Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Shake it

Haven't spent much time in Picton lately.

This photo just popped up on my screen-saver slide show. I have loved this house since I was a bus-riding high school kid spending rare school-day afternoons in town, wandering and watching. Always seemed pretty grand - my perception wasn't challenged in the least by finding out that one of the truly cool guys in Grade 13 lived there.

This is The Brown House, not because of its unique colour in a red brick town, but because it was built by J.Roland Brown, a lawyer in the town around 1900. The architectural style is 'Colonial Revival', the idiom a bit American for this old Loyalist town.

Is it fair to suggest he thought he was pretty cool, choosing this style popular among a few of the 'cottagers'  of Newport's gilded age, who chose the American shingle style over marble as their trademark? This massive house is remarkable for being completely clad in shingles. A bit of comfy plain English arts and crafts, a bit of solid classical formality (columns, pediment, balustrade, urns..check) playing nicely together, thanks to a  those wonderful porches.

For a look at the style done large, visit Isaac Bell House in Newport Rhode Island...or on-line :-)

Iron will

 Just because I'm working on a municipal heritage list for the city of Belleville...

and because I am remembering the lovely summer day I took these photos (on this the first really cold day of incoming winter)...

iron pediments, narrow balconies lost to time

... I will share these photos of the Henderson Building (1859) which boasted the city's only complete cast iron main floor still remaining at the time of publication of the wonderful resource Heritage Building East of the Moira (Heritage Belleville, 1991, 2012).

Entire store fronts could be ordered from catalogues in the day. The love affair with industrial iron in the Victorian era soared to decorative Italianate, Second Empire, classical and even more exotic heights above dusty streets of horse-drawn commerce.

Second Empire grandeur on the Moira

the mansard roof and dormers were added later, 1870's
 Imagine the work in blisteringly hot and dangerous early foundries (no health and safety lads here), unschooled men and boys mass-producing bits with classical allusions they would never know.

Cast iron was less expensive than masonry, and in its molten state could be pressed into service to yield sculptural wonders that must have amazed the citizens of these still plain stone and brick streets.
Machine made interchangeable parts were simply bolted to the facade. They were quick, relatively cheap, indisputably grand, and in an era plagued with fires, claims that they were fireproof (later debunked by destructive fires in Chicago, Boston and NYC) were selling points.
wooden third floor window flourishes
Belleville's Henderson Building is constructed of stone with a brick and cast iron front. It was built by George Eyre Henderson, attorney at law, and sold in 1874 to Thomas Kelso, a wholesale merchant. The Masonic Lodge moved in in 1874, the Knights of Columbus in 1951. It is an important venue for special art and cultural events, owned by a restauranteur who has been commended for his work in maintaining the city's heritage core.

One of my favourite views of the building, the east wall,
wood joists waiting to join with the next building

Note to self: pencil in a visit to New York City's historically designated So-Ho cast iron district.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Slip sliding away....

Picton's finest Gothic Revival cottage in decline...and on offer

There is so much good news these days around preservation of our built heritage.
There, I said it. That statement certainly flies in the face
Cause for optimism: a good roof
of many posts (rants) on this blog, and a great deal
of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary.

A visit to publications like Built Heritage News or The Architectural Conservancy of Ontario might confirm the pessimist's stance.

I base my optimism on a month spent touring PEC with my camera, collecting photos for a chapter in Orland French's (he of Heritage Atlas of Hastings County and Lennox and Addington) new book on Prince Edward County.  The new book is called Wind, Water, Barley and Wine.

During this junket I saw so many fine old buildings, beautifully restored, with sensitive well-proportioned new additions, fine grounds with heritage plantings, and the enduring, iconic locust trees.  

Nevertheless, a few historic structures are causing me some worry.

The Gothic Revival cottage fantasy at the top of this post, which I wrote about one miserable January day in 2011, is still standing. That's the good news. It's for sale or lease still. Great, nobody's giving up on it yet. But the c.1858 home of John Pepper Downes, early artist chronicler of Picton, needs a new champion. Soon. Come on Picton, let's not lose another one.

A browse through 'The Settler's Dream' will reveal the esteem in which PJ Stokes held the houses of Greek Revival Revival influence which once distinguished the booming village of Demorestville. John and Diane Brisley recommended this house to me. If you can see past the ghastly dormers and the discouraging paint, the building's pedigree becomes apparent. The house was built by Peter Demill, one of the sons of Isaac Demill a Loyalist from Vermont. Built in the mid-1830's, this beautifully detailed frame house still bravely displays its exquisite eaves returns, and pilasters at the corners and the doorcase (not shown) with entasis,yet.                                                                                                        

A fine rare Greek Revival inspired house in decline
Rare South Marysburgh stone (c.1855)
 unique Marysburgh gable
Stokes and Cruikshank also commented on this very special stone house, with its unusually wide gables. "This triple-gabled not found on any other building in the County", asserts no less an authority than PJS in SD (p.70). The place is beautiful even in decline. It would be a real shame to lose this exceptional home, and the link with its first family the Minakers - connected to mine somewhere along the line. And I fear we're going to lose both house and history soon.

Robert Miskin house (1829), one of the fabled Weller houses
 of The Carrying Place

The Robert Miskin house at the historic portage route, The Carrying Place was built by Sarah, daughter of pioneer stage operator Asa Weller,and her husband Robert Miskin. The formal Loyalist style symmetry and the warm hand-made brick tell its old story. The poor condition of the shutters suggests things are being neglected.  This early house is an architectural treasure.

Here's a challenge. If you're visiting from  the big city and you have succumbed to the allure of this historic little county, why not put some of your considerable buying power into the acquisition and preservation of one of these important early structures. Become part of the history yourself. We'd be forever grateful.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Tip of the Hat


This little fellow is in some trouble. The machine parked against his west wall is disconcerting; the blasted tree seems full of foreboding. The chimneys have succumbed to the freeze/thaw cycle, exposed as they are atop the little hat roof.

This is an unusual house. I've passed it many times on Highway 2 west of Brighton. Last spring I felt a sense of urgency to record its image and its lineage.

I wonder if it's still there today?

Anthony Adamson illustrated the evolution of the Ontario cottage plan in the seminal book on Ontario architecture The Ancestral Roof (1963)*. It was a fruitful collaboration. I love what author Marion Macrea wrote on the frontispiece: "by Marion Macrae in constant consultation with, and sometimes in spite of Anthony Adamson, who wrote the first word and the last word and made the drawings."

Northumberland County - a house with a beanie
The Ontario cottage, a single or one-and-a-bit storey  house with a hip roof has long been with us. Gussied up with verandahs and treillage, it's called a Regency cottage. Adaptable, the Ontario cottage could be accessorized with different types of chimneys, porches, verandahs, doorways.

This odd little square house is particularly tall, to allow for headroom upstairs I expect. I wonder if earlier dormers, or a belvedere or some such handy way to get air and light to the upper floor were removed when a new roof was installed? It has a nice door-case with half-sidelights and a transom, symmetrically placed sash windows, and looks to be white stucco.

Adamson's drawings depict a house quite similar to this one, with wider eaves overhangs. He calls it "a house with a hat" and writes that  the style is quite common in Durham and Northumberland counties. His drawing portrays a c.1838 example on King Street in Cobourg. That one (hope to drop by and make its acquaintance one day) has a 'nun's coif dormer'.

There may be lots of houses with hats in Northumberland, but this is the first little guy I ever noticed. Maybe not big enough for a hat...maybe a beanie?

*Readers will recognize my tribute to this wonderful book in the choice of a name for the blog.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Some folks just won't take 'no' for an answer

Some folks just won't take 'no' for an answer, as dad used to say.
Claims of 'no hope', 'no future', 'no potential' don't persuade them.
Obstacles like 'no time', 'no money', 'no skills' don't deter.
Adolphustown church
"No way?"
 No chance.

These are the folks who make restoration miracles happen.
Long Point log cabin

There is the Brisley family of Sophiasburgh. I blogged my enthusiasm for their work and their vision in November 2011 after we came upon their enclave of restored and rescued homes.

Cobourg native

one of PEC's earliest homes - rescued by the Brisley's

This is a sublime early PEC home.
Thank goodness for John and Diane Brisley..for without them it's unlikely it would still be standing sentinel on a hugely important part of our UEL history.

Along Royal Road (called Royal Street in my day)
Then there are Janice and Gord Gibbins who purchased and restored one of our family homes (the homestead of the maternal UEL Striker ancestors) in South Marysburgh. As is that wasn't enough, they have rescued (rescued = fell in love with, dismantled, transported and rebuilt) this exceptional c.1840 log home from the Ottawa Valley and an 1810 grain barn from Hay Bay, the oldest barn in Lennox and Addington township. Both sit like safely rescued donkeys in a preserve, in a sunny field near the old stone house.

Just recently PEC bestowed heritage designation on yet another log building, with some very unique construction features, transplanted by the Gibbins', this time from Waterloo County. It's the c.1845 Stryker house, and Janice and I wonder - is it somehow related to the Strykers (spelling was changed to Striker even before they left the American colonies) who settled in Prince Edward County? 

The Gryphon at an earlier stage in its development in PEC
And then there's my friend and former history of architecture prof Shannon Kyles, who rescued doors, windows, interior mouldings, flooring and beams from an 1840's Regency cottage destined for demolition in Ancaster, transported them (and the gracious ambience of the original Grove Cottage) to Consecon in PEC, and built a new house around them. You can read the story of The Gryphon, soon to be a guest house, in the Summer 2012 issue of County and Quinte Living, or on Shannon's invaluable website on Ontario architecture. Just go to building styles, to Regency, then scroll down through all the exquisite Ontario examples of the style 'til you get to the story.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Can-lit Kilroy

Al Purdy's A-frame is ten minutes across the bridge and down a side-road from where I live. He and I are from the same UEL roots....hell, as they say in that county, we're probably related. After all those generations, sooner or later you marry everybody's family. My dad and Al were born the same year. They would not have seen eye to eye...and would have been equally bullish over the disagreement. Dad didn't have much poetry in his life.

Dad would have called Al "rough" and "shiftless". Al would likely have found the proud hard-working tee-total farmer a bit stuffy. Both men, despite limited success in school, were pretty smart in life.

Seymour Mayne immortalized Can-lit Kilroys
at Al's Outhouse
One day last week I spent time at the A-frame, the sharp wind off Roblin Lake, like a pugnacious male presence, warning me I wasn't welcome.

David W. McFadden described a visit to the A-frame in his essay From a Trip around Lake Ontario. Don't think I would have fit in, though maybe I could have helped in the kitchen.

Somehow I expected that frisson I experience when I visit the cemetery below the empty mill site. I tried to be in touch with the poet, the life and times, the poetry. They weren't there ...just a tired house sagging under the weight of all the stories it knows and wasn't telling me.

 Who was I again?, the A-frame asked, bored and distracted.

A poet? just a fan. But sincere.

Just another Can-lit Kilroy.

Incidentally, David McFadden's essay about a visit to a thinly disguised Al Purdy, and  and Seymour Mayne's poem about Canada's most literary outhouse can be enjoyed in The Al Purdy A-Frame Anthology.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Parish Church in Bere Regis, Dorset - listed in
Domesday book, 1085

What is it about literary pilgrims?
I refuse to believe it's about collecting another check
on some literary tourism life-list.

I believe it's a drive in folks who love an author's work to connect with what might have inspired that person to create it, to leave a thank you.

That was certainly the case in 1981
when LOML and I toured  Dorset.

Hardy's birthplace, Higher Bockhampton (1800)
at the edge of Puddletown Heath

I lived, breathed and ate Thomas Hardy on that trip, making pilgrimages to locales associated with his life and work.

The little church at Bere Regis (inspiration for Tess of the D'Urbervilles), the tiny village streets, conjured the claustrophobic and unforgiving hard world where Tess fell and found no soft place to land. I was there.

much of the house is early c.17, Lakeland
vernacular architecture

Next trip, 1987, in love with the enchanting works of Beatrix Potter,and fascinated by her life, I entered "modestly famous" Sawrey, Cumbria to visit Hilltop, the home the writer bought for herself with the proceeds of her writing, when she finally escaped her repressive and conventional Victorian parents. create, to garden and commune with the little creatures in the country she loved.

ah, the Princess Diana years

Touring the house, her sanctuary, seeing first-hand the country furniture portrayed in the water-colours in her books, drinking in the same vistas over stonewalled fields tipping gently to Lake Windermere that she saw... imagining her life there, it was all very exciting and very sweet.

So many of those beautiful lakeland scenes remain, saved from development by Beatrix Potter. She bought and donated many farms to the National Trust, so even today, we are able to enjoy what she enjoyed.

Another visit, to Wordsworth's cottage nearby in Grasmere.....

...a "meh" reaction. I was...there, but nothing stirred. My fault, not Bill's. I have just never taken the time to get inside his poetry or his time.

Home is where the Heart is

Or so they say.
Certainly my heart.

I had this thought a few minutes ago, as Melissa showed off the Victorian opulence of the dining room set for Christmas dinner at one of 'my' houses.

I am deeply committed to two local homes...and a more different pair of houses one would be hard pressed to find.

For the past two years, I have become increasingly involved with the Friends of Glanmore, who support the mandate of  Glanmore National Historic Site, an 1883 Second Empire masterpiece in Belleville.

In recent months I have fallen under the spell of a place that might one day be another NHS - and certainly is even now, to friends of Can Lit - the Ameliasburgh A-frame of that reprobate poet, Al Purdy.

Now what girl could ask for two more different objects for her affection? It's a bit like admiring the well-connected young aristocrat your parents have in mind for you, while being swept off your feet by the wild poet who challenges you and makes your heart race.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Love you to Bits

Hello you to bits.

Kingston has such a wealth of historic architecture that my jaw drops and my eyes well with tears when I walk your streets. This does make it difficult to do photographic justice to your homes, civic buildings, and streetscapes, however.

And then there's the size of some of your buildings! And the busy streets and sidewalks. Did I mention the wind off the lake? And the hydro lines along King Street!? And lest you think I'm complaining, I do tend to miss the best light when I'm in your town, always working around a schedule not my own.
Difficult to capture the entirety of a Summerhill or an Onondaga, so I've had to resort to treasured bits on occasion.

Today, in honour of my new FHF readers (and to give folks a bit of a respite from my Purdy musings) I will post some bits of Kingston that I find especially enjoyable...and you locals can figure out where you last saw them, as you live and work (I am SO envious) among them.

Incidentally, in case one might be tempted to think that I am completely design-challenged I add, with a moue at its intransigence, that Blogger does not like making photo collages, and is doing everything to be awkward. Enjoy the photos, please overlook the format.

 One day, perhaps, my technical skill will catch up to my enthusiasm.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Flowers for Al

Trenton, Ontario was abuzz yesterday with the first-hand accounts of a dramatic downtown fire which closed streets and evacuated a school. Firemen were injured looking for a missing woman. The Sherwood Forest Hotel, a local strip club, will not be missed by too many folks.

But it might be missed by Al Purdy, for the Sherwood was once called the Quinte Hotel.
sincere thanks to Eric Lorenzen of Trenton HS for this photo
I went to Ameliasburgh today, intending to spend some time at the Purdy A-frame. Before I left the house, I reread the poem which immortalized this less than lovely hotel.  In his famous poem 'At the Quinte Hotel', which I cannot read without hearing the voice of Gordon Pinsent buzzing in my ear, Al Purdy writes

I am drinking
I am drinking beer with yellow flowers
in the underground sunlight
and you can see that I am a sensitive man

photo credit: Ernst Kuglin/ QMI Agency

In the quiet of the Ameliasburgh cemetery, freezing in the unaccustomed cold, I told Al about the fire. I left a volcano-spawned stone, as I had planned. As I walked away I was drawn to the edge of the old mill-pond by a flash of colour. There, in the frost-killed brush and branches, lay a little yellow artificial flower, left over from someone's graveside beautification.

We pay close attention to coincidences in our family - I left the yellow flower with Al.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

"If you could say it in words...

.. there would be no reason to paint." - Edward Hopper

In Mutters, a local inn, where we survived
a dramatic thunderstorm over bratwurst and cheese

A lovely gentleman I know in the local Historical Society has sent me a slideshow of Bavarian painted houses. What an intriguing tradition. I wonder how many other cultures have chosen to decorate their homes in such a way.

While I try to figure out how to share George's slideshow on this page (because it deserves a wider audience) I'll share a few photos taken years ago, in Mutters and Innsbruck, Austria where I grew to love the traditional Tyrolean style buildings with their long sloping roofs, galleries and the flower-boxes, oh the flower-boxes....and met a few painted houses in old Innsbruck.

The Golden Eagle Inn and a much younger me

Heblinghouse, Innsbruck

Plaid Denis making a bee-line to The Golden Roof,
both much brighter in person