Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Saturday, March 30, 2013


Gananoque Town Hall (McDonald house, c.1832)

Dave Bull of the Frontenac Heritage Foundation recently sent a photo of the Gananoque Town Hall. He commented on the resemblance of this building he knows well to the photo of the Picton structure which I included with some house portraits in  my most recent post .

So neat, thought I'd share it.

The Gananoque Town Hall was built about 1832 for John McDonald a wealthy local merchant, postmaster, landowner, and later member of the Legislative Council of Canada. The wonderful building in its impressive park near the river was deeded to the town in 1911.
Washburn House, Picton (c.1835)
The building to the right, in Picton, is the c.1835 home of the prominent Washburn family. Its parapet gable end walls ending in massive chimneys so closely resemble the McDonald house as to momentarily confuse even the most astute observer of heritage architecture.

Why the resemblance? When you think about it, how many architectural elements did they have to work with, really? (No Queen Anne variety or Second Empire pomposity to select from yet).

Both display the standard five-bay front of the Georgian tradition. Parapet end walls were designed to prevent fires spreading in urban areas...granted, most effective where buildings abutted each other.

The details of each building distinguish between them. Each draws on different architectural vocabulary for the finishing touches. The Gananoque home displays the refinements of neo-classical styling - more generous fenestration including an elegant Venetian window above the central doorcase, an elegant elliptical fanlight above the front door, a general lightness of touch which distinguishes it from its Georgian roots.

The Washburn house shows Greek Revival influence in the modillion-trimmed cornice and porch which are decorated in the Greek key design (not visible in these photos, unfortunately).

Both houses have crisp splayed stone lintels, and are built from early soft clay brick - one wonders how far afield from the building site those were formed and baked. I love the stone corbels supporting the parapet wall - a distinctive old house feature becoming quite  rare.

(Thanks to the Ontario Heritage plaque in Gananoque, and The Settler's Dream for the details.)

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