Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Mr. Rogers would approve

I remember Mr. Rogers. Do you? His slow-paced children's television show Mr.  Rogers' Neighborhood [sic] ran for years, replaced by increasingly zippy educational offerings like Sesame Street and Electric Company. Mr. Rogers' show was like a visit with a kindly uncle or grandpa. A bit slow, maybe a tiny bit dotty, but a person who conveyed warmth, caring and all the patience in the world. The show ran from 1968 to 2000.

You might recall his often-used kindly prompt to his tiny viewers,encouraging them to attempt the name of something he might be telling them about. "Can you say....?" Today's more cynical folk parody that occasionally. "Can you say Transpacific Partnership, boys and girls?"

 The theme song for Mr. Rogers' Neighbourhood was "Won't you be my Neighbour?" Here's an invitation back into the simple magic of the show.

I think Mr. Rogers would have liked Old Oakville. He might be especially pleased with the neighbourliness of the neighbourhood, where ship captains, merchants and tradespeople lived in close proximity, in well-built homes. The quality of building might be attributed to the skills of the ships' carpenters who migrated to Chisholm's shipyards.

This might be due to an early prohibition on makeshift buildings and log construction imposed by Chisholm or his town planner Merrick Thomas. (I read that somewhere, and am having no luck relocating the source!)

Mr. Rogers would also like the well-kept nature of the neighbourhood, everything put away neat and tidy.

A feature of Old Oakville which makes a ramble even more edifying is the house plaques, identifying homes with the names of original owner/builder, his occupation and the build date.

Justus Williams, merchant  (1838)
Old Oakville's homes, grand and humble, all look so well-built and lovingly maintained. This is due to the owners no doubt, who value their community and properties and want them all looking their best. The presence of an active Historical Society has doubtless 'raised the bar' through the years.

I found online a copy of the Oakville Historical Society newsletter from 2006, in which the process of application for the exterior house plaques was outlined.

Eligibility is simple. Houses have to be 100plus years old. I grew so curious as I wandered, not just intrigued by the architectural features and the exquisite natural beauty of the neighbourhood, but wanting to know so much more about the early inhabitants and their times.

Instant history lesson. Well done, Oakville Historical Society!

I must admit to being disappointed when some home owners appear to have declined to participate.

The tiny perfect 1860 James Kelly house is my absolute favourite. The Old Oakville Walkers' Guide provides a real gem: Farley Mowat's grandma and grandpa lived here.

George Ewan, carpenter (1853)
gorgeous coleus

Carriage-maker's abode  (1855)

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Walk on Water

Another favourite 'street' in Newburgh is Water Street west, if you like. There's lots to be said about the "early streetscape" which the writers of Rogues' Hollow describe with great appreciation, that block of early homes on the 'common' (my name for the open ground which likely harboured something industrial at one time) above Hooper's Mill and the Little Napanee River on the eastern section of Water Street.

But amble westward with me this trip, down this lane along the river.

Rogues' Hollow pays scant attention to this little neighbourhood west of the meeting (intersection is just too urban a word) of Water and Mill Streets. I was intrigued as the street just 'peters out,' ending at the river (now there's an expression that just popped out of the family favourites phrasebook. I had to check its origins; now it's revealed itself. Phrase Finder suggests that "the earliest known use of 'peter' as a verb meaning dwindle relates to the mining industry in the USA in the mid 19th century." Thank you mister Google.)

You can see the sparkle of sun on the river to the extreme left of the photo at the top. I loved this beautifully painted prim little frame house and its gardens along the river. I'm not sure if this is the Rogers/Bagyan house that Stokes and his co-writers describe as "a frame house built about 1910 on an old stone foundation."

John Black House c1850
 Although greatly changed from the photo in RH, the well-proportioned white house below must be the c1850 John Black house. Modern cladding has covered most of the detail, and that plastic porch masks what the writers describe as a "front door framed in the style of the 1850s" - if it even survived the makeover. But you can't miss the early proportions of the house, or fault the setting beneath those pines, looking across the road (which by now has dwindled to a gravel lane with grassy centre) overlooking the river.

And by way of proving that modern is not always bad, the location on the riverbank, directly across from the house, in the 1870s, was an industrial complex. Mr. Black operated a tannery in that spot. Not so fragrant as the breeze off today's bucolic creek.

I'm thinking this dark grey painted house might be the Black/Ruttan house c1865. Although it's not shown in RH, the text refers to a house with a gable over the front entrance, and a "slight asymmetry of the front" which signalled a larger room to the left of the door. Or could that have been this one?

And finally, returning to the 'intersection' we see across Front (Mill) Street the Lockwood/Godfrey house from the mid-fifties (1850s.) Although not visible from this angle, there is an entrance in the south side also, which the writers suggest might mark it as a store sometime in its history.

 "Vestiges of the cornice survive, as do the eaves returns and the plain outline of the doorcase...the sidelights to the entrance give some indication of its former character," comment our experts in 1983. I like that the stucco is nicely painted, and the property well kept.

Signs pointing the way to a riverside ramble:
Front Street shows as Water Street in Rogues' Hollow

the one that got away

A collapsing house, with piles of limestone suggesting a more impressive structure once stood nearby?

And behind the log outbuilding, behind the last house on the road, what's peering through the trees?

The Academy out on Concession Street.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Riverside Regency Romance

I've written about this perfect c1850 Regency Cottage before, in 2010 (before Blogger provided today's generous photo space) and 2014 (goodness, how time flies) when Shannon and Sabine came by to 'do' Classical Revival.

 It has all the elements: ground hugging profile, verandahs, lots of French doors, natural setting (if you ignore a busy road nearby) on Millhaven Creek, in a village with lots of early buildings and an historic mill.

Best thing about it right now is that it's for sale.

Gordon's Estate Services is now offering this beautiful piece of our built heritage for sale (and not to be indelicate, but you're not going to believe the price.) Follow the link for lots more photos and a virtual tour, and to reach Gordon's representative Nicky Breeze.

Oh, and did I mention that there's an Open House this Saturday, April 16th?

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Urban Barn

I love barns. Standing derelict on uncultivated farms, bleached boards and rusted sheet metal, inspiration for photographers and painters. Abandoned barns always create a touch of nostalgia for me, conjuring happy farm childhood days and a lost way of life.

This lovely structure in Deseronto captured my attention. I didn't investigate its uses, but it's still in good condition. What's interesting to me is that it's a short walk from Main Street, just across the park from the site of the Rathbun home. What's its story, I wonder?

Come to think of it, I often notice a  barn (or machine shop, carriage house or drive shed) sitting behind or to one side of a fine old home, just out of sight of visitors, waiting to be useful.

I know you'll ask, wish I could recall

I recall one in Madoc, but did I take its photo? No, I was looking for fine houses, and completely missed the opportunity to take a photo of a lovely piece of architectural history. I shall return, little barn.

Glen Williams - plank on plank


  In the meantime, to get me started, here are   a few more appealing and functional buildings I  photographed in towns.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Off the Shelf

 A new book's just made its way onto my reading pile. I missed this gentleman's talk at the Hastings County Historical Society recently (free, open to all, third Tuesdays of the month at 7:30 PM, Maranatha Hall, Belleville) as I could just not drag myself out into the dark and cold evening. A medium much more suited to my nature is the speaker's wonderful book,  which I have just obtained from Belleville Public Library. A trip to the Trafford Publishing online bookstore  to get my own copy is not far off.
Salmon Point

I notice that Prince Edward Historical Society (thank goodness, something in my natal county not branded "the County") has invited the writer to speak at their newly announced Two Days About History event, scheduled for June 18 and 19. More news to come I'm sure; sounds exciting.
we always called it Point Traverse

The book is For Want of a Lighthouse, subtitled Building the Lighthouses of Eastern Lake Ontario 1828 - 1914. The writer is Marc Seguin. He is clearly passionate about saving our old lighthouses and their history. On the copyright page is this impressive notice: "All profits from the sale of this book will go towards the preservation of the remaining lighthouses on the shores of eastern Lake Ontario." This is a man who 'puts his money where his mouth is.' Not only did he research and write 525 pages, but he's done it to support his other volunteer work as president of the Prince Edward County 'Save our Lighthouses' group. Clearly in league with that other force for good, the Presqu'ile Point Lighthouse Preservation Society.

I've written about lighthouses before. In a post last summer I saluted the many volunteer groups who are struggling to maintain these iconic structures, left behind by government divestment.

For Want of a Lighthouse is fascinating and informative. And vitally important. If you look past the nostalgic presences in these images, to the fact of their state of disrepair, "for want of a lighthouse" may once again become the state in which we find ourselves.

the iconic Presqu'ile light

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Fortune Cookie Crumbles

above the town
I've mentioned Deseronto on several occasions. It's an intriguing town, very much down on its luck (with a few notable exceptions like the exquisite O'Connor House tea room.) Once the Rathbun company town, home to an astonishing industrial enterprise in the 1800s, it boasted fine homes and all the trappings of a sophisticated present, and secure and successful future.

  A 2014 Kingston Whig Standard article I found online this week, by Susanna McLeod, captured the end of that era so succinctly. She recounts the May 25, 1896 fire, when "the Rathbun Company and Deseronto were thrown into disaster." A fire starting on the docks enveloped a number of the Rathbun concerns - flour mill, bran house, grain elevator, coal sheds, trestle docks, chemical works, stocks of timber, and houses. You begin to see what a colossal enterprise ran in this small town, and what a blow the fire was.

 McLeod goes on to explain that another fire two years later, and the end of the "limitless" forests on which the Rathbun lumbering industry relied, spelled the end of prosperity, and the end of Deseronto.

The town is still quite lovely, but unsettling. The height of land above highway 2, which slopes down to the bayshore is scenic; there are several fine old homes set amid lovely old trees up there. One can linger on the elevated sidewalk built above the level of the road. Below, many fine commercial buildings, and other striking homes.

But everything's a bit threadbare; the old life lived in them is gone. The vast areas of open land, where once the mills stood, are unnerving. Archival photos illustrate the fall from grace. True in so many villages, towns and cities, of course, but somehow I am always so aware of how fortunes can change, quickly and forever, when I wander the pleasant streets of Deseronto. Archivist Amanda Hill's outstanding blog is a great walking tour companion.

Enjoy with me some of the town's fine buildings, and imagine the good years.

An example of the way things used to be is the architecturally overdressed High School, below seen in a post card I found in the Deseronto Archives online. To the right is what survived. A couple of very nervous teenagers bolted inside as I took off my lens cap.

Deseronto High School (from the collection of R.N. Goodfellow)

1901 Romanesque Revival post office

1901 vaudeville house - designed by Glanmore's Thomas Hanley

This post from June 2012, by Archivist Amanda Hill, on the Deseronto Archives website, illustrates the before and after picture of the town, dramatically - and poignantly.

On my tour, I walked past the little house in the big field, and wondered if that open space had been the site of the brick and terra cotta works.