Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Man Outstanding in his Field

shame about the Armco - road-widening 
Growing up among houses of white-painted frame, soft handmade brick and warm grey
limestone  - with the odd outcrop of cobblestone in Hastings County -  has led me to a fascination with a type of stone building not seen in Prince Edward County and other eastern Ontario locations. Recent conversations and research about threatened houses in the Whitevale area, have prompted me to find out more about fieldstone houses. I love the mottled appearance of muted jewel tones of granite, and am in awe of the extraordinary work and workmanship involved with splitting the irregularly shaped rocks to create uniform blocks for coursed stonework.

random rubble on sides, coursed dressed stonework on facade
It's a puzzle how little information I have been able to find. My best source was my go-to book for wood construction (go figure) John Rempel's Building with Wood (UofT, 1980). He adds a chapter on 'Non-wood Construction' which contains some gorgeous photos of fieldstone houses. One in particular, on page 273 ("turn to the chapter in your textbooks") shows an exquisite doorcase (drool) in a house front of coursed stonework, near Mosport. Wonder if it might still be standing?

A website on drystone wall building gave me the only glimpse into the preparation of stones (because it's got to be really hard work, right?) "Use a wax pencil to mark the sections of the stone you want to remove. To make cuts you'll need a three-inch carbide chisel, a three-pound hand sledge, and safety glasses." And time. Strength. Endurance.

south of Myrtle 
One of the fascinating features of Ontario fieldstone houses is their distribution. I'll let John Rempel explain. "In Ontario three kinds of stonework are to be found: the grey limestone in a belt running diagonally across the southern part of the province from Kingston through Guelph; the random fieldstone rubble with flush joints typical of the Pennsylvania-Germans in Waterloo County; the split and sometimes coursed fieldstone of the Scottish variety found in areas other than the limestone belt. These divisions are never clear-cut, of course, and there is considerable overlapping at the borders." (page 270.)

To understand this distribution I had to approach one of my other passions, geology. Our relationship is less than fulfilling as I haven't devoted the time needed, despite having collected some fascinating books. One of my favourites is Canada Rocks.

photo courtesy Steve Redman
An on-line paper by Gerard V. Middleton, retired professor of geology at McMaster, helped somewhat. I found it on the Hamilton based site Raise the Hammer, a great site for dozens of topics related to that vibrant city. Middleton explains that fieldstone "was collected from fields or streams, rather than quarried from bedrock outcrops." I've written often about cobblestone houses, the palm-sized stones painstakingly collected for the day when a house could be built.

The building supply stores left by the great glaciers' debris fields included stones of various origins (light Canadian Shield "granite" and dark amphibolite for example - think pink, grey, black.) This wealth was available only in certain areas - scraped too clean and the bedrock was exposed (revealing stone for quarrying - think limestone, sandstone.) Patterns of moraine distribution might result in overburden with a dearth of suitable large stones. I am guessing that the pocket of fieldstone houses in Whitevale and areas around Toronto is linked to the Oak Ridges moraine.

Regrettably I have few photos. The photos of threatened fieldstone houses in Whitevale are courtesy Steve Redman of ACO Collingwood. I wrote about them recently.

I came across a few others in my quest; I'll pause a moment while you run to your library shelf.

Old Ontario Houses by Cruickshank & DeVisser (Firefly Books, 2000) shows the Reid House near Embro (page 147.) The photo captures the richness of colour and texture, and highlights the patterned effect resulting from small fill-in stones called 'closers.' Mary Byers and Margaret McBurney et al tell the story of a number of fieldstone houses in Rural Roots (UofT, 1976) featuring pre-confederation buildings of the York Region (Markham, Pickering, King townships ) and Governor's Road (1982) featuring early homes from Mississauga to London.

Early field-stone houses are definitely making headlines. Here are a few.

 This link to a Durham region newspaper highlights the Walter Percy House (c.1875) which as of press time in June 2014 was being saved from the forces at work in Seaton township. One of the photos shows the closers.

Here's a rubblestone Pickering Farmhouse which has made it to National Historic Site designation. I hope it will survive the current GTA trend of tearing down historic communities to build new developer-designed ones.

Richardson-Will House, Pickering
This link to the Pickering Municipal Heritage Register lists an astonishing number of designated or properties 'of interest'  in the area east of Toronto.Two years ago I found this story about a number of Pickering area homes being offered for free. One of them was the Richardson-Will house. I have no idea where I captured this photo (if it's yours let me know.)

One final note. Who built these fieldstone houses? The top 3 photos of a lovely home south of Myrtle, offer one possibility. When Denis stopped to let me grab a photo, I made contact with the owner and we had a great chat. He pointed out the heritage plaque, and suggested that the stone came from Scotland as ballast in cargo ships returning empty. I've heard these ballast stories before. Thomas McIlwraith (Looking for Old Ontario, UofT 1997) mentions roofing slates from Wales travelling as ballast in ships returning empty to Ontario.
More likely, after absorbing as much geology as possible for one day, I come to the conclusion that German and Scottish stone builders, with their different masonry techniques, looked about them at the farms' annual crop of rocks, and rolled up their sleeves. Gerard Middleton provides an answer to why the techniques differed: different traditions. "The Scottish were skilled in cutting stone, even the hardest granites; while Germans preferred to work with wood (think Joseph Schneider House) and had an ancient tradition of using fieldstone in its natural shapes."

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Redner's ville

Methodist Manse 1861
A few years ago, I maintained a blog named In Search of Al Purdy. On behalf of the Al Purdy A-frame Association, I was compiling a list of all the local place names found in Purdy's work, with the goal of  someday developing a literary tour of the area. Although the blog is long dormant, I want to link you with this post about Rednersville; Al's poetry and its power to evoke the historical village remain.

If you've followed the link, that's really all I have to say.But then...

 I was in Rednersville a week ago, interviewing a most interesting couple who have recreated one of the village's most historic stone homes. While I was there, I wandered around the village, and took a few photos to refresh my memory. The Settler's Dream features a great account of the village history, and describes a number of the significant homes. Thought I'd share a bit.
Darling is not a word I use often, but the tiny brick  former Methodist Manse qualifies. According to Stokes et al, it was built in 1861. A view from the kitchen tail, past the owner's orchids and down the slope to the bayshore, takes the fortunate visitor back to the 'Barley Days' of the 1880s, when wagonloads of grain lined the roads, awaiting offloading at the flourishing Redner wharves. The little stucco over stone next door, with its fine doorcase...ditto. Darling. The yellow house has had work done, but still has dignity. I wonder if it might be the early frame store in the B.Napier Simpson photo in The Settler's Dream. The low pitch of the roof looks similar; shame the astonishing 15x15 sash shop windows are long gone.

I like the neighbouring gable front house with the flanking single storey wings suggesting temple form. Its best features are the heavy Greek Revival mouldings around the windows, along the cornice and the eaves returns are the best feature. Gable end forward, in the Greek revival manner. Nice the way the grey-clad walls work with the white mouldings.

This crisply clad board and batten house is a delight for the colour scheme; its owners have created a sweet country cottage. I suspect it's an early house also. Sweet and simple.

utterly charming group mailboxes

Not surprisingly, with a name like Rednersville, the village has some passing acquaintance with the pioneer UEL Redner family. They were "the guiding entrepreneurial force that determined the growth of the village" according to Stokes and Cruikshank (The Settler's Dream 1984.) By the 1870s the self-sufficient village had peaked at 200 souls.

This wonderfully evocative stone country store sits on a lot sold to James Redner in 1851. For years it was called "the oldest general store in Ontario." Sadly, this village landmark is now closed. But the verandah still looks like the perfect spot for an ice-cream.

Around 1865 the stone facade was damaged in a fire, and replaced with brick, and those lovely arched windows. It's waiting for its renaissance.

This exquisite stone house was built by James Redner, wharfinger, farmer, merchant, grain dealer, around 1830. Elegant details like the casement windows and the chinoiserie glazing in the fine doorcase set it apart. It is set on a rise overlooking the shore where Redner's fortunes were made.
The rural Gothic low-pitched roofed Methodist church (1849) is said to be built of limestone pulled from the escarpment across the road. I wrote about the building, now home to an artist/impresario, in a past issue of County and Quinte Living.

Full Circle

(First posted April 2011, reposting with additional photos - thanks Blogger)

At right is a photo of my dear Den musing about what a pleasant change this vista is from the
miles upon countless miles of newly built subdivisions of no particular pedigree that we have just winced our way past on our trip from Kleinburg to Markham.

 Oh, and let's pause for a moment to think about the good Ontario farmland that's just been paved over ("if you ate today...)

James Thomas House c.1856
What LOML is looking at is a small corner of Markham's 42-lot heritage subdivision Markham Heritage Estates. Despite being an 'artificial' construct, it has such an aura of authenticity with its houses of beautiful design, fine workmanship - and history.

 This place has soul in the midst of soul-less urban sprawl. That's due in large part to the ages of the buildings - from 1820's to 1870's. Something like that cannot be replicated, only preserved.
 Markam Heritage Estates was established in 1989 by Markham city council as an emergency measure to deal with the loss of built heritage in the conflict between development pressure and heritage conservation. The development is unique in Canada, according to some sources, and I have found few examples anywhere, in my research to date. It 'rescues' dwellings in the path of developments like the 407, where retention on site isn't feasible. Only one building on site was extant - the original farmhouse. All of the other houses, some in pitiful condition, were moved here and renovated; Markham retains control over the types of landscaping and exterior features.

Markham has a good heritage preservation record, including many examples of on-site preservation of historic buildings within encircling subdivisions (again, not ideal, but it would take some kind of superhero to stop development around here.) And Markham downtown, though struggling, is putting up some heritage wannabe designs for new commercial buildings.

The parkette Den is standing in is in the David Gohn Circle, one of the streets in the small subdivision. Sure, it feels a bit like a house sanctuary, a touch Disney artificial. Reading a plaque about the stories of each of the houses is a very nice feature, but a tad Upper Canada Village. But the people were real - I spoke to a fresh faced adolescent skateboarder who bragged about the street hockey games, the safety for the little kids, and the awesome skating rink maintained by the guy in the white house. And the passion is real. Without Markham's early commitment to heritage rescue, prior to the stronger Heritage Act in 2005, these houses would all have been lost. There was concern at the time about the inherent danger of this model as the ideal, rather than an emergency measure, that (in the words of Adam on developers will treat it as "a smiley-face dumpster for those pesky old wrecks they can't be bothered preserving. An architectural version of Springfield Retirement Castle." So far, so good. Good on ya, Markham.

Ambrose Noble house 1830
 From the interpretive plaques in the centre of the circle, we gleaned house histories for some of these.

The fine James Thomas House (1856) at top, with its "Gothicized Palladian window" in the front gable, once sat at 9792 Highway 48 south of Major Mackenzie. You can see why it wanted it out of there. James Thomas, an inn-keeper in Box Grove and later a successful farmer in Mount Joy (both likely absorbed by the city now.)

The Georgian brick Ambrose Noble house has two entrances; one was likely the office of this tannery owner, according to the Markham Town Crier site.

The c1845 Richard Lewis house below, with its patterned brickwork, 6x6 windows and eaves returns is a typical Georgian tradition farmhouse of the area: this one was rescued from urban sprawl near Gormley.

Richard Lewis House c.1845

So, I urge you to go visit. Take in the Markham Museum, while you're there - a great outdoor collection of even more local buildings. Just don't venture out on 16th street toward Kleinburg. No miracles there.

We ain't afraid of no...Ghost Signs

Baker Block - downtown Deseronto
 Facebook. Hmm. Love/hate relationship to be sure. But a great source for good news feeds from trusted sources.

This morning I picked up a gem. Here's a link to an outstanding article about a topic which has long fascinated me (and judging from the comments the writer has received, many others.)
The piece is written by Stephan Petar and is titled 'Why I Love Ghost Signs.' Follow the link, and my work here is done.

The site places the genesis of this building art advertising phenomenon in the 1860s. I love the photos Stephan includes, of sign-painted walls unearthed during demolitions - turns out the occasional builder constructed 3 walls and used the neighbour's external wall to close the box!

Stephan dubs these fading advertisements on the sides of buildings (his focus is the wealth of examples in Toronto) "historical pieces of art." I agree - history fading before our eyes. There's a debate about whether to restore them or let them continue to age gracefully. Oddly, I think I fall into the latter camp.
Naylor's Theatre - the place to be seen in the 1890s

 Like all historic media from old TV shows to ephemera like calenders and catalogues, these signs give us insight into ourselves - what  attracted and motivated us. Grabbing this history before it disappears are a number of photographers who share this same fascination with ghost signs.

Why I Love Ghost Signs includes a link to an even more extensive review of the art, Love the gallery of outdoor advertising signs from Winnipeg!

Last fall I spent a day in Deseronto; I have been planning some posts about its rich (literally) history for some time. For now - some of that worthy town's ghost signs.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Movin' on Up

1130 Whitevale Road - early doorcase, unusual brick lintels
Now it could be said that it's none of my business, but an email from Steve, a fellow ACO member from Collingwood has impelled me to write. There is a lot of local controversy and a valiant fight in some circles to save these lovely stone houses east of the charming hamlet of Whitevale, their bad fortune to be in the path of incoming flights for Pickering's new airport. First the 407 expansion, now this airport, are changing forever the face of what used to be farming country and village life, east of Toronto.
940? Palladian window, beautiful stone

 I optimistically promised to visit the Whitevale road neighbourhood to capture these houses myself, on a recent Toronto visit. As it turns out, our destinations were downtown ones, and Whitevale was a long struggle through traffic away. So I appreciate even more, these photos provided by Steve.
1390 - when was the last time you saw a stone salt-box?

Whitevale has been in the news for some time as this "land over landings" debate has dragged on for decades. Despite the fact that the hamlet of Whitevale is a Heritage Conservation District surrounded by a buffer of Hamlet Heritage Open Space, the area is about to suffer the loss of irreplaceable built heritage.

Steve reports that the threatened houses are on the north side of Whitevale Road, between the village and Brock Road. I've travelled that stretch virtually using Streetview. The area was visited by the SV camera during summer, when vegetation was very thick, but I believe I have seen one of the houses. Another thing I noticed were the fields and fields of crops, and other good land lying fallow waiting for development. As a farm kid, that hits me almost as hard as the loss of built heritage.

Steve also mentions that 'the province,' acting a bit like a thug threatening a group of hostages, has already demolished one house, "a wonderful Georgian brick house west of Whitevale." And as he points out, it's hard to see from this map why the Whitevale Road houses even need to be demolished. This very detailed presentation contains photos of dozens of structures and landscapes - 'Cultural Heritage Resources' - worth retaining.
the changing face of annexed GTA land 
So. Granted this is not my fight. And granted, I may not have all the facts. But I add my voice to those of the citizens of Whitevale who are challenging this proposed demolition.

Denny at David Gohn Circle
All may not be lost.

But if people cannot stop city hall (or in this case, the province) may I suggest that if we cannot preserve important built heritage standing in the path of inexorable progress (I admit to appreciating the 407 occasionally, myself) I believe the standard, perhaps the imperative, should be to relocate it  Especially when the costs can easily be born by a government or a large development firm. Sure it's not a perfect solution, but demolition isn't either.

Some time ago Markham developed a subdivision of heritage homes threatened by its development, David Gohn Street . We visited once back in 2011- here's a link to the post. At the time Blogger didn't allow many photos; I should repost with more.

glimpse from the former Picton railway station yard
Then there's the story from Picton about a recent successful move by CDS Movers of Ottawa, of a lovely early brick house, to make room for an expanded LCBO. The CDS website features stories of heritage home moves in Walkerville, Ottawa and lots more.

Or the 2007 account of an historic Brampton house in the way of relentless development, moved and restored by Habitat for Humanity - a first house for two deserving families.

And there's Upper Canada Village, for Pete's sake, and many other heritage parks which were created from relocated buildings - preserving our history. Notice how popular these places are? Sadly, we lose our history when we lose the buildings that tell our story.

Let's not lose any more.

Friday, December 18, 2015

South End

Fancy a bit of a climb? When I visited Newburgh on two occasions in November, I walked every street in town, explored the many spots where the Napanee River and town streets intersect, got to know a lot of different neighbourhoods, visited the ghosts of places lost to fire and time, and most definitely experienced the reality of the terrain. As you'd expect with a town built astride an ancient river, Newburgh is in a valley. It has hills.

 The original name, Rogue's Hollow, recognized not just the shifty business practices of some of the village's earliest entrepreneurs, but the terrain.  It is definitely in a hollow. As you turn left off County Road 1 (Camden Road) you head rapidly downhill. In fact, should you hurtle right on past toward Camden East, you might never realize the place is down
Scott's Blacksmith Shop c.1855

The main north and south street is, well Main Street. We'll start our walkabout at the bridge at Earl Street, and retrace our route back up the hill. Walk along with me if you like, courtesy of Google Streetview.

I suppose this rustic stone building is technically on Earl Street (the side street where you catch a glimpse of Blanche, parked by the riverside interpretive plaque, above) But it leapt into my viewfinder so often, that I'll start with a bit of its story, from that other Newburgh treasure I captured this fall - Rogue's Hollow by Peter John Stokes, Tom Cruikshank and Robert Heaslip. I wrote about the book and its features here .

The authors cite Mrs. Clancy's Early Recollections (1936) which include a blacksmith shop on this corner in 1856, operated by Thomas Scott. There are reports that the upper floor (more believable when you see the building from the front) was a popular roller-skating rink. Around 1900 it evolved into Dunwoody's funeral parlour. Quieter. A frame carriage house for hearses and horses stood to the east (right side down a bit.)

'The Barracks' 1840s
Ironically, as so many of the really great architecture reference books were published decades ago, the 1983 description includes a Gulf Gas station and McKeown and Wood's Repair shop, neither of which appear to have survived.

Luckily, this charming blocky stone building, the c1845 Barracks, has.  Its 12x12 sash, not so lucky. It was owned by R. Dowling, who manufactured agricultural implements (destined for a sash and door man, no?) It once served in some military capacity and as a jail. It was sold in 1872 to Mr. Mulholland, a shoemaker. Cruickshank et al determined that 'The Barracks' is one of the oldest buildings remaining in Newburgh, and deem it a major landmark and "an important element of the street scene." It certainly is an eye-catcher, as we toil our way up the hill. The book features two pages of architectural detail - all lost.
c1897 Dunwoody house

Brick begins. The c1897 Dunwoody/Kerr house was the home of the village undertaker. It's beautifully maintained; all of the elements described in the book, the porches, brackets and narrow Victorian windows have been retained, freshly painted. Lovely treed hillside corner. Interestingly, William Van Pelt Detlor's tannery (and shoe shop - imagine producing the leather yourself) once stood on the same lot in the 1860s. The village improvement society must have been pleased.

c1885 John Thomson house
The c1885 Thomson/Smyth house was one of the houses built for the famous papermaking family (I wrote about the paper mill - or what remains - last month.) Rogue's Hollow deems it "a plain Victorian design") and mourns the loss of its encircling verandahs. But oh, great news! And one of the reasons I love Newburgh - the heritage ethic is alive and well. The present view shows the house with the north verandah rebuilt on its high foundation, and a balcony restored atop the porch (which replaced the west side verandah at some point) outside the second floor gable door. A lovely spot on its treed sloping lot.

Trees conceal the prominent brick quoins which the authors noted. At some time the roof has been replaced and the so-important end chimneys retained. Love these people.

Next door, the c1886 home of paper-making brother James Thomson demonstrates the brick quoins.  For some reason (cars parked outside?) I didn't catch the bay windows and gingerbread, but did snap the wonderful porch in the ell, with its awning roof and scrumptious (reproduction?) wood trim. Perfect spot to catch the late afternoon sun in a porch rocker.
The last house in our climb to Camden Road (okay I missed a few greatly changed frame houses which appear in the book) is this gorgeous stone house, warmed by the late afternoon sun. This is the kind of house that lures me back to Newburgh.

It's the 1849 Peter Wees house. Two storeys, delectable stonework, recessed doorway with panelled reveals, prominent eaves with returns and wide gable end chimneys, Wyatt windows not replaced by plate glass 'upgrades' (bless you, people.) Complementary board and batten tail at back. At the time Rogue's Hollow was published, the home was owned by an antiques dealer who converted it back from the duplex it had become sometime in the early 1900s.  This wonderful house got the kind of owner it deserves.

See you around the village.

Another day, another history book

116 King Street
"They're making more history every day," Belleville's beloved historian Gerry Boyce is wont to say.
Same is true of history books...or at least, I seem to be able to find one every day.
Last Friday was a red-letter (note the clever pun) day.

I visited the lovely people at Trent Port Historical Society, in the 1861 Trenton town hall and market building. I wrote about them recently; the building, the museum and the dedicated volunteer staff are well worth a visit. As is the terrific Facebook page updated regularly with historical photos and accounts - or with the history being made at this dynamic spot, every day.
178 Victoria 'The Gables' (1880s) 
Did I mention they serve a super lunch (they're open 9 - 3 weekdays.) Meet Laura (the power behind the successful campaign to get the city's support for the museum and theatre),  Connie (who maintains the Facebook page), Deb (who did some research for me) and Brooke. There are 2 students working on digitizing the photo collection. And members of the public - lunch always turns into a history chat!

My fascination with Trenton history grows with every visit - and is sustaining between visits with three wonderful books whose acquaintance I made that day. The first, by Quinte's publishing powerhouse Nick and Helma Mika, is Trenton Past and Present: An Illustrated Glimpse into History.
203 Victoria (preferred it with lawn and trees)
The title pretty much gives the game away. There I found house histories, albeit brief, of some of the places I have photographed; and encouragement to look past unsympathetic additions and changes to capture others, on my next trip to town. Connie and Deb were happy to loan me their pristine copy. It goes back today, but I can deal with letting it go, knowing I can borrow it from Belleville Public Library.
Mr. Thompson's house and fence (1880s) 108 Henry Street

Two others, I was delighted to learn, were for sale. Gunshot and Gleanings of The Historic Carrying Place, Bay of Quinte (1987) by the outstanding historians of the 7th Town Historical Society, gave me just what I wanted for an upcoming article. And how I wish I'd had it when I wrote about The Carrying Place in County and Quinte magazine last fall!

My other acquisition is a treasure. I've written before of the insights into people and their time that we gain from early newspapers - the turn of phrase, the issues that ignited them, the social mores, the sheer effusive boosterism of accounts of special events, or praise for local politicians. My new copy The Evolution of Trenton, Ontario, 1813-1913, by Thomas Jarrett, hits all those buttons. The book is a facsimile edition of the original,  produced by the Kiwanis Club of Trenton in 1986. Well done, you lot. Connie brought out a yellowing copy of the soft-cover original, which I handled reverently. The cover says it all.
Eurithe Purdy collection

Ironically, even in 1913, some proud history has already been lost. A photo featuring the "former door and woodworking factories of the Gilmour company, where several hundred employees once found work" appears just above a paragraph boasting "Trenton's Brilliant Future." It's an immense place, closed in 1910, lost to fire a year later. How often our history remains untold, as soon as the structures where that history was made are lost.

Incidentallly, the information about the homes in the photos is taken from the Mika book. The photo view from Mount Pelion is dated 1878. No doubt, with the right amplification, one could spot some of these proud Victorian homes.