Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Stone Diaries - Princess on Princess

I've been watching this fine Kingston limestone house for some time. It sits along busy commercial Princess Street West in Kingston, near perennial favourite Aunt Lucy's Restaurant, famous when I was a kid in high school.

This little stone house goes back well further than that, and I had been worrying that its apparent neglected state, and its placement offset from the line of commercial buildings on the strip, might leave it vulnerable to demolition.
Just recently, I read the next chapter in the house's history. I caught up to it in the proceedings of the 2014 Heritage Conservation Awards from the Frontenac Heritage Foundation.

It's always gratifying to read the accounts of heritage heroes and their victories. This time was especially pleasing as not only did I find out the story of the little stone house, but I was able to applaud (vicariously) new owners Steve and Kathy Southmayd, who have already had the shake roof replaced in fine style, and are beginning a lengthy process of conservation and renovation.

From the awards program I learned that this symmetrical one and half storey stone house is the McMichael Farmhouse, built between 1827 and 1830 (the dormers are later). The  stonework is  lovely, described in the program as "rectangular blocks of hammer-dressed limestone laid in uneven courses". Inside the centre-hall form are original wood mouldings, maple floors, a central staircase. The couple have replaced plaster walls, and built a new kitchen and bathroom - indications that they are staying around to protect this lovely home for years to come.

Next time I'm in town, I will get a photo of the lovely new roof keeping this wonderful heritage home safe from the weather. For now, have a look in the Awards booklet online. And celebrate.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Grand Durand

Absolute best way to spend a sunny October afternoon?
Wander Hamilton's south Duran neighbourhood - with a camera.

Guaranteed you'll see a few Porsches, Mercs and Beemers.
Almost certain the only folks you'll speak to will be staff and workmen. Had a lovely chat with a woman waiting to be buzzed through the gate to "sit with a lady."

But who notices, because (thanks to Hamilton friends Shannon and Sabine) I have now begun a bit more informed walkabout of Hamilton neighbourhoods - beginning (socio-economically speaking) very close, if not at, The Top.
for sale on KiJiJi I kid you not 

The walking tour map I found online directed me to 10 architecturally significant homes from the late c.1800's and early 1900's. I made a unilateral decision to deem a great many more significant, by a quick check of my heartbeat. Oh, and did I mention the castle?

I don't know their stories. Yet. I plan to research them all more carefully soon. I will begin at Historical Hamilton. It was Ken Coit of ACO Hamilton, who provided me with my wee map, and the title for this post, in his informative introduction to the South Durand neighbourhood on that site.

Granted they are excessive in many ways - way different from the serene purity of the early houses I am most drawn to. But these owners had statements to make - about their wealth, their prestige and their place in society. Their taste, in most cases. And they made it.

In all styles. Period Revival (lots of Tudors, for another post), Gothic Revival, Classical Revival and that more-is-more Victorian eclecticism we all love.

Something else I was entranced by - the landscape, the trees, the foot of the Escarpment hilly terrain, all that nature and all that.... space.

Did I mention that Hamilton is my new favourite city?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ancaster - an officer and a gentleman

May I come in?

In early September, we spent a delightful afternoon wandering Wilson Street in Ancaster. When our feet told us it was time to get back into the car, we headed out to look for good old houses along Sulphur Springs Road and down through the delicious depths of the Dundas Valley.

I  wanted to suss out some of the rural homes mentioned in The Governor's Road, that wonderful social, family, architectural history written by Mary Byers and Margaret McBurney (University of Toronto Press 1982). Sulphur Springs Road. Mineral Springs Road. The deep woods and twisty bits through the Dundas Valley. The houses along Concessions 2, 3 and 4 (another trip, a better map). There the proliferation of monster homes and businesslike pushy traffic along scenic narrow winding roads made even the spotting, much less the careful appreciation of significant older homes, difficult and dangerous.

 So later I travelled the slightly safer electronic highway, The Governor's Road in hand. A bit of online searching turned up a couple of stories about Book House, (p. 160 Byers and McBurney) lost by fire in 2005, then being considered for a move in a later story. Huh? I really must get over there.

The 1835 Philip Shaver House (p.163 B&Mc) is now a posh restaurant. Better news here. Woodend, the stone 1862 Gothic Revival John Heslop house on Mineral Springs Road  appears in Historical Hamilton, a handy online documenting of Hamilton's architectural history. Love these guys. Woodend in also the home of the Hamilton Regional Conservation Authority. Good match. It also has its own ghost walk, another money-spinner.

Another place with a ghost walk is The Hermitage. From what I can glean online, the ruins of the Hermitage (1859, burned 1934) may not be as they seem on page 156. This 2013 Hamilton News article suggests that the ruins may have been further ruined. Safety issues - a nod to the lawyers no doubt.

Springfield, renamed Brockton,(page 154) built by Henry Papps in 1851, doesn't appear
anywhere in a google search. How can that be?

Finally on page 155 Byers and her colleague tell the story of Fairview (1859), the picturesque Victorian home of the beloved Dr. Henry Orton and his wife, built of local stone, and no stranger to tragedy.
I realize I sound a bit whiney and grumpy. Thwarted and sulky. Although how could anyone who has just found a resource like Architectural Styles of Stone Buildings of Ancaster complain? Now really?

Let me close with the nicest thing that happened to me in Ancaster. Denis had stopped the car on a tiny scrap of pavement off the line of traffic at the beginning of Sulphur Springs Road. I wanted to photograph a lovely stone Regency cottage I'd spied among the trees. I took a shot, then was drawn away to another interesting structure in the trees across the road. When I returned, the owner of the cottage had come out to make sure Denis was okay, and upon hearing his explanation for our hovering, invited me in to tour the gracious home. The home reminded me (not surprisingly) of The Grove, William Gott's fine Regency cottage, whose interiors appear on Shannon Kyles Regency Rebuild site (scroll down). This lovely stone house is said to have been built some time after 1846, and named Milneholm. Byers and McBurney conclude:"given the propensity of military families to build in the Regency style, it is likely that Alexander (Stover Milne) was the man responsible for Milneholm. His father, and officer and a gentleman would have approved." Appears that Milneholm continues the tradition of gentleman owners, even today.

The "too bad about the windows" chronicles Part I

by some reports, the oldest frame house in Hastings Co.
One of my very favourite ways to spend a day is road tripping or walking tours, shooting old buildings. The only possible improvement on that kind of day is to join with like-minded enthusiasts who think nothing of walking down the centre of a street, snapping to right and left, raving about brackets and pediments and oblivious to folks peeking apprehensively from windows and porches.

And that abandon can only be topped by the presence in that merry band, of folks whose encylopedic knowledge of the field means that I get all my questions answered! Brilliant. Festival for the Curious.

Yesterday was that kind of day. Despite a bit of drizzle that asserted itself whenever we walked outdoors, it was a delight to explore built heritage from Shannonville to Bath and points in between with my architecture history prof Shannon and her colleague Sabine, who just happens to be a classical art and architecture scholar.
Frontenac County Court House - intimidating since 1858

We started the day with what Bill Hunt on one of his bus tours described as the oldest frame house in Hastings County. It is truly lovely, despite its appalling condition - check out the windows, doorcase, fine clapboard, the moulded roof cornice and eaves returns. Shannon suggested it was the first time she had seen insulbrick siding as a structural element - looked to be holding the dear old place up.

On to Deseronto and a visit to the picturesque historical stone church Her Majesty's Chapel Royal of the Mohawks (1843) - but no tea at the famous O'Conner House because those good folk need a day to clean. Then to Napanee and its impressive Greek Revival town hall, to lovely Macpherson House (1826), and to Frontenac County Courthouse where the weary bailiff, immune to our enthusiasms, had to herd us out of the courtroom so he could lock up.

Sabine parked on the sidewalk, so pressing was the need to check out the 1872 East Ward Public school turned Gibbard warehouse turned entrepreneurship centre - with its curvy tower roofline recalling St. Martin in the Fields, sans clocks.

Couldn't miss the Regency cottage in Odessa, where my intrepid companions failed to gain entry but did get that Regency feeling with the views from that perfect wrap-around verandah.

Later, while Shannon dealt with the beekeeper on the phone, Sabine and I roughed out our plans for a perfect event venue at the Babcock Mill along the lovely river.

A recurring theme during our explorations was "too bad about the windows." Shannon is a vocal advocate for rebuilding old windows rather than replacing them with vinyl versions, which instantly destroy the character of an old building. And she can prove the cost effectiveness and energy efficiency of that decision. Just ask her!

Bath's delicious Layer Cake Church is ailing

We had a lovely chat with the owner of the tiny perfect 1819 Peter Davy house. Shannon couldn't restrain herself from knocking on the door to enquire after the health and safety of its wonderful sash windows (they're in wise hands) so we had a chat with the owner, who is chair of the municipal heritage committee about saving/marketing heritage - and why that is such a hard sell.

Peter Davy house (1819) these windows are beautiful - and safe
Sadly, we learned that the gorgeous Carpenter Gothic Layer Cake Hall which I've visited many times is suffering from structural problems and needs help.

W.H.Davy Store c.1817 - modern replacement windows

paint needed at the 1849 Bath United Church
interesting double house - modern sash

James Harris house c. 1844 - a lovely sensitive restoration

 The perfect ending to the day was finding Bonnie Crook and Ron Tasker at home and at work on their astoundingly thorough restoration of the 1816 Ham House. I began worrying about that house here in 2010, and rejoicing about it after tours in 2012  and 2013 showed this important piece of our history slowing coming alive again under careful knowledgeable owners. Yesterday the couple (and Eric the delightful resident basement archaeologist) described the last big jobs pending before finishes go on inside and out.

Needless to say, Shannon's experience with her own old house rebuild guaranteed a kinship.

 I for one plan to be there to lift a glass at the opening celebrations of the pub that Ron and Bonnie plan to open in the next year or so.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Day Tripper - Proctor House

This past summer I promised myself that no matter how busy I got (too busy) I would take myself on a visit to a few of the area's heritage homes open to the public.

 Now I have visited these spots on many occasions, always admiring their setting, their gardens, their architectural uniqueness. But most of these heritage houses are run by volunteers (or summer students if they are very fortunate) and as a result, they tend to be open only during July and August.

In late August I combined a trip to Brighton for two errands, and a cuppa with a dear friend, with a visit to this stately home overlooking Brighton Bay.

all mod cons

Proctor House was built in 1853 by Isaac Chamberlain Proctor (the austere back wing) and expanded under the Italianate influence by J.E.Proctor in 1869. Proctor was a successful entrepreneur whose enterprises including shipping, milling, and local politics. The belvedere enabled him to check on activity at his wharf on the shore.

Proctor House is built in several stages, which makes it a wonderful educational resource, blessed as it is with a great collection of artifacts donated by the people of the community, and portraying life across the years of the Victorian era. On the day of my visit,
Emma and Janet were my welcoming and informative guides.

the stairs to the rooftop belvedere
the view toward the harbour

and on down to the foyer
down to the bedroom level

the two-storey privy - don't ask
The house was slated for demolition in the early 1970's, but a determined group of citizens for the Save our Heritage organization, and the house was rescued, restored, equipped and opened to the public in 1976. My hat is off to these amazing visionary volunteers.

The Barn Theatre stages performances and plays