Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Unfinished Business - the Tennant tenant

What's wrong with this picture?
No, not the neon portable sign, which I agree is wrong, just wrong.
Especially when it's propped outside a dignified early stone house with a story to tell...none of it requiring a loud hysterical voice, which this type of signage always conveys to me.

This interesting building makes those of us who might have an expectation of  symmetry about a house of its evident early date, twitch.

suspicious circular scars just below the parapet wall
This house sits at the corner of Church Street and Great St. James Street, its north facade overlooking the door and window store which was home to the Coca-Cola plant from the 1920s to 1950s. Clearly it's seen some changes in the surrounding neighbourhood, given that it was built in 1835, and Coca-Cola came (and went) much more recently.
Great St James Street facade

According to Allen E. Montgomery's 2007 local history Great St. James Street: Graveyard to Grave, the house was constructed around 1835 for Mr. Coulter of Madoc. The plan was to build an extension on the Church Street facade later. Steel anchor rods left intact to assist the builders are still detectable.

Unfortunately the land on which the addition was to grow was needed by the Grand Junction Railway being laid (survey was done in 1852) to connect the lower (wharf) end of the city with the Grand Trunk Railway, so a thirty-three foot right of way was purchased from Mr. Coulter, around 1870/71.

Other owners include a Doctor Tennant, and later B.C. Donnan, Q.C. Around the time Mr. Montgomery wrote his little book, Mr. Abe Tobe, a local personality who owned a dance hall in Rossmore. owned the building. He was instrumental in the 1950s building of the Sons of Jacob Synagogue on Victoria Street, a lovely modernist building I have often admired.

Church Street facade - I assume the right-of-way is on the right 
Several other owners followed. After 1964 the rail allowance was allotted back to the owner, when the rail service ended. My guess is that the 33 foot section was at the right in the photo above, where the owner has a garden. You can see the open land of the railway right of way even today through the magic of Streetview.

But what still has me intrigued about the house is two asymmetrical facades, to north and west (Church Street) and two parapet end walls, one to the east, the other on the south. I womder if Mr. Coulter may have intended to grow the house on two sides?
I checked with a couple of great local references. Belleville's Heritage,* published by the Hastings County Historical Society in 1978 is one of two booklets on historic local buildings. The writers (the Historic Structures Committee of HCHS) provide a bit more information. The builder's name was John Coulter, a blacksmith; the date about 1840. After he learned the bad news about the railway needing his property, he abandoned his plans after building "one half of the house," and sold it to William and Margaret Tennant in 1871. William was a moulder at Brown's Foundry; son Robert became a doctor and practised from this address.
dentils under the eaves visible through the tree branches
The authors comment on the superior stonework, which has stood unmoved  for 176 years. They note the pyramid corbels supporting the south and east parapets with their wide chimneys. In the booklet photo, the 12x12 sash windows remained. They added such presence...albeit likely with some drafts.

*Incidentally, Volume II of Belleville's Heritage (1983) and a larger volume, Heritage Buildings East of the Moira (1991/2012) are available through the Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County. Here's a link to their fine website. Follow the 'Bookstore' links to three hard-to-resist virtual bookshelves.

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