Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Friday, November 29, 2013

PJS will never be dead...

Our mother often used an odd expression to convey her confidence that people who had gone to their reward would always be remembered, in the appearance, behaviour or accomplishments of those still living.

The Rankin Family did a really good job of conveying the sentiment in this song.

 Mom would say: "[dearly departed] will never be dead as long as you're alive."

I'm thinking about Peter John Stokes today. His was a phenomenal life which many have written about since his death. This obit sums up his huge accomplishments.

One of my favourite books is A Village Arising (2011). Stokes' account of the planning, the personalities, and the politics behind the creation of Upper Canada Village reveals his puckish, irascible nature, absolutely committed to heritage principles - and downright outspoken when the occasion called for it.

Places like Niagara-on-the- Lake and Port Hope will always recall Stokes' huge influence - on our towns, and our awareness of our built heritage. Few communities failed to call on Mr. Stokes for his opinions on their historic buildings - including my building researcher friends in Belleville.

Although these photos don't do the historic Port Hope downtown justice, (the iconic St. Lawrence Hotel and its victory over developers is missing) they'll do til next visit.

Peter John Stokes will never be dead as long as Port Hope is alive. And it is. Very.

Mispoke myself

Filliter Block (1846) 
Seems I mistook signs of aging for building-owner neglect in a recent post about the endangered Henderson Building. A casual chat with Lois, building researcher extraordinaire, disavowed me of that impresssion.

Lois explained that the Filliter Building is owned by local contractor/roofer Tom Boretski. His wife Marina runs the popular eclectic Boretski Gallery, my absolute favourite vintage shop, on the street level.

According to Lois, Tom Boretski purchased the building years ago, when it was threatened with demolition. The city's plan was to create a lane to provide access to riverside parking (which itself was likely created by demolitions over time). Lois herself went to council to argue for the building's preservation. Although we get discouraged about our historic downtown, there have always been rays of hope. This was one.

According to Lois, Tom Boretski "ensured the stability of the structure", and brought it up to code for residential/commercial use. In her words, "it's a keeper."

Another ray of hope for our historic streetscape.

1894 Alberta Block

Another downtown booster is the fellow who owns the Richard Davis menswear shop. He shared his downtown vision in May, with a large group of Jane's Walk participants .

1870's Mansard roof and dormers - Henderson Building

And on that optimistic note, I'll close on this. In mid-November it was reported that the demolition order for the Henderson Building had been withdrawn, while the owner considered other options. "No promises."

Monday, November 18, 2013

Poirot in Bath

Ron Tasker explaining entablature and pediment detail
"It is the brain, the little gray cells, on which one must rely."  Anyone who enjoys British murder mysteries with Hercule Poirot will recognize this Agatha Christie line, best when uttered by David Suchet as the ascerbic Belgian.

Saturday we had the immense pleasure of watching a master house detective share his discoveries at his property, Ham House (1816 - and there's a story there!) in Bath. The tour was thanks to the folks at Frontenac Heritage Foundation, and the sleuth was owner Ron Tasker.

fancy taproom ceiling

I really hope Mr. Tasker is writing a book (I looked in vain for an online journal, or any print publication) about this restoration. Many folks had written the place off, until Ron Tasker and his wife Bonnie Crook took on the challenge. I wish he were writing a log of the process, so that I could double-check some of the facts I gleaned from the tour, and retrieve hundreds of others which have escaped.
"Peter Ham" - I was here

Like these gems:
-dendocronology was used to determine the age of the oak sills - the tree from which one decayed sample was hewn started to grow in 1498!
-the age of hand-hewn recycled elements in the kitchen/shed was likely c.1808
-you can easily determine the age of wallpaper when you find a dated newspaper applied beneath
-graffiti existed in the early 1800's - the house features lines mocking a fussy drill sergeant, and the initials of the house's owner, Peter Hamm

-principal rooms can be determined by the quality of millwork (door and window frames) and floors
-why he knows the foundation was pre-1816   (pitted- ie. military- musket ball found in basement)
-what the little leather patch covered (a hole in the wall created by a musket-toting drinker)
-why the building is on the corner of the lot (it's the early urban way, also leaves room for infill development)

- what the footprints in the floorboards tell (where the innkeeper stood behind the bar)
-why the old (American) Georgian style decor in the store - it suggested solidity, traditional values, a store one can rely on
-how he knows there was a full entablature and pediment on the east/store entrance side (scars in wood trim)
-how he knows the beams were not  meant to be covered over in the taproom (beaded planks, smoothed beams)
-why the wide-board wainscoting was horizontal (early wainscoting was)
-the evolution of the interior space - eg. the east room was originally a store, then became a tap-room, which can be detected by scars from shelves, counters, walls, trapdoors and a staircase, relocated door and window openings

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- why there is a rose inscribed on a beam - a blessing on the house. The Virgin Mary is represented by a rose
-what made the rose - a set of dividers found in the wall, rusted closed at the correct distance for inscribing the circles creating the 'rose'
a faint rose, created with a set of dividers
-why we find shoes in the walls of early houses - 'concealed shoes' are an old English superstition, soliciting good luck on a house being built. Dried cats served the same function, but fortunately, none of those have turned up at Ham House

-observations on fixing a rubblestone foundation - (not easy, especially when a house sits on top). Ham house had been in imminent danger of collapse at the east end
-why there are still so many buildings from the first half of the c.19 along Bath's main street. The town stopped developing - 'frozen in amber' - in the 1850's when the Grand Trunk Railway bypassed it. This slowed later commercial development, which prevented the demolition of the early waterfront neighbourhood, which took place in more prosperous towns

And because I could have looked at these wallpapers all day, their patterns, their muted colours, wondering about  the process of creating them - handprinting? (I saw somewhere that the first wallpaper printing machine was only developed in England in 1839), I will leave you with these images. One thing I found interesting - in the store/tap-room, there wasn't lath and plaster; wallpaper was applied right to the wall planks.

Thanks to FHF's Dave Bull for his tireless industry behind the scenes. Not only does he send reminders of the foundation's wonderful tours, but on the day of the Ham House tour, Dave was making coffee using an outdoor tap, and had arranged some pretty delectable goodies!!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Ontario Cottage Life

15 Julia Street
The Ontario Cottage has always been with us. A July day in Port Hope provides ample proof of that. It's fascinating how a few simple elements; hip roof, often with a centre gable,a  symmetrical facade, single or one and a half storey size, and a limited vocabulary of decorative options, can produce such a wealth of delights.

Sometimes the "Regency" refinements of picturesque settings, French windows and encircling verandahs make the journey with street map in hand even more rewarding.
tiny perfect house

15 Julia Street is a delight, set at right angles to the leafy street on its own park-like setting.
I like the colour

Many of the Port Hope cottages are painted in this bright black and white. Love the haughty finial and detail above the fanlight over the porch.

There's something comical about this prim little well-loved home, with its tall narrow French windows with panel below.

Classical pilasters, basement kitchen below
9 Church Street (c.1850)

Katherine Ashenburg in her handy walking tour resource 'Going to Town' mentions this delicious cottage on Church Street with the requisite centre gable and finial. The lovely Regency door and large sash windows are bested only by the slightly exotic Tudor-arched transom.

for sale - staging suggestion: remove cooker?

172 Dorset Street West

These two c.1860/65 red brick Dorset Street neighbours occupy the lower part of the hill that leads to posher and newer homes above. The centre peaked gable takes the form of a triangular dormer, with a fanlight. Both are exquisitely maintained and landscaped.

166 Dorset Street West

The house with the white fence adopts the Regency cottage elements of French windows opening onto a spacious verandah. With its hillside location, it's perfect and picturesque.

Charles Street at Julia

According to McBurney and Byers, I must have the following on my to view list for next time: Richard Trick House 254 Ridout Street, The Belvedere at 95 Augusta, "and the cottage at the end of Little Hope Street" - what a great address for a pessimist!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Stone Corridor

 Back in August I wrote about fetching stone house on highway 2 just east of Lansdowne. The Mitchell house was written up in the newsletter of the Historical Society of the Front of Leeds and Lansdowne in June 1996.

This newsletter attests to the longevity and tenacity of heritage enthusiasm and scholarship in this area - built heritage awareness that makes a drive in the countryside thereabouts, or a day trip to Brockville, such a delight.

As I travelled around the 'front of Yonge', a civic construct I have yet to fathom, I was enchanted by the tiny neat houses of honey-coloured stone (limestone or sandstone?), the precision of the worked stone, and the massive size of some of the blocks formed into walls, voussoirs, and arches.

I've captured a few here on a summer afternoon in August. My drive led me from Lansdowne east on highway 2 to Brockville, north to county road 27 and home along that lovely stretch of road. As a result, I cannot recall exactly where I fell in love with each of these stone buildings.

Even at their most neglected, or when unsympathetically modified, these little stone houses keep their dignity.


Not surprisingly, stone was pressed into service on the farm.

All houses benefit from a picturesque location. Stone houses - positively.

is this not a fine Regency verandah?

The newsletter revealed the history of the area's stone houses, most of which date to the latter years of c.19. "After the completion of the Rideau Canal in 1832 highly trained Scottish stone masons became available in the area extending from Trenton to Prescott and Ottawa known as the 'Rideau Corridor'. Their technique is a personal statement of their masonry; it is similar to brickwork in which the stone has been painstakingly cut in blocks and laid in even courses." The writer goes on to say that the sandstone used in the construction of the Mitchell House (and I suspect, in many of the honey-coloured homes in the area) was from a quarry near highway 2. (article by Ruth D. Chisamore)

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the mill on the Black

Readers of this tribute to old houses no doubt know how taken I am with Queensborough, Ontario.  After our first visit on a raw cold February day in 2012, during which I contracted a cold getting 'just one more shot,' I published this account of my love-at-first-sight visit, and later, these observations on its fine hotel.

a brown study

But by far, the most sincere paean to the hamlet is the 'Meanwhile, at the Manse' journal of Katherine Sedgwick. Her reflections on life past and present in the village are a daily-but-for-Sundays treat.

Katherine's Remembrance Day tribute to a local lad lost during the final days of WWI is heartbreakingly beautiful.

rare 16 over 16 sash windows!
community spirit restored this old schoolhouse

The other day I noticed an announcement in the Hastings County Historical Society newsletter, 'Outlook'. The November issue of 'Outlook' should be online at the Society's website shortly, if you haven't access to a print copy. The announcement introduces the Queensborough Community Centre's 'Historic Queensborough', a 16-page tour of the historic spot on the historic Black River.
shopping was grand in the day

corner door to (once) corner store

The village of Queensborough now has, most deservedly, a walking tour guide. Doubtless written by Katherine, whose writing cred is well-established, and Elaine Kapusta that most boosterish of community boosters, the guide promises to bring me - and many others who will become enchanted by this historical spot - back, again and again.

Ian Taylor's meditative video of the Black River near Queensborough reminds us that water which inspires reverie today once powered nineteenth century industrial complexes like the village's mill site.
imagine how lovely the mill pond would be in spring? Autumn?