Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Slow Motion Train Wreck

 The expression "slow motion train wreck" is a common metaphor for an inevitable tragedy unfolding in front of one's eyes. It's often used to describe a  life unravelling due to addiction. I think it can be equally descriptive of the decline of abandoned properties, often hotly championed, but with circumstances that do not augur well for successful adaptive reuse and salvation. We watch it happen.

One of the best examples I've seen lately is Kingston's Outer Station. I've been hearing about it for several years. One day last fall, on a search for resonance (ghosts of the early developing city) along Montreal Street, I came upon the unmistakeable proportions of a train station, and quickly nosed Blanche onto the sidewalk beside some substantial cement barriers - "no meddling here, they asserted"-  to have a closer look.

My immediate reaction was 'what is there to save'? And a nanosecond later, as my eye swept the property, the skeleton of a two-storey limestone with its four corner chimneys still proudly standing, caught my attention, and I knew.
Outer station (1855)

This station stood along a sharp curve on the Grand Trunk Railway, midpoint between Montreal and Toronto, and served as Kingston's main station from 1856 until the current station opened in 1974. The brick building was added 1895-98. Once there were wood and freight sheds, engine houses, and a refreshment saloon.

Eventually, the station ran out of steam. The track was moved north in 1976, and the offices were closed in 1987. The place was repurposed as a restaurant for a bit, but was a bit too far from the entertainment district to succeed. Another note on the theme of location, location is the fate of the Inner Station, which was connected by a spur line. Sitting on Ontario Street, housing a restaurant, it is the darling of the tourists.

The limestone building, which bears a resemblance to Belleville's heritage station according to one source (but with the added cachet of a second storey)  and its site were designated as a heritage railway station in 1994. Sadly (predictably?) a fire destroyed the roof of the stone building two years later.

The property stands neglected, one of the Canadian Heritage Foundation's 2008 top ten endangered sites. Its chances can't be improving with age. A "sub-prime location" limiting development (not my words,) delays in the courts, CNR's historic intransigence, and site contamination don't augur well. A newpaper account from early this year suggests there's still hope, although I don't have an update.

There are historic photos of the old Outer Station on the astounding blog Trackside Treasure. My curiosity about the roof form (I'd guessed Mansard) was instantly satisfied (although the author notes that roof was added 20 years after construction.) Here's a link. Blogger Eric Gagnon offers "the definitive source for Canadian railway enlightenment." I think he may be right. See you there!

Thanks to Wikipedia for some of the facts, and to Vintage Kingston's  wonderfully nostalgic Facebook page for the image of the intact Outer Station illustrating the similarity in design with Belleville's historic station.
Wonder what its future will be?

Interestingly (at least to me) I thought I had posted this account long ago. I even referred to it in a 'subsequent' post - which may have had some ambitious reader following the link to 'Sorry.' Just now, as I was going through my train station posts, I discovered this one - about to leave the station.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Out-takes II

I occasionally check Blogger stats.
Flemish bond, early brick
Sometimes I can tell what people are interested in by the titles that come up in the list of visited posts. Other times I suspect webcrawlers.
Occasionally, seeing an old post reminds me that I once promised to return to add more information or captions. Sorry, Grafton!

Today I had a look (along with some unknown visitor) at Out-takes. This is text which ended up on the cutting room floor (Orland French's treetop office on Albert Street) at the time that the 2013 book Wind, Water, Barley and Wine was being put together.

Asa Werden house 

It reminded me that I had more to say about PEC architecture.
And that I had committed to doing so.
So. Brick.

Prince Edward county and Picton in particular is a red brick kind of place. There are plenty of early county brick homes still standing 200 years after they were built, likely with bricks baked on the property. The HASPE survey completed prior to 1984 (ssource of much of The Settler's Dream research I suspect) lists the most likely candidate for PEC’s oldest brick house honours as the Asa Werden house, built on his extensive Athol property in 1813. Werden, a successful lumberman and property owner, built a fine house befitting his station in life. The home displays early characteristics: tiny square attic windows, tight eaves and wide facade/narrow side footprint. The brick is a rare pale salmon pink hue, laid in prestigious Flemish bond on the façade with the less impressive common bond on other elevations. That's a common conceit which survives to the present day - putting the showy and more costly treatments where they will make the best impression. Check your nearest subdivision.

Another exquisite early brick home, the austere 1829 Loyalist Georgian  dwelling built by Richard Miskin and his wife Sarah, daughter of Carrying Place pioneer Asa Weller, shows the characteristic evenly spaced windows across five bays. Until recently the house was in a poor state of repair, but my last drive by was much more encouraging.

 The fine c.1813 John Scott house was rescued from oblivion by Rodger Greig. local teacher and built heritage expert, writer of the sometimes cheeky volume The Splendour of Prince Edward County (Mika Publishing, 1991.) The house stands far from the road on the way to Point Petre in secluded treed grounds. It features paired windows, identical front and back door-cases and a basement kitchen, signs of its early pedigree. It is built of small unevenly coloured colonial brick, with the preferred cherry red reserved for the front façade.

My heart broke when I witnessed the 2012 demolition of the doughty little Mouck house near South Bay. It was built around 1836 by William Mouck, and was generally considered the oldest brick house in South Marysburgh. Its small windows in gable and façade, tight eaves and simple eaves returns proclaimed its age. 

At one time the house was covered in rough-cast, suggesting the brick was beginning to deteriorate. At its demise the house revealed its brick heart; the imperfect bricks used as insulating infill, or ‘nogging’, placed between wood framing elements. 

Cruikshank and Stokes comment on the significance of this dignified small house built in brick in a rural setting “at the time brick was generally reserved for palatial houses in towns.”

One of the county’s finest early brick houses was built around 1830 by the Reverend William Macaulay who established the Church of England presence in 1821 in Delhi, the area south of today’s Picton harbour. Macaulay owned most of the property in the area, and oversaw the growth of the new community in spiritual and temporal matters; he donated property and resources for many significant buildings in the area. 

Macaulay House, today part of Macaulay Heritage Park, illustrates many characteristics of early brick building. The colour of the brick varies greatly, from the prestigious even cherry red (considered the finest colour) Flemish bond brick across the front to the mixed hues varying from tones of pink to buff to brown on the less important sides. 

Macaulay’s 1830 St. Mary Magdalene Church displays the same early mottled brick. Adding to its charm are the low roof pitch and outstanding vernacular Gothic windows. 


I love these two  large former farmhouses in Picton. They seem aloof, turning away from the street. Turns out  they were built before the town was surveyed into house lots and didn't know which way to turn. 

The c.1835 home of Simeon Washburn, prominent merchant and politician is situated behind and to the east of St. Mary Magdalene Church along today's Main Street East. This two-storey brick home displays high gable end parapet walls with four massive chimneys. 

Another original farmhouse, built by Joseph Johnson about 1835, sits on today's Johnson Street, although the facade is oriented to the south and what was once an uninterrupted view to the harbour.

Its brickwork is laid up in Flemish bond,  rare at that time,  according to something I've read somewhere.

While I was writing the chapter I had a lot of fun learning bricklaying (on paper.) Page 107 of the book displays my prowess. Common bond, Flemish bond, and my favourite, Rowlock bond are shown. Rowlock bond was the trademark of  the bricklaying Welsh brothers, whose work I featured here . Turns out the clever lads didn't used bigger bricks, they just stood them on the skinny side, to make them go further!

I wrote about an endangered rowlock bond house on the 'town hill' in Picton, back in February 2013. Last time I looked there was a 'development opportunity' being shilled for the site. Poor prognosis for that little house.

A final note on brick. A most versatile building material. I am continually astonished at all the varations a brick-builder can create: dog-tooth, corbelling, a pattern I cannot call anything but "smocking." Then there's polychromatic brick-work.

A rare sighting of checkerboard brick is to be had in Waupoos.

But the last word in brick (oh wait, I forgot the 'white brick' house in Picton, likely from Sandbanks sand) goes to the stately deGroffe houses of Bloomfield from the late 1800s.

These simple, elegant, commodious homes lend dignity to the village and give it some of its distinctive character.

I read somewhere that the Degroffe trademark is said to be the showy cornice detail on these otherwise plain and practical (Quaker-inspired?) homes.

Monday, January 18, 2016

A river runs through it

A chilly bright and beautiful winter day today. Unfortunately, when people say that to me, all I hear is "chilly." Like those dog jokes where the cartoonist interprets what dogs hear. Lots of blah-blah and then "walk" or "treat." So. Chilly. Have spent part of the morning between the covers.

The covers in question are those of the inestimable treasure Rogues' Hollow by Peter John Stokes, Tom Cruickshank, and Robert Heaslip (ACO, 1983)

I spent two days in Rogue's Hollow (known more commonly as Newburgh since the 1850s) in November. If you are a Newburgh nut also, I'll link you here and here to previous posts.

The more I walked Newburgh's streets the more I became acquainted with its rivers. First thing I learned - there is only one river, the Napanee. Split by nature into two branches (the smaller one is Little Napanee - no poet on hand to christen it more poetically) and domesticated into canals and millraces by the owners of its water powered industries, Newburgh is a town with a lot of waterfront.

Walk with me through some delightful spots in Newburgh where the river and the town coexist.

This grey and honey-coloured stone building hugging the north edge of the Napanee, dead centre in down-town along Main Street, is Philip Phalen's blacksmith shop, built on the site where he had been established since before 1856. The building looks ancient, but the authors suggest that it was built after the 1887 fire which destroyed so much of the centre of the town. By way of evidence, a c1910 photo shows a new-looking (although rough-built, in the interests of economy) stone building at the site. Tsk. A virtual Newburgh newbie. The building has been used as blacksmith shop, fire hall, storage and now a residence. But never as a mill, according to Rogues' Hollow, despite the Wikipedia article writer's assertion to the contrary.
Salmon River upstream

For years the door in the south facade opened onto thin air above the river; only recently has someone harnessed the power of the deck.

From the bridge you can view the Napanee River burbling along cheerily. But just back it up with a dam, especially during spring freshet, and she becomes an industrial force to be reckoned with.
looking downstream

Join me on the bridge. It's easy to get a look to west and east, in the fall with the leaves flown. The top photo is the view upstream, what the folks sitting on that deck would see.

To the left is the view downstream.  I like the bit of a ruin in the stream;  I believe it's part of the dam at the former Hooper's mill complex.
no this was not the November trip

Doesn't look like much of a flow really, does it? But by 1860, Newburgh was home to an astonishing amount of industry, most powered by the river and its branches: a sawmill, flour mill, carding mill, a foundry, carriage and cabinet works, tanneries and blacksmith shops.

Denis is standing near the riverbank at the concrete and stone dam which is visible from the Main Street bridge above. Here Douglas Hooper started the  Union Flour and Grist Mills in 1840; later he added an oat mill. A mill pond bulged around Hooper's dam on the Napanee River.

Nothing is visible of Hooper's grist milling empire but by way of consolation, I offer his 1864 woolen mill, which sits just north of the earlier buildings, on the Little Napanee River. Fortunately, this immense structure has been saved, beautifully restored and landscaped, and used as a residence .

The Rogues' Hollow writers comment on the round iron plates in the fine stone walls of the two and a half storey structure. They're useful, not decorative, serving to hold the ends of tie bars keeping the walls standing straight and tall. To finish up I'll share two of the other stone buildings in the valley of the Napanee River, along Main Street.

The stone store (with its shop-front unattractively modernized) sits right on the northwest bank. It's visible in the top photo, should you still be trying to get oriented. This is the W.W.Adams Tailor Shop c1850. Rogues' Hollow notes its classical qualities, its size and proportions and its grand chimneys, stone corbels and eaves (a particularly Newburgh feature.)

Madden Store
The final stone structure in the river bottom grouping is this lovely. It sits a bit north of Palen's blacksmith shop, its parapet end wall visible in the second photo from the top.

This is one of those happier stories. Often buildings that appear in great condition in books published in the 1970s or 80s (why are there so few architectural history books coming out these days?) have succumbed to unattractive face-lifts or worse, in the intervening years. In the case of the lovely Madden Store (c1855) Stokes et al describe this worthy as "vacant for some years, partly stabilized and restored by the former owner..." They comment on the boarded up shop windows which the owner had painted to resemble the original 12 paned glass. This is what they had to say about the Madden Store: "The building is of great architectural importance and it contributed to the overall visual quality of this section of Main Street." See it's not just me. They note the "imposing chimneys, stone corbels and eaves, quoins and posts to the shopfront, and a transom over the front door."

I love how it sits right at the street, in the old manner. And that happy story? It's now restored, and looking wonderful.

Newburgh sounds like a nice little community, even today. Check their Facebook page to keep up with news and events. Shout Sister, a choir I used to sing with, performed recently, a Syrian refugee benefit. Good on ya, Newburgh!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Grain Drain

One day last week I  learned something from Facebook.
Actually, I do that most every day, as my friends are intelligent people who post interesting stuff, and the pages I follow tend toward heritage and architectural history.

On January 4 Connie who is Facebook host for Trenton Town Hall 1861 (the page of the Trent Port Historical Society) posted an account of businessman and steamer agent William Jeffs. This was his home, at 116 King Street, built c1884. The site features a photo taken around 1900 when vines climbed the tower, and a cascade of young ladies graced the steps.

Although William Jeff's house sits a respectable distance above Dundas Street nestled near the base of Mount Pelion, his life was on the waterfront. He owned a grain elevator right at the harbour, and another brick commercial building.The image on the site (from a Belden's atlas, maybe?) shows 1870s sailing ships at the wharf and several wagons and teams representing the grain shipment which took place here.

side steps - another apartment 
A January 7 Trenton Town Hall 1861 post profiled yet another once fine home. The home of  Captain Jonathan Porte at Queen West and Cresswell Drive is in wretched shape,  long ago divided into apartments, giving few hints of  its former elegance. Here's a glimpse in Streetview.                                                                                                                       Trenton is fascinating that way. I love the echoes of the past in its many "unevenly preserved" neighbourhoods. There are a few beautifully maintained Edwardian homes in the area  along with a variety of infill bungalows and apartment towers no doubt replacing older homes.
For some reason I don't have photos of the area around Queen, McGill and Shuter streets, but it's calling me back. The neighbourhood boasts several wonderfully eclectic and boastful red brick mansions; sadly they are now living in genteel poverty, subdivided and neglected. One on Queen Street just before the intersection with Shuter, is Victorian eclecticism writ large, with an Italianate tower with  Mansard roof (similar to the Jeffs house) tall narrow paired windows, and an ample frosting of gable end trim. Although the main house sports a gable roof, a back wing goes Mansard.  Dormers. Cresting. Finials. Polychromatic slate. Check, Verticality the watchword.

What I find absolutely fascinating is the view these houses must have had from the back of the properties - over a bluff and out to the Bay of Quinte, past the railway lines of the Canadian Northern  and an industrial district which contained (among others?) the  Trenton Cooperage mill, founded in 1908 to manufacture barrels for the export of apples from wharves along this same shore. Now it's the home of Quinte West's wonderful library (winner of the 'best view from a library' award), the green expanse of Bayshore Park's soccer fields beyond the memorial, and a new marina ("slip into something more comfortable.")   Time travel. Tickets here.