Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Hold to Flush

506 Elgin
Merrickville has its share of uniquely constructed and clad buildings. Plank on plank,  log hidden under subsequent refinements still to explore.

But these two houses got my attention - for they are clad in flush-board -  wood siding applied flat, without any overlap. In some high-style buildings like Barnum House, flush-board attempts to simulate the smooth whiteness of marble.  506 and 306 Elgin Street were built by Samulel Langford, a gifted English mason identified with some of the town's finest stone houses. Turns out he was a dab hand at frame building as well.

This beautiful frame, with its lovely Gothic inspired barge-board and trims is gradually being restored. Patience my friends, you are doing important things here.

306 Elgin

The flush-board cladding of this second house, a block away, appears to be disappearing under vinyl siding? Now I'm not being judgemental - we too have stared into the eyes of the financial demands of an old house, and blinked - I just hate to see house history lost forever.

February 2015 update
Please read the comment just posted below. Not only have I been outed for my lack of research on this house which, in my defence, I wandered by on a day trip to Merrickville, but more importantly, the response contains a detailed description of the great pains being taken by conscientious owners to restore a worthy house. My apologies dear readers, and my congratulations. Perhaps next visit, I will knock on your door.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

It used to be my town too

 We walked the length of Merrickville last Friday - if enjoying every interesting house along the entirety of Mill/St.Lawrence Street is doing 'the length'.

We then returned via all the other streets, if that's not a geographical impossibility. The heat made it a challenge...but the hospitality at the delightful Dickens-themed Gad's Hill Place pub and restaurant had fortified us adequately.

William Mirick house (ca. 1821)
Our constant companion Katherine Ashenburg made the point that few Ontario towns are named after their founders (or few remained so, if they started out that way). That famous modesty of ours?

Merrickville, however, is an exception. There were Merricks. Although as of 1996, when Going to Town was published, Ms. Ashenburg regrets that there are no Merricks no more.

She also records that  two impressive Merrick houses, father William's and son Aaron's, are at the extreme opposite ends of the street we trudged. Which may imply lots, or nothing at all. There is certainly a difference in their style, and vintage .
Merrickville woolen mill ruins - the scenic
NHS Industrial Heritage Complex
 At the north end of town  facing the industrial complex and the river, its gable end wall to the road (and coyly distant from it) is the circa 1821 home of father William, said to be the third (as folks generally didn't start out grand). Although it's far distant from the road, and hard to see for all the exquisite trees, I detected the Georgian symmetry, multiple flue chimneys at each end, limestone.

 A second owner, industrialist William Pearson, appeared in 1869; he added the bargeboard and likely the verandah and carriage house.

William Mirick (1760-1841), UEL from Massachussets, arrived in the early 1790's, and established a mill on a spot along the Rideau which featured a handy fourteen foot drop.
river somewhat tamed by a flight of locks

Today, there is an interesting complex of early industrial buildings some still operating, and others artistically remembered in the fine National Historic Site ruins and find educational displays (more on this later, as the place was really a treat)

Sometime later,  the spelling of his name changed (one never knows if this was the owner's decision or the dodgy spelling of early registry office clerks).

Ashenburg tells a great story about local tensions around  intoxicating liquors. The village led the temperance march with conviction as early as 1830. William's sons must have irritated the righteous - Aaron and Terence are said to have built and operated this cozy little stone house at 106 Mill Street as an inn and tavern around 1830.

special seat in heaven for folks who preserve early chimneys

Ashenburg comments on 'the secretive look that comes from few and small windows and recessed door." With the wild profusion of old fashioned flowers, it looks to me a most inviting place indeed.

Aaron Merrick's house (1844 with later changes)
The plaque outside the eye-catching house at 905 St. Lawrence Street recounts that it was built in 1844 for Aaron Merick, who was elected first Reeve of the village in 1860.He sold the house in 1899 to William Postlethwaite, who sold it in 1922 to Harry Falconer McLean, head of Dominion Construction, builder of Abitibi Canyon Dam and Ontario Northland Railway among other megaprojects. A dynamo with an eccentric flair, he created a zoo on the property. He is also credited with the side porches, classical portico and dormers.  'Hilltop' was sold upon his death in 1961. We met an elderly gentleman in our wanderings who had stories of the day he was anxious to tell. Perhaps we should have listened.

Of more interest to lovers of  old houses however is the 'presence' this house exudes. The four French doors speak to its Regency taste (Ashenburg reports that there was a full verandah until the 1920's - wouldn't that have been lovely in this almost-country spot? She then remarks on the classical influences: symmetry, sharply pitched roof and its tall two and a half stories. Although tough to see from a distance, the stonework (attributed to Samuel Langford,  Merrickville's legendary builder) is of the finest quality.
a peek at the French doors
and the doorcase

Once question remains. Who can explain the giant portrait tulips lining the drive?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Old House Nuts

"early door-case with highish architrave"
'What are you doing?" politely inquired the cyclist meandering about an almost-in-the-country street at the edge of Merrickville. He had to circle a bit, as I too was meandering in the middle of the shady street, with my little camera, falling in love with this intersection of early houses.

Katherine Ashenburg compliments their "handsome simplicity" and notes "some stripped-down countrified Greek Revival touches; returning eaves, deep cornices and cornerboard like vestigial pilasters".

"finely moulded cornice
 I confessed to being an old house nut, gave the fellow my card, and invited him (and his University of Calgary art history student daughter of whom he is very proud) to visit 'ancestralroofs'.

Like us, my pleasant cyclist was camping, and enjoying that slower pace that tricks us into thinking we'll have time to follow through on all of our holiday inspirations.

I wonder if they will visit?

 I am delighted at the care that two of the owners have taken to restore the homes, retaining their heritage elements, and am hopeful for the third.

Notice that 305 is for sale?

My Spiritual Home - found it yesterday

Yesterday I was introduced to a home perfect in all ways - an early house, set in sloping lawns under the largest and most elegant black locust trees I've ever seen, with the water of the Bay of Quinte lapping at its feet, and one of the few unchanged sections of the original Danforth Road running outside the front door.
the view over the Reach
A history I walked along the shady gravel, with lush fence-lines on either side, the hair on the back of my neck stood up. Tingles. Old souls here.
a side entrance to the tall stone basement

 Although the house needs some work, a building inspection reportedly found the windows as square as the day they were installed.The doorcase, with its half-sidelights, suggests a very early house indeed.

somebody cared to rebuild good chimneys

 The friend who showed me the place says that it may be coming on the market soon. It will need that special buyer...and God forbid, not someone who will raze this piece of early Loyalist history (it is said to be the town lot selected by the surveyor who laid out the Loyalist lots pre-1784) to build a monster home.
black locust majesty

the Danforth Road at my doorstep

Could this be your home?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Industrial hind-sight

One of the strong messages I took away from our visits to Perth and to the early 1900's Silver Queen mica mine in Murphy's Point PP, is how lovely these industrial sites are today and what a contrast that offers to the reality of their industrial past. The mine, which was a dangerous and dirty open pit in the first decade of the 1900's, surrounded by mountains of broken rock and a landscape denuded of all trees is now upholstered with ferns and mosses, a young forest taking over the meadows around it.

interpretive signage at Silver Queen Mica mine

I was particularly struck by that then-and-now feeling as we strolled through the utterly lovely Stewart Park, catching glimpses of the Code Felt Mill (now home to a restaurant whose outdoor patio we enjoyed, and an interesting interior filled with shops we wisely avoided).

The mill was built in five stages, beginning in 1842. , I'm guessing it was once a good deal noisier, and dirtier and more dangerous that it looks today, reflected in the waters of the Tay River.

The open area which forms part of the park was once a drying field for the felt produced in the factory.

Kininvie - industrialist T.A.Code's 1906 home

the wing at left dates to 1842
 This lovely park was gifted to the city in 1947 by the widow of the Honourable John Alexander Stewart, lawyer and president of several local firms, Minister of Railways in the Meighen Cabinet. Along with the bequest was an endowment for its maintenance, and the condition that this lovely spot not be changed or used commercially.

There is a grand statue to Big Ben, that legendary world-champion show jumper and his rider Ian Millar in the park.

You look good in purple

purple stripes with matching awnings
I knew there was something unique about the stone walls in Perth. So accustomed to Kingston to Port Hope limestone am I that I had to approach and touch it before the truth dawned. Sandstone....of course. Lots of ancient river bottom in the area.

The Welcome to the Heritage Perth Walking Tour guide picked up from a friendly and helpful young woman at the visitor centre in the kitchen tail behind Matheson House (another story there) throws around new words like "white Bathurst sandstone", "mottled Otty Lake freestone" "twenty-four inch sandstone" "locally quarried Potsdam sandstone" "reddish sandstone."

Ashenburg adds "dark sandstone" "oatmeal coloured sandstone" and, best yet, "Hughes quarry purply stone'.  And there are purple stripes, as this closeup of the substantial block at 44 Gore Street East shows.
44 Gore Street

A quick search yielded this terrific Fossils and Geology of Lanark County blog which emystifies the unique purple-banded (narrow lines to 10" thick) sandstone, often called Perth stone, that is featured in a number of c.19 buildings, and building accents, in Perth, with a few examples in Arnprior and Almonte.

purplish voussoirs, lintels, string courses and quoins
 on industrialsit T.A. Code's home Kininvie (1906)

The purple hue is likely iron staining, according to blogger Christopher Brett.

Because the purple  stone was easy to cut, it formed readily into decorative trims. But this sandstone wasn't just a pretty face, it could punch with the big ones. A 1912 report describes some very large blocks obtained in uniform breaks, using hammers and wedges only. One giant was 30 feet x 2 feet x 18" in size, but the report goes on to say that most of the good stone was already removed by that date.
"amethyst-toned voussoirs and stringcourses" dignify
Code's Felt Mill (1902 wing)

and a purply sandstone foundation too, but who would notice?

Blogger Chris recounds a visit to the Hughes Quarry in recent years. Funny, as we drove back and forth from town, we passed Hughes Road. Wonder if that was the route to the quarry which produced this wonderful purple-hued town?

Hope to check it out one day.

Throwing down the gauntlet

We escaped to the natural wonders of Murphy's Point Provincial Park last week. Bliss (about which I will refrain from rapturing on, as you came for the old house stories).

When one lives in the country (if only temporarily) there always seems to be a need to go to town. When the closest towns are those architectural treasures of Perth and Merrickville, the need would be even more pressing - and the guidebook to pack along would have to be Katherine Ashenburg's Going to Town.

I love the profiles Katherine writes of the communities she features in the book. I think she outdid herself in her description of Perth, which was established as a military settlement along the Rideau corridor in 1816, at a time when cross-border tensions were palpable, and the establishment of a community of strong loyal subjects in the wilderness seemed prudent. Enter Scottish emigrants (whose masonry talents would soon be called upon for the Rideau Canal start-up in 1826) and discharged half-pay officers with their education, their experience of the wider world, their pretensions to culture and their "hyper-competitive circle, which numbered public insults, duelling threats, and horse-whipping as normal pastimes."

Ashenburg describes "the masculine, honour-obsessed ethos" of the place, which fuelled a Perth tragedy, Canada's last duel, between two law students, in 1833.
Summit House (1823)
She cites Larry Turner (Perth:Tradition & Style in Eastern Ontario, Natural Heritage 1992) on the social differences of the town's three senior lawyers - James Boulton, Thomas Radenhurst and Daniel McMartin - and the way it manifested in their three very different houses. Seems to me to be a pretty good profile of the town in the day.

"All three are still among Perth's most prominent houses, and their styles mirror their owners' values almost uncannily; the owners in their turn are a microcosm of Upper Canada's elites. Boulton, a scion of the Family Compact Boultons, built a simplified version of their Toronto house, the Grange, which is itself a simplified version of an English Georgian house - ordered, refined, aristocratic."
The Grange (1817) Toronto

Proud twenty-two year old James Boulton built the town's first brick house on its highest hill. Ashenburg describes it as a simpler version of his brother D'Arcy's Grange, in Toronto. Just a bit more down at the heels, in the above photo from

But Ashenburg argues for "the same symmetrical five-bay two storey structure, with tall first floor windows and shorter ones above." (Palladian tradition) She continues: "the fanlight hidden by the portico and the rounded light in the gable are other familiar neoclassical touches,but unlike the Grange's projecting frontispiece,the Summit's is flat." Brick houses were uncommon in the area; the selection of brick was an imported Toronto pretension.

Daniel McMartin house, NHS (1830)
When Boulton's law clerk killed another lawyer's clerk in a duel, he fell from favour, and left Perth. He left his house behind to tell the story of pride and honour.

Ashenburg continues with an account of Daniel McMartin "a pugnacious country boy [who] harked back to his Loyalist New York State origins with a Federal style mansion, the most complex and preening house of the three."  It's an astonishing house, out of place in a small Ontario town. Its accent is Yankee - its arcades, mixing of brick and local marble, the massive double chimney stacks, the lanterns flanking a cupola, its sheer ostentation...not a very Canadian house, really.

'Inge-Va' was built for an Anglican rector, then owned by the third of our trio of Upper Canada lawyers, Thomas Radenhurst. It's  refined one and a half-storey Georgian style stone house with an elegant elliptical fanlight over the equally elegant door-case, 12 x12 sash and a front gable with a round-headed casement, added after 1833. The interior features five Adam-style mantelpieces.
'Inge-Va' - the Harris/Radenhurst/Inderwick house (1823)

The name wasn't added until the time of the third owner, Ella Inderwick whose son Cyril was one of the founders of ACO; his widow donated the house to Ontario Heritage Foundation. It means "come here", in Tamil. Though my Tamil is rusty, I will for sure be accepting the invitation on my next visit to Perth.