Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Friday, January 31, 2014

Journeys with John - Neoclassical

It is a curious trait of humans to want to name and classify things. I am assuming it's peculiar to us only, although raptors and canines may indulge in sorting the world into 'eat/not eat' (a sliding scale, many puppy owners would assert). Anyway, birdwatchers do it. Butterfly fanciers indulge. And old building nuts are obsessive.

I occasionally visit, yet have never mentioned, Ted Ray's old-house site, A Field Guide to Building Watching. Although Ted and I appear to disagree on some points, I admire the work that has gone into creating and maintaining the website. And I note that Ted and his wife (the word 'long-suffering' screams for admission here) have camped throughout the accumulation of this photo gallery, as have my l/s husband and I, so there is an affinity.

Ham House (1816), Bath

Anyway, all this to say, this post is another dedicated to following John Blumenson through my current favourite style guide Ontario Architecture, revisiting his descriptions and images of typical examples, and posting photos in my 'I've been where J.B. walked' gallery.

Campbell House (1822), Toronto -academic style Palladian influence

Neoclassical homes sport the same symmetrical proportions as their Georgian predecessors, but with a lighter touch - larger expanses of multi-paned windows, finer glazing bars within them. Decorative motifs based in Roman architecture - slim stylized columns, pilasters and mouldings, garlands and festoons, decorative friezes along rooflines, and short eaves returns- make their appearance. 

And that iconic elliptical fanlight overarching front door and sidelights. As Shannon Kyles used to say to the college lads in her course looking for study aids: "if it's elliptical, it's Neoclassical"

In cases where it wasn't feasible to build elliptical, vernacular builders created the effect with fine curving wood glazing bars or metal cames within a rectangular transom, with pleasing results. This example at McPherson house is exceptionally lovely.
rectangle morphs into elliptical 

Other elements of Neoclassical style domestic architecture, according to Blumenson, that will help us all enjoy/interpret these exquisite early homes more:
-glazed quarter and half-round lunettes in gable ends
-academic or high-style versions may have a shallow frontispiece, often with an oval window in the pediment
-chimneys at both gable ends
-characteristic wide entrance framed with fluted pilasters, sidelights and overarching elliptical fanlight
-sometimes pilasters across the facade
-rounded portico in high-style examples
-simpler entrances have shelf-like projecting cornice
-others have full entablature
-gentle pitched gable roof
-occasionally a Venetian window (a version of the Palladian)
-the arch appears (a Roman idea, right?) in bow windows, arcade motifs on facades
-lacey tracery bars in sidelights and transoms

fan motif in wood, pilasters and cornice - Bath
Well, that's a start. And a reminder to myself (and you if you care for it) that always, always there will be vernacular exceptions, blending with other style elements, Victorian updates and modern-day fixes, and other puzzlers. Just to keep us looking.Twice.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Happy 80th Birthday to ACO

Barnum House, Grafton, around which ACO was born
 The Architectural Conservancy of Ontario is a force for good. If you are visiting this site, you likely don't need to be reminded of that fact. But if you haven't popped by in a while, follow this link to see what battles they are currently fighting for heritage preservation.

Just about the biggest news at ACO these days has been the big birthday. This advocacy organization turned 80 in 2013. It's been eighty years since the ACO formed, around the urgent need to preserve for the future one of Ontario's finest neo-Classical structures, Barnum House in Grafton.
McIntosh-Ridley house (1817)
some sun and green leaves needed
So to celebrate that birthday, ACO decided to give us a present. In November 2012, in preparation for the anniversary, a book committee headed by Kayla Jonas Galvin put out a call for submissions, asking local ACO chapters to send in stories of buildings in their communities that are important to their organization. In doing so they salute the efforts of citizens committed to heritage preservation, who often find themselves at odds with developers and municipal politicians. The book is titled 80 for 80.

ACO Quinte's then-president (for life, as it likely seemed to David Bentley at that time) submitted the story of the McIntosh-Ridley home in Belleville.Like all of the 80 structures featured in this beautiful book, this early house was the almost-demolition around which our local ACO formed.

80 for 80  features (not surprisingly) eighty historically and architecturally significant houses, public buildings, bridges and commercial buildings and a few industrial installations and tells their story - and the story of the local groups which ensured their salvation. It is absolutely a must for old house nuts, and a great historical record (and a pretty good planning guide for visiting Ontario communities!) It's a mere $30.00 thanks to all the volunteer effort that went into its production. You can print out an order form at the very bottom of this item on the ACO website main page.

The book committee must have worked so hard. I noticed that most of the photos were taken by Ms. Galvin. And they're a classy bunch. I supplied the photo above, and tracked down an archival image .And for our relatively minuscule contributions, both David and I received credit. Light work indeed in comparison to the huge effort which produced this excellent book.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


 I had the nicest thing happen to me recently, culminating in the trip to Cobourg which I continue to recall with such fondness this week on the blog. Not long ago I received an email from a woman I met in April 2012 at an ACO meeting in Castleton. It was a special day indeed, for not only did I meet Judith, but I got to hear and meet that wonderful heritage architect/activist Peter John Stokes, and fall in love with that village.

Judith and I corresponded over architectural heritage by email a couple of times. Now that was a year and a half ago. A few weeks ago, I was delighted to receive an email from Judith, offering me a complete collection of Century Home magazines. That voice of Canadian domestic architectural heritage/ decorating/life was published from 1983 until it was morphed by new owners into a fluffy design magazine, and slowly died of boredom.
I picked up the six banker's boxes at the charming Victorian home of Patricia and Alistair in Cobourg. Just seeing those covers took me back. My dear little mom introduced me to Century Home, about the same time as she gave me The Settler's Dream as a Christmas gift on one of my rare trips home to Ontario. I cried all the way across PEC on our return trip to the airport, clutching the book, recognizing familiar homes whose story I could now read, knowing full well that I would see no red brick houses when we finally returned to south-central B.C.

Those were the days when mom was rehabilitating old pine furniture (I still have a jam cupboard she found in a basement) and learning chair caning and other lost arts at night school, all under the spell of Jean Minnhinnick, a South Bay girl like herself.

I subscribed for years, until the slick new format was introduced. Now I have all of these wonderful resources, thanks to Judith, and to editors like the Rumgays and Tom Cruickshank who will take me inside many homes I have long politely admired from the sidewalk or roadside.
'Say it with Stencils' - June-July 1988

And one other thing makes this so specially nice right now. I have been working on an article about local heritage home restoration champions John and Diane Brisley. They kindly loaned me copies of several CH issues where their projects were described. And now I have my own copies.

Another surprising find? Though she was too modest to say so, Diane wrote many articles for Century Home over the decades about stencilling, woodgraining and paint. One of her articles was in the first of my 'new' magazines that I picked up. Judith wished me happy looking "as that is what architecture and interiors are about."

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Delightful Ms. MacRae

As I have doubtless said too many times already, I am enjoying some winter downtime with my favourite books about the history of architecture. And with some books which are new to me so not, as of yet, my favourites. But they will be, in that way that 9-year olds can have ten best friends.

But this one is a true delight. Eccentric (I would LOVE to have known its author Marion MacRae). Ms. MacRae is opinionated, prickly, snooty, educated, cultured, observant, wise and enchanting....and knowledgeable enough about the influences that the centuries have brought to bear upon Ontario's architecture not to get all 'bird-bookish' about style names and elements.

That came later...did I say that this book was written in 1963? And tell you that the name is The Ancestral Roof? Indeed, quite right. The very title which brought this blog into being.

The delicious subtitle of the book reads "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."  Isn't that delightful? As are some of the chapter titles: 'Rule, Britannia', 'Potash and paterae', 'Ye distant spires, ye antique towers'. Ms. Macrae's credentials were impeccable as were, no doubt, were her manners. We lost her in 2008.

And Mr. Adamson is no slouch either. His drawings and the house plan evolution section at the end of the book are an invaluable resource. And his name pops up with regularity in the canon.

If  you have yet to enjoy this wonderful book, my favourite used bookseller Abebooks has 45 copies starting at $3.95 (plus shipping but we won't go into that.)

Greek to Me

106 Bagot Street

plywood replacing Murney house's 12x8 sash
 "You must see 106 Bagot Street", Katherine urged (via her book lying beside the takeaway bagel on my Honda's front seat). Above is a photo of the place (again from that Cobourg Public Library webcollection) taken in 1970. That magnificent and "just a tiny bit too big but you'll grow into it" Greek Revival doorcase would have caught my attention on a moonless night. The heavy cornice mouldings and eaves returns are delicious. The multipaned windows on the side wall would turn my head. But the concrete block chimney, the add-on sided sun-porch and the tired lawn don't do a thing for the c.1850's William Floyd House.

I might have begun to worry that this little red brick might slip further. Its gable-front, side door form made me think of the little c.1845 Murney house in Belleville (above) whose fate I have pondered on occasion.

But NO!

Here is the Bagot Street house today.
Painted (not my favourite brick treatment, but perfect for a house channelling Greek style.)

Beautifully detailed doorcase and window trims.
Prim black fence and gate, neat plantings.

The later Ontario farmhouse style addition is sweet.

Definitely worth a look. Or another.

Past Life Regression

same stop sign, same power lines
This is a 1960 photo of Dromore in Cobourg. It's from the amazing collection of 230 images of the city's historic architecture on the Cobourg Public Library's website.
Thought it might be interesting to see how the houses have fared over the years. This appears to be a classic fading Kodachrome of the era, which doesn't show this imposing house in the best light, but still...when I compare it with shots taken last week, I think the old place has had some sympathetic and aware owners.

The vergeboard, window and porch trims, hood mouldings and entry show more effectively with the current paint colours.
That slightly upturned roof is just as impressive, love how the owners have preserved the clustered chimneys.

On the other hand, looks like that imperious finial in the gable is squatter now.

This bit of house history  is from the library site: "In the 1840's Thomas Dumble and his son John Henry, surveyors, came to Canada to be part of a joint commission to settle the Maine-New Brunswick boundary dispute.Afterwards the family settled in Cobourg and in 1857 Thomas Dumble built this imposing house called 'Dromore.' The steep-pitched roofline, especially the mansard, is quite uncommon for the period. Of note are the roof brackets, with their stylish D - for Dumble."
nice early Gothic Revival bits

Beautiful fence, nice young trees, a special rock in the front garden all speak to somebody's good eye, and to the home's good luck with its people. Lucky us who get to appreciate its beauty, evident on even a dull, raw winter day.
Chatterton (1851) across the street
another Gothic Revival treasure

Monday, January 27, 2014

"A Select Society with Some Fine Houses"*

As the temperatures promised to be inhospitable during my visit to Cobourg last week, I decided to be strategic, and plan my walkabout through the heritage preservation district. Glad I did. Not just because in so doing I avoided hypothermia, but because in the process I discovered some amazing Cobourg resources.

Kudos to the ACO for the walking tour I downloaded, and to whoever added this helpful designated properties list to Googlemaps, and to Cobourg Public Library for the Cobourg and District images pages - hundreds of photos of important and interesting buildings from the 1960's and 70's- and some very old ones - all public domain!

I felt very welcome in Cobourg. And I will be back. I might wait for crocuses, or maybe even hyacinths. Or possibly lilacs. Peonies. These lovely houses will look even more beautiful with their flower beds filled.

*And thanks as always to Katherine Ashenburg for her fine walking tour guide Going to Town, which has been my constant companion on many a small-town wander and whose sampling of  Catherine Parr Traill's comment I have borrowed.

Entering Cobourg

I spent a delightful day in Cobourg a week ago - a warm welcome despite savage temperatures, and left with several stories to tell. As I browsed the photos I took with my frozen fingers and freezing camera, I found these lovely doors and decided to post them for your delight.

Each distinctive entry belongs to one of the town's significant buildings. Cobourgundians, can you identify them?


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Journeys with John - Georgian style

This winter I plan to take myself (and you, if you'd care to come along) on a tour through John Blumenson's Ontario Architecture. Along the way I will create for me (and for you unless you are one of the blog's visitors who already knows way more about this subject than I) a quick study guide to styles (as identified and described by the esteemed Mr. B.

So today I am immersing myself in the lovely, dignified if slightly dour Georgian houses I have visited in my travels. Caveat regarding the use of the term, understood.

I am poring through my photo files (particularly tedious as my laptop failed during the holidays (hey, we all need a break) so I am working on my husband's computer, selecting images one at a laborious time from our shared backup files, visiting spots Mr. B described in his book. A sort of virtual guided walk.

A literary friend hails from Mallorytown, where the house at top left can be found. The red brick house is a classic symmetrical Georgian, simple, five-bay front, with "large wall-end chimneys, steep gable roof and half-round fanlight over the door. p. 9 (incidentally, the house is much improved since Mr. B. took his photo, a good news story.)

The same symmetrical proportions, and handmade brick are evident in the war-weary McFarland House. This late c.18/very early c.19 house on the outskirts of Niagara-on-the-Lake survived the despicable burning of Newark by Americans during the War of 1812. 

The house is now a museum, and has a particularly nice tearoom with garden seating, where I enjoyed an afternoon with my friend Judy whom I lost years ago.

This upright Georgian style house is in old Portsmorth Village, absorbed by Kingston, but still distinct and very, very old. I wrote about this house , near Portsmouth back in 2010, when Blogger wasn't yet so generous with photo space.

This elegantly simple yellow frame house was built at Carrying Place in 1811 (the side wing even earlier). The porch, enclosed porch room above, and the centre gable were all later additions. I wrote about this Loyalist Georgian house back in 2010.
To make this page useful, as well as beautiful (I attribute that contribution to these self-assured early homes), here's a list of typical characteristics of 'Georgian' style domestic architecture according to Blumenson: 
-symmetry & harmony (cf. their multi-shaped Medieval predecessors)
-five-bay front, centre entrance or projecting frontispiece
-restrained Classical embellishment (roof and window cornices, moulded surrounds, small entrance portico)
-transom light as wide as the door, separate sidelights or sometimes a half-round fanlight over the door
-large end-wall chimneys
-relatively small windows for the size of the wall
-brick houses in Flemish bond with flat window heads
-12 over 12 sash windows, plain or louvred shutters
-early versions had very steep roof
-academic versions sometimes had Palladian window, pedimented portico with circular light and other refinements
-later, Neoclassical and Regency details were frequently added

Monday, January 13, 2014

Pastor Perfect

I noticed a very familiar spot in a real estate ad in County and Quinte Living magazine not long ago. The start it gave me was somewhat akin to the reaction at seeing my childhood home for sale in the previous issue, so familiar did it feel. But the Winter issue ad caught my attention because it was a place that I had long loved, and once visited.

And because part of what was on offer! An early c.19 yellow Colonial American style inn, which once stood along highway 2 east of Cobourg, was rescued by a dedicated family of passionate old house restorers, and resettled near Fish Lake in Prince Edward County.

And just next door, on the bucolic 12 acres, one's own church. Another saved building, a prim serene white frame neoclassical church. 

church...a short walking distance from your comfy home

Oh, and your across-the-road neighbours? That would be Diane and John Brisley, two of Prince Edward County's most dedicated and deservedly celebrated building preservationists and heritage activists. It is their church and yellow clapboard house which are on offer. Have a look at realtor Elizabeth Crombie's listing for more photos and details, to help you make up your mind to come buy.

From your window, across the road among the lilacs would be the oxblood red c.1818 DeMille house. The story of that worthy home's rescue has been told many times in Century Home magazine. A mini-version appeared on this blog in November 2011.

log cabin moved from Indian Point
Yesterday, the gracious Diane and John gave me muffins, tea, and 4 hours of their precious time, telling the story of their historic homes, one more time. The story will appear in the Spring issue of County and Quinte Magazine. The Brisley's look forward to dedicated new owners willing to take on the role of steward for the priceless legacy represented in these structures. They're not making any more of these.
the lovely log cabin cat - good luck to everyone!