Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Sunday, November 25, 2012

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.

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