vertical planes of the roof's construction.

the significant Peter Demill house c.1835,  Northport
Now, make that garage look like this, and I might consider, actually, I couldn't.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

What's your story, pretty lady?

Set in wide lawns, the house has presence even now
I took lots of shots, free to wander the property as a park visitor, enjoying all the evocative details. I was confident that I could return to my campsite, consult Stokes and Cruikshank, and her story would be revealed. For this house on Co. Rd. 12, near today's Sandbanks Provincial Park, has stood on this corner under the walnut trees, across from the corn fields, for as long as I can remember.

Doubtless, at one time, she was inhabited. Even today, the lawns are mowed. Squirrels tend the massive nut trees, dropping projectiles at an alarming velocity (to which I can attest), for later collecting.

At some time, the house was modernized with 1950's awnings and stucco, which is being removed, hopefully by the careful architectural custodians of the provincial park on which it doubtless stands. Previously, buildings were not their concern. Today, there appears to be an interest in holiday rentals in the parks, coupled with a bit more assertive heritage protectionism. My hope is that the house will be thoroughly researched, and perhaps restored, as a revenue-producing asset of the park system.
Bricks, uncovered, mossy, flaking - laid in common bond
 My optimism is based on the fact that although boarded up, the sheathing over doors and windows is vented, which is a more thoughtful way to seal an old building...though that could be just to disperse the definite parfum de mouffette emanating from the cellar.

plain but dignified cornice mouldings

textured steel roofing, and lightning rods!
 I am excited to see the Barnum House profile of the Greek Revival style, popular in the 1840's  - a two storey gable-end centre section, symmetrical one-storey wings at each side. Entrance off-centre. The roof slope is shallow and chimneys still standing. No doorcase or window trim details visible.

Mouldings are simple, without the eaves returns and detailing I would expect. But this was the farm after all.
It was a house of some pretentions. Built in early soft brick (you can see the deterioration of the brick, either the cause or the result of the stucco covering), laid in common bond on sides and back, the more costly and showy Flemish bond on the front, the public facade that 'counted'.

Flemish bond brickwork on the facade
 - vents in the plywood

Unfortunately, the esteemed writers of The Settler's Dream, did not see fit to discuss this intriguing structure, so I am at a loss until a likewise esteemed blog reader sees this and gets in touch.

The house sits warm and dry in the October sun. I hope the winter is good to her. I hope help comes soon.


Anthropomorphism: an interpretation of what is not human or personal in terms of human or personal characteristics. Thank you Merriam-Webster.

Walked miles last week from my camp headquarters in Woodlands campground, Sandbanks PP. Walked to West Point, a favourite spot. Hiked the mysterious Dunes Trail. Trudged to the outlet of the Outlet River (mouth of the river now drifted in with sand til spring. Dad, you'd be interested to know), and along the Cedar Sands trail.

Dunes private desert

As I walked, breathing in the fall energy, heart leaping at the beauty all around, I did note the absence of buildings upon which to comment. But an old house-nut is never deterred for long. I spotted these little structures on my walk to West Point.

Bird boxes...possibly an attempt to lure Eastern blue-birds to take up house-keeping? And what houses! Numbered, of course, so some biology-minded summer student can keep tabs on the population.

But even more interestingly, for this house-nut, little square flat-roofed structures, with cantivered porch roofs. And I wonder to myself, whatever led us humans to create homes for creatures of bush, meadow and tree, building these tiny houses in imitation of our own. Did we imagine little rugs, tiny paintings on the walls, miniature rocking chairs?

Oh well. Let's enjoy the walk. I'll be back in the city soon enough.

Old MacDonald's Farm...really

a despondent garage supported by grapevines
Lakelands - the MacDonald's resort I worked at in the early 1960's
photo courtesy PEC Museum & Archives, thanks Krista
 I recently  returned from a lovely week's camping at Sandbanks Provincial Park. The wooded campground I stayed in was on Keith MacDonald's farm.

I recall our dad's excitement as he took us on a tour of the developing campgrounds, back in the 70's or 80's. From farm fields and sugar bush were carved reasonably private wooded sites (with electical boxes discretely placed at intervals - no, I am too old to sleep on the rocks and pinecones, my little trailer needs a plug-in) connected by winding roadlets.

So much history in this former homestead.
Had a great chat with a farmhand, baling soybean straw
History, theirs and mine. At one time MacDonald's ran a family resort on the lakefront property across from the house, with a view of the Outlet beach. One summer, my first job was to sweep shadflies from the exterior and does one do that? The job I recall most is washing dishes in the deep steel sinks. But what I really remember was evenings with the girls (all older and wiser than I) at Martins, a local hangout. Dancing to the jukebox, evading the attentions of the boys of summer. Being a teenager for a rare time in my life.
Original farm lane, now on park property

The old farmhouse is being examined for heritage pedigree - brick and fieldstone foundation
beneath the 'improving' 1970's stucco 
Today, the resort is long gone. Only a flagstone path through the lawn leads to the site of the old lodge. The crumbling breakwater recalls moonlight nights by the lake. The screened porch, the dining room with all the windows, the memorable chocolate sauce that the cook made, and shared with even the girls...can that really have happened, in this same life-time?
Behind the house, a most photogenic door. Could this be the privy?

I had a great 'jaw' with a farmer, who has worked for the farm for 12 years. Because although the farm is Provincial Park now, with the occasional brown sign asserting ownership of trails, the wonderful light soil is still cultivated on some sort of lease. I was curious about the round bales being loaded - straw, not oat or wheat - my suspicions born out, soybean! This year, we'll need all the bedding we can get.

Further along Co.Rd. 12, a plaque with the MacDonald pedigree
basks in the lakeside sun

The view from the house, across the road to the site of the former lodge
A scion of the family still lives further along the lakeshore road. Someone (perhaps the family member Keith, who became an MPP) has set up a plaque honouring the family's settlement history in the area.

They settled, they cleared forest and built prosperous farms.

Irony...the farmhand tells me that soon, the lease will expire, and the fields of corn, winter wheat already planted in anticipation of next spring, and those soybeans, will be replanted...into trees.
An evocative farm building...similar to the one we summer girls converted to
a dorm by judicious use of hairspray and Buddy Holly