Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Monday, May 19, 2014

Look up and enjoy life

I just searched for a quotation about looking up. And what I got was "look up and enjoy life." Lots of other appeals to look up and see the world around us. There's even a Facebook page called 'Lookupfromthephone'.

So. Look up. That pretty much sums up our Sunday afternoon, in company with some most congenial friends and members of ACO Quinte Branch, as we had a close look at Wellington, Prince Edward County, thanks to 'The Great Wellington Scavenger Hunt' created by members Evelyn and Doug.

As group member Marni put it "we need reminders to look up. We're so busy trudging along, watching the sidewalk, deep in thought, carrying our bundles." So, we all took a risk to be different, indeed likely a bit silly, as we trouped around the village in laughing groups, trading jibes with other members as we pretended to try to put them off the trail. Many of us had great chats with local folk who were delighted to find out what we were doing - and were most helpful with clues. Perhaps they were just relieved to find out we weren't casing the place.

On this delightful spring day, it was a treat to wander along Main, West, Maple, Noxon,Wharf and East streets, with determination*, looking for the real life version of architectural elements pictured in our guide.

(*my partner in life and old house searches proved to be most competitive)

 It was heartbreakingly joyful to see brilliant spring flowers at every turn, and to take a minute to ponder nature's wisdom in the different opening schedules observed by her trees and shrubs.
And at the end of the day - books. Past president and perennial hard worker David had provided a prize table loaded with books, so that we all got an award. Thanks to everyone who worked to make a very special day indeed.

ACO Quinte is well-known for their regular guided walks, and the ever popular scavenger hunts. Look them up :-) on Facebook. Better yet, find them at a meeting, and join!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Six degrees of many as that?

Picton's Crystal Palace (1887)
 In honour of the lovely virtual community that has grown up around this little blog - and to celebrate last week's milestone of 50,000 visits - I am thinking about connections between, synergy, coincidence and just delightful discovery - among those who love old houses

Since I first met Dave Bull at The Frontenac Heritage Foundation display at a heritage event in Kingston, membership in the group, and their informative publication Foundations, have been a source of connections, and delightful visits to places like Ham House in Bath.

The Old Boys' Gatehouse (1920)
Not surprisingly, the arrival of the April 2014 issue included several nice connections (as well as a reminder that my membership renewal is due.) The first was Anne MacDermaid's article 'A Fall Fair in 1860' mentioning Kingston's Crystal Palace. Kingston's Palace stood "where present-day Bath Road and Palace Roads meet" - wow, invitation to time travel on my next trip to K'ton.

That article of course led me to think about Picton's Crystal Palace (which has the virtue of being still in existence, miraculously saved from its decline in the 1980's and designated in 1988). Homage to London's Great Exhibition hall designed in 1851, Crystal Palace exhibition halls proliferated, and were the focus of agricultural fall fairs throughout the Dominion. Picton's still is.

I have fond memories of The Old Boy's Gatehouse, a Tudor Revival portal where we waited while dad paid admission to the untold excitements of Picton Fairgrounds each September.

Glanmore NHS
The second name that caught my eye in Ms. MacDermaid's 'Foundations' item was William Sawyer, a Kingston-based portrait artist. At the 1860 Fall Fair, she reports, Mr. Sawyer's portraits, still lifes and landscapes highlighted the fine arts display. William Sawyer was an itinerant portrait painter based in Montreal, who made his way to Belleville. My favourite Second Empire house, Glanmore National Historic Site, has a fine collection of local folk painted by William Sawyer.
image courtesy Frontenac Heritage Foundation

Then there was the Floyd Patterson article about Mark and Marny Raymond's ambitious relocation to Amherst Island, and restoration of the Mallory log house, an exceptional two-storey log structure closely associated with the founders of the village of Mallorytown. I recall my first Mallorytown visit, and celebratory post after the discovery of David J. Wells' fine local history. My CQL editor Catherine Stutt has Mallorytown roots. Another log-building link is a recent conversation (and future article) with Alex Fida, proprietor of Angeline's Inn and Restaurant in Bloomfield, and his 2 log house rescue projects.

Regency rebuild nearing completion winter 2011
And more. There's the announcement of the June 7th 200th anniversary celebrations in Barriefield, a delightful lilac and limestone hamlet on a rise above Kingston. I recall dropping by a beautifully restored workman's cottage there, to pick up an architectural element of some kind ("since I was in the area") for my friend Shannon Kyles, whose Prince Edward County Regency cottage rebuild made lots of print, including my own County and Quinte Living homage in the Summer 2012 issue. Now the house is run as a self-catering inn, The Gryphon.

I could go on about the connections this issue of 'Foundations' made for me. There's another article by Floyd Patterson about hopes for a Heritage Conservation District designation for Old Sydenham Ward. Rightly so. I am looking forward to ACO Quinte's walking tour of Earl Street in July (pay them a visit on Facebook). I'm planning a photo trip along Earl Street very soon.

Planned summer 'island hopping' road trips include Wolfe Island (where our Quinte ACO branch ventured last fall) and Amherst Island (to catch up a recent  FHF tour).

So, connections? Want some? Go to the Frontenac Heritage Foundation website, join, and make a few of your own.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Arrangement

'The Arrangement' is a long novel and a film by Elia Kazan. Both try to capture a complex and dramatic stress-filled life among the rich and famous...I had to look that up. However, "the arrangement" as my travelling companion and I live it out is this. Simple.

 I travel with him regularly to Toronto on business trips, because he likes my company, and navigational skills. While he talks to customers and fellow enthusiasts (sometimes for a very long time indeed) I read.

One day last week I got through an entire book about Victorian furniture built by Jacques and Hay, c19th century manufacturers in Toronto. I may have finally got clear in my head the distinguishing characteristics of the revivals of Gothic, Renaissance and Rococo styles as they pertain to chairs, settees, and case furniture. Spoiler in the works. Book on order.

Afterwards, LOML repays my patience by taking me on a tour of a heritage district, or on a quest to find a worthy structure I've read about. Sometimes he takes over a walking/driving tour guide himself and with military precision, locates each address with pointer-like focus, and gives me time to commune and take photos. Did I mention without complaint? With his characteristic patience and equanimity? Qualities which served him well as we navigated tiny old Kitchener down-town during rush hour, to find this treasure I'd long hoped to visit.

Joseph Schneider Haus. The home is a plain yet imposing c.1816 timber frame two-storey vernacular Georgian clapboard (originally roughcast) home, with the characteristic austerity of the Pennsylvania German Mennonite folk who built here. This forthright simple style persisted among Mennonite builders into the mid c.19 when many of our ancestors were moving into Neoclassical adornment or more picturesque Regency and Gothic Revival self- expression. Indeed, on the roads north of Belleville even today, new homes housing newly arriving Mennonite neighbours are built in the same unpretentious way.

The house features a plain doorway with simple transom, relatively small 12x12 sash windows, large gable-end chimneys, and verandahs with plain square posts. Front windows don't line up. Entry through the side kitchen door. No adornment.
I am taken with the tiny second floor and attic windows - not a lot of time for sitting and gazing out, I'm supposing.

I found the answer to the asymmetrical front in Robert Mikel's Ontario House Styles. Although the Mennonites followed the Georgian form, they declined British pretensions implicit in the strict symmetry of the British Georgian form. Too showy? Now there aren't many folks beside the Mennonites who might think Georgian style flashy and vain.

I found this 1983 paper online, written by Nancy-Lou Patterson and Nancy Burke, who were involved in the restoration project. Among other details, I was fascinated to learn that the house was restored under the direction of John L. Rempel, author of a favourite resource book Building with Wood. He comments on unusual features of the framing which could be summed up in the word solid.

A living history museum since 1981, Joseph Schneider Haus features a full season of activities to help city folks understand the early lives that were lived on this land - sheep to shawl events at the wash-house, quilting, baking at the bakehouse.

Today a beautiful park system and a must-see Victorian neighbourhood designated as a 'conservation district' occupy the 448 acres of Joseph Schneider's original 1807 farm, and a paved pathway meanders to the romantic landscape of Victoria Park and its lake along the path of the original Schneider Creek, which once powered Joseph Schneider's sawmill. The farm became the nucleus around which Kitchener grew.

The museum is also home to the prestigious Canadian Harvest Collection of German Canadian folk art and probably the most extensive collection of pre-1850 Waterloo county antiques. After some time with Howard Pain (another road trip read) , I am ready to see some dish-dressers, peg-topped tables, high-post beds and rocking chairs - and red ochre walls, yellow ochre floors and Prussion blue person.

Definitely, a return trip is in our future. On a warm leafy flower-scented day. During opening hours. My travelling companion's business meetings will need to begin and end earlier on that day.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

It takes a hamlet...

Community history is alive and well in the hamlet of Hilton, Brighton Township, Northumberland County. On April 6th I had the great privilege of sitting in on the inaugural meeting of The Friends of Hilton Hall. This group of community history-minded folks, a sub-committee of the Brighton Heritage Advisory Committee, have set a goal of transforming the former community hall, a beautifully crafted rubble ashlar structure into the Hilton Hall Heritage Centre. Rubble ashlar, I have learned, is granite fieldstones, carefully selected, cut and dressed to a uniform size with flat surfaces to achieve thin uniform mortar joints (thanks Dave).
historian Dan Buchanan (photo courtesy C.Stutt)

photo courtesy Catherine Stutt

Positions on the board have been filled by the usual suspects: The group's chair is Dan Buchanan, known for his genealogy and history website, and countless presentations. Dan is a prime mover in the popular Brighton History Open Houses, along with Dot Connolly and Susan Brose, author of the fine book The History of Brighton Businesses. My friend Florence Chatten, writer of several local history books, most recently the engaging Brighton Township has found the role of Community Advisor to be a good fit. I shared some of this delightful historian's history in the winter  issue of County and Quinte Living. And there are two positions still open for community-minded volunteers.
Dave Cutler, Heritage Advisory Committee (C.Stutt photo)

So it would seem that Hilton Hall (1861) is in good hands. I've uncovered coverage by the worthy local paper Northumberland News dating back to 2009 when a grant was applied for to do some restoration. Looks from the crisp shingles and neat soffits that the work was done.

There is much in the future for stories of the past. Dan is safeguarding the 1859 indenture document for the purchase of the property from Robert Rogers in 1859, against the day when a community archives can receive it. A digital archives project is planned; local folks with documents and photographs pertaining to the township's past will be invited to bring them in for scanning and sharing.

at one time the Brighton-Seymour gravel road
passed by right outside the hall
new windows
This is just one of the projects taking shape in the fledgling Hilton Hall Heritage Centre. A brainstorming session yielded an exciting list, from commemorating the events of 1914, to Christmas and children's programming, music events, participation in Doors Open on June 7 and 8 (with perhaps a mock council meeting to remind the little stone hall of its roots.) There will be fund-raising for repairs, and a growing network of supporters (I am charter member #5) and willing workers.

I forget if it was David or Dan ( it could easily have been either of these men devoted to local history and community) who said that people move into an area for a sense of community. And community doesn't come from folksy neo-Gothic farmhouse styled subdivisions with front porches. It comes from knowing our shared history - and it lives not just with folks who have several generations in a place, but with newer people also, who replace curiosity with knowledge with dedication and affiliation and love.

Hilton Hall was built in 1861 by local stonemason Joseph Adams. The hall was designated under the Ontario Heritage Act in 1990, and restored in 2010, after several years of neglect.

And in April 2014, it looks like Hilton, and Hilton Hall, and their shared history, are in good hands.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Where'd you Park?

Last Sunday I revisited Sophiasburgh, joining a group of lovely folks who'd been invited to tour some most worthy homes in the area. (more on that later.)

I had a bit of time to spare, so I tootled along Fish Lake road, looking for this well-maintained country church standing at a crossroads which once anchored the community of Bethesda. I recalled from an earlier visit the offset side tower with the bellcast roof and iron cresting, giving the place a decided dignity.

The Bethesda Church (1900) also features round-headed windows, a slightly less common version than the standard pointy-arch Gothic form. With tiny coloured panes following the sides and curve of the window. And two round-headed doorways.

But what endeared me to the place was the plain post and beam shed sheltering the yard to the right of the church. It had clearly caught the eye of the local heritage committee, for the church and the L-shaped post and beam drive shed were designated by Prince Edward County in 1999, commemorating "the only remaining original grouping of such buildings."

 Rural churches, like village halls, conjure farm families getting the Sunday chores done, dressing in their humble best, and turning out in wind, rain, snow and blistering sun and heat (for one didn't miss church), to be trotted to church by Bessie, or Pearl or old Joe, who had to be harnessed for the occasion, by the eldest lad.

 This old black and white photo of my dad as a young man comfortable behind a team of farm horses, gets me in touch with all that.

These sunny shots were taken along the Frankford-Campbellford road last September. (I realize as I post this spring that all of my photos are being taken on dull rainy days, it's that kind of year! Old buildings need sun and shadow!)


I interviewed two folks whose hearts resided on this stone mill farm called Fogorig, for the Winter 2013 issue of County and Quinte Living magazine. One of the many interesting features of the complex was a long low open shed housing some old farm implements. The owner identified it as part of the drive shed from Burnbrae church nearby, continuing  to be useful long after the congregation had no  further need of shelter for the team that had taken them to church.

In the stone mill on the property was a buckboard, which serves to remind us that in those forgotten horse-powered days, there were more steps to getting ready for church than just finding the car keys.    
St. Andrew's Presbyterian "Burnbrae"