Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Saturday, January 31, 2015

How you gonna keep 'em down on the farm?

I grew up on a farm; to this day a look down an unused farm lane, or over a pasture of peaceful cattle has the power to reduce me to nostalgic tears.

Last summer I found my new happy place. For some time I've been meaning to share my enthusiasm for this outstanding Stirling Ontario destination, and the dedicated and creative volunteers who brought it into being. The place is Farmtown Park, an extraordinary complex of 8 buildings and 45,000 square feet of exhibits (no, the welcoming entrance cannot even hint at the treasures and time-travel within) located at the western end of the village of Stirling.
Denis and I toured with ACO last July, and have been talking about returning to see all we missed. For there is so much there!

Farmtown Park's mission is to provide "a fascinating glimpse of rural life in the 1930's and 1940's." And having grown up in rural Prince Edward County in the 1940's and 50's, there is a lot that's familiar. Nostalgic? Sometimes my heart felt like bursting.

Seymour township

The first building you enter is devoted to the dairying industry. Model dairy cows being hand-milked in their stable, a recreated cheese factory operation, the old familiar-to-some horse and milk delivery wagon demonstrate that 'moo to you' story.

Loads of collections have been donated for this one pavilion alone- from fine china cheese domes, to tramp art framed calendars, to hand tools.

 One of the massive buildings contains a recreated Main Street; visitors travel along the boardwalk, or dart mesmerized across the dirt street,  and peer into the shop windows of the shoemaker, milliner, tailor and dressmaker, doctor's office and the chapel (where people actually have weddings.)
the ubiquitous barn cat
The whole place is built on volunteer labour and free donations, no government money, just local private and corporate donations and fund-raisers.

The displays of farmhouse rooms are so accurate and so evocative. The brochure describes "sitting in the farmhouse parlour as supper is prepared and hearing the news on the radio." And that's just the way it feels.

cheese vat from Hilton
And there's a one-room schoolhouse - looking like a gang of kids had just left it for a recess game of Anti-over. Come in and take your seat. Quietly.

And another building is chock full of the most extensive collection of vintage and cast iron toys you'd care to see. Bring your inner (old) child along.

In a grassy courtyard, you are invited to enjoy your picnic lunch, and watch the bees. How often is that sort of invitation extended these days?  Mind you, there is a certain irony about honeybees in a museum.
all about cheese
family-friendly calendar art

farmhouse summer kitchen - missed snapping all the other rooms!

There is a massive collection of old farm machinery - from the farm tractors of the early decades of last century, to a massive steam engine with power take-off for a threshing machine, standing in a shop redolent with machine oil and sawdust.

Is it possible I can remember threshing bees? Before Uncle Arthur got his combine harvester?

Somebody's workhorses become everbody's treasures. Beautifully curated, may I say?

I loved the full sized naturalistic model horses, in harness hitched to buggy or plough, and the evocative murals of farm life in this pavilion.

The Old Homestead portrays horse-powered farming practices. Don't spook that horse, the man's trying to get that furrow straight.

When was the last time you used the word whiffletree in a sentence?

So. Go. Here is a link to the Farmtown Park website. They open in May. 

Friday, January 30, 2015

Travels with Tom

Canada house (c.1822)
If you visit this blog regularly you may have run across one or two posts in a series I call 'Journeys with John' (here's one now) - in which I visit  homes featured in that superbly clear and accessible work on architectural styles written by John Blumenson, entitled (unambiguously) Ontario Architecture. In the posts, I recap the key points made by Mr. B (for this is my personal journal and research notes after all), and post my own photos of some of the buildings he features (the ones I've managed to visit.)

Homewood c.1900
So, about 'Travels with Tom'. Readers may also be aware of the esteem in which I hold Tom Cruickshank whose many books on our built heritage have played a significant role in its preservation, through education and celebration of our old buildings. Books like The Settler's Dream, Rogues' Hollow and Old Toronto Houses should be on every bookshelf (and taken out often.)

For some time, I have long hankered after a copy of  Mr. Cruikshank's Port Hope: A Treasury of Early Homes.

Metcalfe Terrace (c.1852)
Now thanks to the good folk at Belleville Public Library's Interlibrary Loan department (and the generous lending policy of the Picton Branch) I have a copy of that work until March
March 29th!

(Not to whinge, but that same day I picked up two other ILLO treasures, which BPL found for me at OCAD - for a measly 2 week loan (oh well, if a future design student who will dedicate her life to historic preservation needs it, I'm good with that.)

Anyway, thought what I might do is compare notes (and photos, though with John de Visser behind the lens, doubt that much good for my confidence will come from that!). It will be interesting to see what Tom has to say about buildings that impressed me on my several walkabouts in that lovely and heritage-attuned town. And if it encourages you to pick up the book (again), Picton's copy will be available in mid-March!

A final note in this preamble. Regular readers will already be aware of my love for Port Hope; I have visited and written about it many times. I've included (entirely trustworthy) links to former posts .

So. Starting from the top. If you peek inside Mr. Cruickshank's book, you will see an archival photo of Canada House c. 1822 with its encircling verandah, a small building beside it, and the business-like treeless terrain of early business-like towns. Canada House still sits close to the shore, recalling the bustling lake port days when it was the haunt of sailors and captains.

In 2013 I wrote about Homewood, a Colonial Revival summer home for a wealthy American nostalgic for the styles of the colonial days of the 1770's. A great hilltop property, treed and elegant. I fell instantly in  love with it, and took photos humbly from the sidewalk. Mr. de Visser got behind the fences!

Next is the elegant Metcalfe Terrace with its Greek Revival touches - painted pilasters, eared trim on doors, wide cornice with knee hold windows. A prestige location then and now. Peter John Stokes had a hand in preserving this wonderful town, and will always be associated with it in my memory. We lost him the summer of 2013. I found this lovely tribute to Peter Stokes, who was a Port Hope resident and a heritage preservation giant,in a Niagara newspaper.

Mr. De Visser definitely got closer than I did!
This yellow house behind the shubbery on its exquisite treed lot is The Octagon, built in 1856 by William Barrett, Jr. Esq. Mr. Barrett was impressed enough by the slightly wonky ideas of Orson Squire Fowler, to build this eight-sided novelty for its touted salubrious effects. Mr. Cruickshank suggests its one of the best examples of the style in Ontario; on page 16 I finally got inside its doors.

Port Hope: A Treasury of Early Homes also does justice to the many Ontario cottages which dignify the town. I paid my homage a couple of years ago also.

After lunch, which I will take while reading further, I'll resume my walk around Port Hope, and share more interesting bits about Port Hope's built heritage (a la Cruickshank.) Walk along with me? Won't be too strenuous - there will be lots of stops. Guaranteed.

Fabulous Fakes III - What? More?

Graham Terrace, Belleville (1876)

If it looks like stone, and works like stone, and lasts like isn't necessarily stone. For some time I have had a sneaking suspicion that some of the architectural adornment on buildings I admire is not what it seems. My explorations into terra cotta last month and cast iron more recently have caused me to become suspicious (well, curious) and intrigued about what things are made of. Not just let myself be drawn to their exterior beauty. A good approach for judging everything from food to people, I would offer.

In Toronto, I notice that no less an organization than the Ontario Heritage Trust is working on restoring their own headquarters- the prestigious 1907 home of the Canadian Birkbeck Investments and Savings Company. There is a detailed description of the role that artificial cast stone played in making the place splendidly Beaux Arts, on the OHT website (and a photo, which I regret I cannot offer you). The article explains that the facade has both natural and artificial cast stone elements.

revitalized in downtown Trenton - historic facade retained
Concrete is being widely used in restoration activity; moulds can be made of existing masonry elements, and missing ones replaced with faithful replicas. All good. Here's a link to an ERA project preserving an 1850/1910 masonry facade, "casting concrete to simulate quarried stone." Ah yes, we all know how we feed about Toronto's facadism approach to heritage preservation. But it is something. The article goes on to explain the need for "intensification of heritage fabric" in its new neighbourhood -did I mention the newly preserved facade is being moved to a new address?

concrete and limestone bench, Penetentiary Museum, Kingston
I found a couple of interesting books in my casting about (poor pun, unintentional I swear) for information. Reinforced Concrete and the Modernization of American Building 1900-1930 appeals to the structural concrete fan. Another, Arts and Crafts Architecture: History and Heritage in New England contains a chapter entitled Stucco, Concrete and Steel and describes "architects committed to quality craftsmanship [while] receptive to the potential of new building products." A discussion of Rockledge, a massive 1910-12 summer retreat profiles the use of 'new' reinforced concrete, and the use of "modelled rather than carved work" to make sculptural elements more affordable.

the beginnings of garden concrete

On the website of the The Technical Preservation Office of the U.S. National Parks Service is a brief , 'The Use of Substitute Materials on Historic Building Exteriors,' which establishes the 'ethic' of using simulated stone. Repair when possible, replicate accurately if necessary. Do no harm.

I have spent a goodly amount of time this afternoon getting my head around concrete, cement, and cast stone, their definition and composition. Concrete is composed of water, aggregate and cement. Cement is a binder, which holds other materials together; different formulations have been used throughout history.Sexy stuff.

A somewhat bizarre website '' (here's a link) contains references to the use of limestone concrete in ancient civilizations. And of course, we all know that Ancient Rome possessed the secret of concrete, but the recipe was lost during the Middle Ages (a fact which always astonishes me - how dramatic a turn in civilization's fortunes, to have lost such learning!) and only resurfaced in the mid-1700's.

Canadian Bank of Commerce (1916) Belleville
"artificial stone"  source: HBEM

On Wednesday, beloved and I made a trek to Novel Idea - and independent bookseller (that in itself is a novel idea these days) with a great local history department (to pick up my own copy of Jennifer McKendry's Into the Silent Land to direct me in some cemetery research).  I spied this impressive facade at  187-89 Princess Street (you'll have to Streetview it here, as it was too darned cold to take a photo). Cast concrete window surrounds? Dunno. All those repetitions would rather tax the stonecarver's art. But no info online about this building - the construction date would help. By the turn of the last century, commercial buildings were regularly opting for cast concrete decorative elements.

I've always suspected Harry Corby's
1890 remodelling of this building

So, another ongoing project. Is it stone or is it concrete? Books on cast iron facades suggest travelling about with a magnet, to confirm identification. What's it to be now - a dental pick?

I hope to return with more local examples of concrete buildings. Once the temperature lends itself to outdoor photo hikes, and the spring sun warms their little concrete facades.

Monday, January 19, 2015

S'no Joke

I enjoyed a photo trip around Snow Road on a sunny day last fall.

I expect they get their fair share of jokes about snow.
Indeed, they no doubt get their fair share of snow, being in the most northerly part of Frontenac County.

But in the buttery fall light, I fell in love with the place - it's beautiful and picturesque in a rugged sort of way. There are lots of elevation changes, a nice turn and swoop in the curve through the village. Houses and outbuildings snuggle up against cozy wooded hills, and in the countryside about, a few small-scale farms, some with log buildings, still survive. A gracefully ageing  log barn, and an impressive stone house distinguish the village.

The natural terrain can in no way diminish the more dramatic effect of the man-made landscape - a yawning gravel pit creeping perilously close to the back yard of the 1885 Presbyterian church.  Prayer intention?

There's a nice feeling of community in Snow Road, of enterprise and make-do, judging from the adaptive reuse of the old school (and of its sign!) and the enduring presence of the greying John Thomson Hall. Just 4 years ago that family-owned hall rang with the sound of an internationally known bluegrass band, the Abrams Brothers, in a benefit concert for a local charity.

Here's the Frontenac News coverage of that standing room only event.

The place is officially called Snow Road Station, one of a string of towns linked by the Kingston and Pembroke Railway. There was a Mississippi Station south of the river of the same name, perhaps named after a homesick American lumber baron?

Community identity which was created here from the mid 1800's, at great cost, was eroded through township amalgamation and the inevitable centralization of services into larger centres by the late 1900's.

From the township history County of a Thousand Lakes (1973) I learned that Snow Road was named for the surveyor who found a way through marsh, hill and rockland, to lead the stalwart lumbering workers north.

The railway brought William Richards to Snow Road Station in 1883. From the Mississippi River he had stone quarried to build this three storey "castle", and lived in relative grandeur among his log and plank peers.

Camp Life

I have been wanting to post some of these photos for ages, since enjoying a Prince Edward Historical Society walking tour here last July. This is the former Camp Picton, built for the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, during those desperate days in 1940, when flyers had to be trained outside the reach of the Luftwaffe. Imagine the young men billeted here, receiving basic flight instruction, dancing with the girls from the town, anxious for  great adventure in the skies over Germany.

This incredibly picturesque, evocative collection of the crumbling WWII era buildings has attracted many photographers and film-makers over the years.

Fortunately, the property has also attracted a resourceful and enterprising company, Loch Sloy Holdings,  which is working to preserve and re-purpose this astonishing facility. These days a number of construction, workshop, storage - and as of last summer, an artist studio - spaces are housed in a number of the upgraded buildings.

The difference between a failing building and a viable one? A new red steel roof.

In 2013, journalist researcher Ian Robertson released his fine book Camp Picton: Wartime to Peacetime. Here's a great CountyLive review. Fabulous book. Well worth the small investment.

Another book, Camp Picton: A Storied 70 Years in a Military Training Camp, by Joanne Courneya-Fralick, came out late last year.

And Bay of Quinte Living took us behind the fence in this article on their website, written by Catherine Stutt, photos by Daniel Vaughan

I'll let these folks tell all the stories. For me, just want to wander among the greying shingled buildings, hearing the breeze whistle in the grasses, listening for distant voices.

Oh yes, and the drone of aircraft engines.

Fabulous Fakes II

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photo courtesy Susan Ratcliffe, ACO

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photo courtesy Susan Ratcliffe, ACO
The Petrie building in Guelph has been on my mind. The story popped up on my Facebook last week, thanks to ACO.  Last December the Guelph Mercury carried the story of this celebrated case of demolition by neglect, and the hopeful news of a possible sale. Thanks to Susan Ratcliffe of ACO, I am able to show you this incredibly ornate facade. For more details, check it out on the Canadian Register of Historic Places.

Belleville's endangered Henderson Building (1857)
What is particularly sad about the fate of the unheated top floors of this majestic 1882 commercial building is that among all the other fails that are taking place due to cold and damp, the facade is rusting. Rusting, because this amazing building front is made of "stamped galvanized iron. At the top of the facade is a broken pediment topped with a mortar and pestle - for the influential businessman who built this treasure, Alexander Bain Petrie, was a pharmacist, and liked the idea of identifying his trade with a bit of style.

There's a Facebook Group dedicated to saving the Petrie's a link.

The arrival of the story on Facebook, and the haunting image of this deteriorating cast iron facade is timely, as I was thinking of posting about cast iron building facades as a follow-up to my recent posts about terra cotta and insulbrick siding,  two other fabulous fakes.

In recent years, the Henderson building in Belleville has been under the same death watch as the Petrie. I don't know what's happening currently, despair and optimism ebb and flow. I've done a few posts about it - here's one.

brackets, ,window hood detail
 According to the republished local resource Heritage Buildings East of the Moira (Heritage Belleville, 2012) the Henderson building possesses "the only complete cast iron main floor [facade] remaining in Belleville."

I have to learn more - which bits? Who supplied them?
Hotel Quinte - stone carving or prefab iron

Have to pack a magnet and look more closely at some local buildings. It's pretty likely that the crisply defined window hoods and brackets on the otherwise mouldering facade of the Nathan Jones building (1862) are cast iron or more likely, moulded sheet metal. "The decorative window heads on the second and third floors consist of large flat lintels made of cast iron with two corbels, one on each side of the upper sashes." (HBEMR)

arched pediment with brackets

arched cornice, by 1890

Nathan Jones building
I was always pretty sure that the cornices on the Hotel Quinte must have been stamped metal, given their crisp detail after a hundred years of on and off attention. See the egg and dart moulding? (Did you know that represented life and death to the Romans?) And the rosettes on the brackets?

Here's another proud commercial building crest in downtown Belleville.The Albert Filliter Block is crowned by a round-headed arch with the owner's name still bold after 125 years (the cornice modification was sometime before 1890). The brackets are still crisp, but to me the giveaway is the seams in the moulding on the crest, which are separating. Cast iron, or maybe pressed metal. The two terms seem to be used interchangeably in the literature. Can't think the material would?

A cursory look through photo files unearthed a few more examples.

You have to love Cobourg. They enlisted Craig Sims, heritage building crusader, to design a reproduction Victorian shop front for Beebe's Bootery, to complement all that remained after a modernization - the original cast iron columns.

by their rust ye shall know them
Kelly/Collison/Koerber store, Mallorytown
Then there's this gem in Mallorytown. Rockfaced concrete block, with sandstone quoins and window headers. A bracketed cornice, with a central rounded pediment, containing a swag. Pressed metal? My guess. The rust on the outside edge of the moulding tells the tale.

My copy of The History of Mallorytown describes this building as the General Store at 55 McQuabbin Road - lots of owners. Wonder if it was built in 1925, when David Wells reports that Ernie Kelly started his own store? The 1920's were the heyday of residential concrete block.

and of course, those pressed tin ceilings
this one at the Marmora Historical Society

This is all very nice, but it leaves me wondering. Who produced the cast iron and galvanized sheet metal architectural components we find in Ontario? Certainly there were small foundries abounding. A look at any early fire insurance map shows them, along with hotels, stables, commercial and residential structures, even in downtown Belleville at one time. But my guess is that fine quality architectural iron was transported by rail from producers farther afield. I've just read of a Toronto example provided by a foundry in Ohio.So...are these fabulous fakes as rare as I think, or have I just not been looking?
The (metal?) crown of Bridge Street Church
overlooking the destroyed Hotel Quinte

More on sheet metal and cast iron architectural elements to come. Just requested several fine books by Margot Gayle from ILLO at wonderful Belleville Public Library.

And if my new-found interest in iron wasn't compelling enough, a book jumped out at me from the local history shelves yesterday. A Species of Adventure: The Story of the Ironmasters of Upper Canada, by Andre l. Philpot, of Marmora. Stay tuned.