Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Friday, October 30, 2015

Taking care of Business

Picton (1871)
Registry offices have never really called out to me. Until recently I have been blissfully unaware of their purpose and their absolute importance in the maintenance of order in our fledgling country, as our ancestors obtained crown patents for newly surveyed land in newly opened townships. For registry offices are about property, and who owns it. About what we own and who we are. Peace and good government. Records maintenance and security (fire risks especially) motivated early civic officials to create registry offices to keep valuable documents secure.

They make me think of my history friend Lois, manhandling old assessment records bigger than she is, massive crumbling old leather bound books with valuable details for the persistent, recorded in a spidery hand.
Perth Registry Office

One thing that's always interested me, is the family resemblance among registry offices. From town to town, the gable front, three bay, symmetrical facade, with pediment, the name of the municipality or town announced in the tympanum is pretty standard.

Turns out there was a pattern book.

Perth Courthouse - maxi-me
Although I admit to my ignorance as to their role, and to a lack of passion for their architecture, I often photograph them when I am visiting old courthouses. They are typically a mini-me variation on the architectural theme of the showy  massive courthouse they are often situated beside, and consequently more readily captured with my ordinary camera.

 And there are family likenesses. Picton's 1871 registry office with its symmetrical arcaded facade with three windows and central doorway, and bold detail in stone, for example bears a very close resemblance to Napanee's registry office.

I could go on, but someone already has. Pick up a copy of Cornerstones of Order by Marion Macrae and Anthony Adamson.
impressive Kingston limestone portico 

An obvious similarity in the styles is the choice of classical detailing. Classical communicated dignity and importance to newly developing towns. No brooding Gothicism or flighty picturesque here in River City, thank you very much.


Lindsay Courthouse
The Lindsay judicial buildings were designed by Cumberland and Storm, the architectural firm which brought you Osgoode Hall.

and Registry Office

Jail House Rocks

former jail - cleans up pretty well
Our recent Glanmore volunteer development trip took us to Napanee (one of my favourite small towns), to the newly expanded Lennox and Addington Museum and Archives. Manager Jane Foster, Curator JoAnne Himmelman and Archivist Shelley Respondek spoke to the group about each area; I can't wait to go back to explore the reading room and museum more fully.
 adjacent registry office 

For starters, the updated museum houses a great display of Napanee's legendary Gibbard furniture, a proud piece of the history-minded town's past.

The museum was first opened in 1978 in the town's recently vacated 1860's jail, an idea for adaptive re-use which raised eyebrows when it was first proposed, but which turned out brilliantly. It opened in 2014. Here's a link to the story.

jailhouse Juliet balcony?

As the museum and archives collections grew, and more space was needed, an equally brilliant addition was conceived by the Ventin Group of architects, who successfully integrated old limestone walls with light and wood elements, resulting in a bright and welcoming archives with state of the art storage. Bravo Napanee council, which prepared for the project by saving up funds over a number of years to put this idea in place.

Lennox and Addington courthouse 1860s

A real go-to regional research facility. Loads of engaging public programs. If you can't get there in person, here's a link to their outstanding E-history Project.

Another reason to love Napanee.

What do the Birds See?

Not long ago I spent a pleasant afternoon with a friend at Queen's University Archives, assisting in her research through her poet husband's considerable fonds. On a break from our quest, I browsed two giant aerial photos of the city, tracing the unique street layout of this wonderful city. Later, I discovered that archivist Jeffrey had available for sale, copies of the 1875 'bird's eye' map of the city. Sold. At a glance, it becomes apparent why it's so easy to get lost in Kingston. The gores. The broken front.

From my building research mentor Lois I long ago learned the value of birds' eye maps. They are "non-photographic representations of cities known as perspective maps, aero view or panoramic maps."(Queen's website) They rival aerial views, in my estimation. Produced by folks who never left the ground. Instead, the creators walked the streets, noted the streets, structures and topographical features used perspective to recreate them in two dimensions,
Axonometric projection.svg
this is supposed to explain it, according to Wikipedia
Denis said during his apprenticeship  he was taught how to draw in three dimensions, now known as the x and y, and  the third dimension known as the z axis. The process was called third angle projection. And he loved it.
Me, I'd rather look at the real thing. From the perspective of a bird who appears to be descending gradually over the city after a Lake Ontario crossing, looking for a clearing on which to alight.

No drones, helicopters or 20-storey vantage points.

The Kingston map was created by Herman Brosius, a lithographer, who created of these views in 1875. These aren't just sketch maps - the bird's eye map accurately lays out the streets, parks and harbours of the city, and even portrays readily identifiable buildings.  A key at the bottom identifies significant businesses, churches and public buildings numbered/lettered on the map.

What is remarkable to me is that, armed with a magnifying glass, you can discern individual buildings with their architectural features.
Barrack Street (L to R: 1826-1820-1835

Wellington Terrace, Montreal Street
In the face of a brisk north wind we walked through much of the neighbourhood portrayed in the quadrant of the map I posted above. We walked into that map, bringing its third dimension into focus.

Now that I have the map spread out on my study floor, magnifying glass in hand, I am beginning to try to match up the tiny depictions of Kingston buildings before 1875, with photos I took recently on a walkabout in the area Margaret Angus in The Old Stones of Kingston calls North Kingston (it got that name when it didn't venture too far from the harbour, I suppose.)

Must go back soon. On a warm, wind-free day. Or my map and I might get airborne.

Sydenham at Ordinance
A few post-scripts:
Here's an interesting article about bird's eye maps from a website in Connecticut, highlighting the civic pride and idealism behind the art form.

During my research into old Kingston neighbourhoods, I came across this fascinating blog

And finally, Belleville too was portrayed in a bird's eye map, dated 1874. Must be by the same lithographer. I purchased my copy at the Community Archives/Hastings County Historical Society. It's printed on heavier stock, and seems clearer as a result. The title of this post is based on (or plagiarizes, I couldn't find the issue) an article in the HCHS's publication Outlook. I'll keep looking.

Now you see you don't

I was at Bellevue NHS in Kingston recently - one of two stops (well three, if you include the convivial lunch at Sir John A pub) which the Friends of Glanmore made on our annual volunteer development day, organized and led by museum staff Melissa and Danielle. Each stop provided a behind the scenes visit to a museum site, with presentations by host staff.
from a previous visit; the parlour behind bars

Glanmore volunteers had been eagerly anticipating a visit to Bellevue, as we had heard about innovations at the museum. And Program and Interpretation Coordinator (hope I got that right) George Muggleton did not disappoint.

George was young, enthusiastic, well-informed, personable, thoroughly professional and passionate about the changes taking place at Bellevue. He spent ages talking with us; I wandered off on occasion to commune with the house, because my brain was full!  

dining room; an interpretive panel keeps our distance

These top four photos are from previous visits.

This visit was to be different, as we all knew.
For Bellevue has 'taken down the ropes.'

shot from deep inside the formerly off-limits parlour
It's part of Bellevue's changing visitor interface, in response to Parks Canada's plans to make their sites more relevant to today's museum goer, and thereby increase attendance. There are a number of National Historic Sites run by Parks Canada; each has interpreted this directive in a different way.

These are my personal reflections on the difference in visitor experience. I know they might not echo those of a younger audience, or a person less absorbed in history, museum culture, and heritage architecture (read 'history geek'.) But I recall the foyer of the visitor centre on previous visits, chockablock with panels interpreting social history, Sir John A and family, politics and goodness knows what else, each with artifacts on display. Instant immersion.

George relaxed on the settee while talking
Today the large open foyer is scattered with mobile seating, a few wall panels illustrating the key events of the era, and a huge blowup of the Fathers of Confederation, cut-out faces offering a photo opportunity. A quiz ,"who's your daddy?" or something similarly catchy, invites participants into an 'experience' about the makers of our nation. But not me.

Not stuffy or museum-y. Inviting and interactive.
Admittedly, the new meeting room just off the foyer contained an outstanding travelling exhibit from Library and Archives Canada of documents, letters, and the like from Macdonald's career.

The top floors are still behind ropes. For now. The kitchen area has been opened to visitors, and Bellevue's excellent staff will interpret the garden to table story.
The dining room is open to public wandering; a cut-out of Sir John A welcomes visitors, and one of our number accepted his offer of a friendly handshake. But to me, his dining room looked a bit tired, a bit dusty, not as special as before. In fairness, George explained that most of Bellevue's furniture was not connected to the historic family, and as such, was not priceless, and that only a few of the more valuable artifacts had been removed. The before and after photos prove it.

One of our Glanmore staff has reminded me that few National Historic Sites in Canada are operated by Parks Canada. Our own Glanmore, owned by the City of Belleville, is one. So we won't be looking for visitors trailing amidst the priceless Couldery pieces in the overstuffed drawing rooms, or straightening our world-famous Victorian animal paintings, or playing with the Victorian Christmas toy display from our Hastings history collection.

Glanmore's high Victorian grandness

And, for me, that's welcome news. To me, those silk ropes in front of the historic rooms are like a portal. I love the feeling of walking into a museum, standing at the barrier, and being transported into another place, another time. No, thanks, I don't want a chummy 'welcome in.'

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Lady Historians of Cannifton

note the publisher?
I hold in my hand a treasure. Indeed, I feel I should be wearing those white cotton gloves mandated by archivists. The treasure is the 1868/9 Hastings County Directory. It was loaned to me by a history-minded lady who lives in a house chock full of history in a hamlet redolent with times past. I had the occasion recently not only to visit the house and its owner, but to learn its history, and that of the view from its windows.
The hamlet is Cannifton. I have posted before about the little stone village along the Moira. For starters it is the home (for a while longer anyway) of the Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County - a treasure trove of documents and old photos and delightful volunteer historians always willing to help a visitor overturn a stone or two, looking for stories or family.

And stone there is. As a riverside town, Cannifton's earliest buildings are built of stone hauled from the Moira. And most still stand. Cannifton was one of the spots I visited for an article about general stores, for County Roads magazine's Spring 2012 issue. I visited the general store of Mr. Jason Ro which adjoins this property, a bit further down the slope toward the river.

On that general store research trip I also spent time with delightful historians Nancy and Lynne, who live in yet another historic stone house in the village. They were a terrific help when I was researching general stores for that article, for they grew up in the general store. More on that in another post.

In early September I finally got a chance to visit this lovely stone house, and its owners Ruth and son Paul. Neighbours Lynne and Nancy brought along a bundle of historic photos, mementos, handwritten histories and legal documents, to add to the pile Ruth had amassed, and the five of us spent the morning over the history of the house and the hamlet. Fortunately Ruth, an able historian, had written the history, and presented me with a copy, as it wasn't long before my head was spinning!

a cold 11'x5'x6" stone slab served as larder

steps to the basement cut from solid stone

This wonderfully Regency feeling house on a picturesque hillside setting, with its low ground-hugging profile, massive trees, verandah and wide windows was built by Joseph, son of the pioneer UEL John Canniff, from New York state via Adolphustown, who arrived in the area in 1808, and built the dams and mills which built the village, Canniff Mills.
dutch door of summer kitchen

The house was cut from the bedrock of the Moira River in the summer, according to Ruth. In the basement is a slab of limestone 11' by 5' by 6 " thick, which sits on its original wooden frame. The massive slab served as refrigerator, the surface kept cool because of "weeping," just the spot for butter, cream and milk. Still feels cold to the touch. The stairs are cut from solid rock.

To walk through the comfy old house, with its solid hemlock floors, pine doors with wooden pegs, deep window seats, 10' pine ceilings is to walk through history.

A darker note in this sunny visit. Black history is imperfectly written throughout our settlement story. This house was a significant link to the Underground Railroad, which guided former black American slaves to freedom in Upper Canada. Joseph Canniff worked with the friends of the Underground Railway to conceal and transport former slaves to safety. Mounted Ku Klux Klan members in white regalia, bearing torches, came onto this lawn three times to warn him to stop,

A stroll around the farm property gave me a long-coveted chance to enjoy up close the welcoming side and front verandahs, the stone woodshed with its dear Dutch door, the calves in the pasture next to the barn. A farm holiday in a morning visit.
 And at last I got to hear the story of the tiny perfect brick addition, which had caught my eye when I first drove up the side street south of the property. This was the home built by Alexander Sutherland, a Scots woollen mill owner and merchant, some time after he purchased the property in 1870. Sutherland lived here, and a spinster relative Miss Isabella Adella resided in the stone house, where she prepared his meals and did the laundry; a door from the little brick addition opens directly into the stone house dining room.  A mulberry tree which was part of  'Sandy' Sutherland's walled orchard still stands at the southwest corner of the house.

There are so many more Cannifton stories to tell. I'll post another installment from the Lady Historians of Cannifton sometime soon.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Yankee Ingenuity

Cobblestone vault, Elbridge Rural Cemetery (1879)
2011 was my cobblestone house year. I wrote about the cobblestone houses of Hastings county for Outlook (HCHS newsletter, April 2011) then for Country Roads magazine (Winter 2011/12 issue.) Several posts on this blog during the end of 2011 and into January 2012 reflected that project. Building researcher Lois Foster has established that there are 14 extant cobblestone buildings in Hastings County.

Recently I discovered one which I don't believe was included in that count. But still.

And we'll always have Paris.

Squire M. Brown's 1850 barn 
On Sunday we began our cobblestone research in northern New York state. It will take some time.

According to Rich and Sue Freeman, authors of the engaging road trip guide Cobblestone Quest, the area south of Lake Ontario stretching from Syracuse to Niagara Falls features from 600 to 900 examples of the approximately 700 to 1200 built in the United States.  Ninety percent of the cobblestone buildings in the US are within 65 miles of Rochester.

 Sunday afternoon my guy and I did most stops on one of 17 tours the couple have outlined. Brilliantly. With maps, addresses and directions, photos, brief histories of each structure. I am considering moving to Wayne, Ontario, or Monroe county - they have a total of 378 examples. Or perhaps a camping trip next summer would be more manageable?

So. Biz trip for my guy to just south of Syracuse. Ignore the snow squalls for now. Don't even look at the dozens of original Federal and Greek Revival frame structures along every road. Begin our own cobblestone quest.
a telephoto peek through the hedge - oriel window!

The recipe. Start with a cobblestone, a glacier or water-smoothed stone which fits into the palm of one hand. Multiply by several thousand. Lay in regular courses (vertically, horizontally, or diagonally) as facing on a rubble-stone wall. Play with the colour of the stones. Secure with elegantly beaded or vee'd joints of soft lime mortar. Add ashlar lintels and quoins if you wish. Adorn as you like. Apply this painstaking technique to Greek Revival, Gothic, Federal homes, or vernacular farmhouses.

the elusive and beautiful 1850-51 Gothic Munroe House

Our tour took us to Elbridge, Weedsport and Cato in beautiful hilly, forested and early-settled Onandoga County.

This exquisite scholarly Gothic set behind imposing hedges was designed by an English architect. Very small green-grey Lake Ontario cobbles, slate roof and diamond-paned windows are original.

triangular fan in facade, cut limestone lintels

The third-generation farmer owners of this outstanding pre-1834 Greek Revival farmhouse stopped to chat on their way indoors with the shopping. They are enthusiastically shouldering their responsibility as custodians of this important and beautiful piece of architectural history, and I applaud them. And hope to revisit when we resume the cobblestone tour.
pre-1834 Putnam House

The Putnam family arrived in the area in 1804 and built mills. The Freemans report that the walls are 18" thick. Cut limestone lintels, quoins and watertable, limestone foundation.
 Another young family assembling a mailbox in front of their two-storey 1853 cobblestone Greek Revival (with newer additions) shared their enthusiasm for its maintenance.

Not surprisingly, there are a lot of Greek Revival homes in this area. The builders of c.18 public and domestic buildings in the US embraced the romantic spirit of "dignity, democracy and freedom" ( inspired by the newly discovered architecture of ancient Greece and Rome, and identified with and emulated Greece's struggles to become a free republic.

Savery House, Cato 
Place names which were everyday words for us kids, origins of the American local TV shows we watched, now reveal their deeper association: Syracuse, Ithaca, Greece, Parma, Palmyra, Macedon, Seneca, Cato, ...astonishing really.

metal lions flanking stone lintel

In Cato, I had a close look at this recently sold Federal style cobblestone, the Savery house. The Freemans don't assign a date, but the original owner was a  major in the Civil War.

There are heavy stone lintels above the doors and windows, and the side-lighted front door sports two massive metal lion heads on either side.

Decidedly asymmetrical - afterthought at left

 The one and a half storey house at left, sporting its fall ivy beautifully (I wonder if ivy is a friend of cobblestone?) is also in Cato. The guide points out its multicoloured field cobbles, rough limestone lintels and quoins, and a freize. They were too polite to point out the disturbing asymmetry, with an extra bit at left disturbing the balanced 5-bay front, and the gable dead centre in the resulting facade.

This farmhouse near Cato has had some modifications to chimneys, but it's an idyllic and well-loved country home. The guidebook explains that the cobbles are large, set on edge, with V mortar joints.

I noticed that the cobbles in alternating courses are laid with a slight tilt to left or right, creating one of the wonderful patterns cobblestone builders could produce.

I really connected with this enigmatic ginger cat in the field across the road, who didn't move a muscle as I darted about in the ditch, avoiding traffic, getting a good angle.
Greek revival mouldings - note the window grilles

Finally, as the skies darkened on our way across country toward Oswego and the drive home, we found this lovely little house.

It's described as the Havens house, a small, square, one and a half storey cottage - the half  storey is hidden Regency-cottage-style, behind the heavy Greek inspired frieze, peeping out through slit windows. Sadly, it is showing signs of wear and may one day return to a pile of age-worn cobblestones.