Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Maitland Manor-house

I am fascinated by this residence near Maitland. It looks perfectly at home in its exquisite gardens, but somehow it speaks of England, not an early settlement along the St. Lawrence River.  I remembered that I'd fallen under its spell a summer ago, so decided to look for my photos, and do a bit of research.

Then last night, as I was savouring a chapter in my re-reading of the delightful volume The Ancestral Roof, I made a discovery. (Yes, the  title was the inspiration for this blog's name, homage to this very early book about early Ontario architecture, published in 1963. Not a text-book, more drawing room chat with the most erudite Marion Macrae.)
 I found Macrae's reference to this house.  I was delighted as I hadn't read enough house history to satisfy me at the website of Maplehurst Manor  - for the sophisticated house has been pressed into service as an elegant hostelry and event venue. Inn-keeper Ann Cox relates that the home was created by a British architect in 1829 for George Longley, an Englishman who once served as member of the assembly for Grenville. The house is described as Regency/Neoclassic.

Back to England.One of the topics I unearthed in my studies over the past few years was the Palladian Style. I had a go at this academic European style a couple of times, and remembered enough to think "this house is Palladian in inspiration."

Elements characteristic of the style (which I won't go on about here, since you have already followed the links to my earlier peregrinations) include the form, with flanking wings, a projecting centre section with pediment, raised basement level, and absolute symmetry. It also seems to me that the external steps to the main entrance on the second level, and the columns (Ionic capitals) are typical. Is ashlar stone characteristic? I would think so.

And I muse: half-moon in tympanum of pediment, cornice under eaves, quoins.Georgian door with half-round fanlight, separate full side-lights. Absence of the typical rusticated masonry on the first (basement) level, and of a third full storey (dormers suggest some space up there) mark it less than academic.

Ah yes. A look at Macrae puts Maplehurst solidly in the ranks of the 'vernacular.' Does she say that with a slight sniff? She doesn't mince words.  "Maplehurst presents a somewhat contradictory of merits and absurdities." Ah, she does like the masonry work. The entry (which I thought rather grand, what do I know?) not so much. She lectures the master-craftsmen involved for "the sheer ineptitude of composition present in the recessed porch...It may not always have worn its heavy architrave like a cold compress [ouch!] for a decorative cornice may once have relieved the bad proportion, but the capitals of the columns can never have been any closer to the Ionic than they are now." She notes that the humbling external shutters must have been added later, by those who didn't know better.

As I compare my photos to those in Macrae's book, I think that some improving has taken place. Would love to hear her opinion on what looks like a rather elegant full entablature with wide cornice replacing what appears in the photo in her book - something akin to a plain stone lintel sitting atop the columns. Can it be? Did someone fix this, and not tell us?

As we leave, we turn our attention to the bank of the great river, where stands this skeletal windmill. The inn website states that this was the site of Mr. Longley's wind-powered (later steam-powered) mill. I wonder if the fine stone barns adjacent are part of the complex?

This page contains some biographical information about George Longley. Ah, Maplehurst clearly has more stories to tell us.

Arthurian Legend

Anyone planning a trip to New Zealand (squeal) will note with interest that one Eric Ross Arthur was born in Dunedin and distinguished himself at Otago Boys High School - and gathered honours later at the University of Liverpool School of Architecture.

What might not be apparent is his importance to the two somewhat different structures here. During the Great Depression, Arthur, a respected professor of architecture at UofT, and a "highly opinionated [and] observant student of contemporary Canadian design"* purchased the endangered Barnum house. Bankrolling the 'money-pit' led to the formation of that force for good, the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario.

It's a measure of Toronto's confidence in him that Eric Arthur 'refereed' (Richard Longley's words; check out his article on Eric Arthur in the Spring 2017 issue of ACORN) the team of architects who selected the design and designer (Viljo Revell) of Toronto's eye-catching City Hall.

Peter and Aurelia Davy's house, Bath
But it's Eric Arthur's passion for the early buildings of Ontario which likely endears him to the readers of this journal. Arthur photographed hundreds of early structures; many of these evocative black and white photos of vanished ancestors can be visited in The Settler's Dream - the rest at the Ontario Archives. On my list. Not only that, but in the middle of his modernist designing career, he managed to write about our built heritage. Two of my favourites are The Barn, and Toronto, No Mean City (the links take you to old posts where the books are mentioned.) Both titles are widely available at collectible and rare books dealers online. As are others - succumbed just now to two I read about here* just now.

2014 photos
And there's more, more relevant to the story I want to tell. Over more than a decade beginning in 1927, while Eric Arthur was capturing our vanishing heritage on film (yes, film) he commanded his architecture students to create measured drawings of significant eighteenth and nineteenth century structures in the province. Sadly, so many of them have been demolished, or changed beyond recognition.

But one has persisted. This house has been turning heads for years. We almost lost it. A photo in Blake and Greenhill's 1969 Rural Ontario shows a weathered unpainted structure "in some danger of destruction."

Homesteads, by McBurney and Byers (1979) describes Peter Davy's  "handsome" "neo-classic" 1819 home thus: "the house stands empty and desolate. At one time it was undoubtedly the finest in the village."

But here's where Gus Panageotopoulos comes in.
We met Gus -  Shannon, Sabine and I -  on a 'classical' tour back in 2014. Not sure if Gus is the sole old house hero in the story, but Shannon quickly established that the windows were 'safe' with a knowledgeable owner . And so they were. Today, the reveal.
Gus emailed this week, to share photos of the work of D.J.White Restoration of Hartington, the restoration of the magnificent door surround, and windows of the fine house. And it was Eric Arthur's measured drawings to which Gus and David turned, to effect this transformation.

2017 - nothing short of magnificent
I can't  find a website for DJ White, but his name comes up on heritage building consultant Craig Sims' site. Another link features photos of David White's work on Ham House. DJ White of Hartington is in the right place, with Bath's early built heritage to preserve. One day the village may wake to the realization that its history is the key to the future.

Monday, October 30, 2017

I am not amused

Second Empire with NHS credentials 
I recently spent a week agonizing over dozens of architecture books preparing for a talk which didn't happen on 'house styles' (which I tend to think might better be referred to as stylistic influences, given the tendency for Ontario buildings to go all eclectic on us.) Blame the vernacular builder, the owner with dodgy taste who selects everything fancy to slap on, to the high Victorian Italianate/Second Empire piles who tended to share high style elements. Or later additions. Not a bit like train-spotting.

Gothic Revival
This we know for sure.
Second Empire.
Romanesque Revival.
Gothic Revival.
And so on.

I've read that most 'styles' express one of  two polarities - the stylistic see-saw between the popularity of influences from the Classical or the Gothic.


Greek Revival


Shannon Kyles devotes a chapter to Victorian architecture on the Styles pages of her website

She explains: "a Victorian can be seen as any building built between 1840 and 1900 that doesn't fit into any of the aforementioned categories."


Victorian houses came in many sizes and shapes. A very common form was the L-shaped house, commodious for the large Victorian family and their entourage of relatives and household staff.

Hastings County

She describes that pleasing "mixing of styles", the bargeboards good but not Gothic, decorative but not historical. Gable designs feature not quatrefoils but sunbursts and starbursts. 

Shannon likens the craftsman's propensity for decorating every surface with as much variety as possible, to the Victorian dressmaker's art, which brought the art of over-decorating to heights never attained since.

The site lists features you'd see in any self-respecting Victorian home: "bay windows, stained glass, ornamental string courses, and elegant entrances."

Shannon Kyles points out that good craftsmanship was the hallmark; despite all those details, a pleasing "unity of design" prevailed.
Toronto Bay and Gable
Cabbagetown Cottages
 Bless those Victorians. No 'style' identification angst. Just sit back and enjoy them.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Rounding the Corner

As I browse my road atlas, and bash around Ontario's back roads, I often encounter communities  named (either intentionally, or just because that's what folks always called them) by the intersection around which they grew. I would guess that typically the name matched that on the deed or crown grant of the owner of the lot nearest that country crossroads. Often he (invariably he) would have been the donor of a half-acre for a church or school - or maybe a hall - somewhere close by.

Somebody's Corners.

did an important Pierce live here?

During our Rideau River based junkets, LOML suggested we take in Pierce's Corners nearby. Funny. Having a place named after one (but not really) gives a visit a special kind of resonance. Wonder if  some ancestral Pierce took up land here in the early 1800s, as the family heeded the call to 'spread out over the earth and multiply on it'?

Here's a link commemorating the visit of the Streetview car. Come along on our walk.

The cross-roads hamlet looked deserted when we wandered its streets (well, both cross-roads) but several not unimportant buildings drew us.

The rather magnificent timber-frame Carpenter Gothic St. John the Baptist Anglican Church (1892) church invites exploration. Original stained glass windows and a drive shed which once sheltered parishioners' horses during Sunday service are remarkable features of this otherwise pretty run-down church. Damage to louvres in the fine bell tower makes me wonder if there is any commitment to keeping it? It was decommissioned only in 2008 according to my sources.

log barn - might it have been a first house?

Next door to the church, a barn complex. I wonder if the smaller log building might have been a settler's first home? This area was active pretty early (nearby Burritts Rapids began in 1793) so it's unlikely the building could be standing for so long. But it's always fascinating to revisit that settlement narrative.

On the gable end of the Loyal Orange Lodge next door, with its interesting chapped buff paint is inscribed:

AD 1897 Independent LOL No. 561 Peirces (sic?) Corners.

The building is domestic in scale, and now, domestic in usage.

Astonishing. The 'corners' has two schools. There's the  red brick S.S.#3 dated 1890 - a substantial school house with segmentally arched windows and fine brick work above. Next door, and converted to residential use, is a two-storey cement block (once the newest thing) school with a 1914 date stone, S.S.#3 Marlborough. Only twenty-four years separates the two buildings. What happened here? Perhaps the community grew to be able to afford a high school on the second level? Surely there is a local history I can find - right now I am flummoxed because of Mike Harris' clever amalgamation of townships. Am I still looking at North Gower here? I'll keep you posted.

Murphys Corners
I flipped to the index of my road atlas. No shortage of communities named for the corner around which they grew (or didn't.) South of today's Nepean, Baxters Corners, Mills Corners and Moores Corners claim their spot in the sun. There's Bishops Corners near Cloyne (the spot with the great museum) and Baltic Corners northwest of Alexandria. Scotch Corners. Pethericks and Pattersons, Ledgerwoods and Lehighs, Stones, Snowdons, and Sweets Corners. Communities with or without apostophes

Murphy's Corners on the Old Hastings Road, Allans Corners just north of Huckabones Corners on highway 41 above Napanee. Armstrongs Corners and DeWitts Corners near Perth. Little cross-roads stands taken against encircling farm and bush. Each little pond with a big toad or two, as our dear little mom would observe.
1975 - the town I founded in New Brunswick

Increasingly, those place names on the map fail to materialize, and we drive past former settlements of people and their few services and many dreams, without spotting any evidence they'd ever stood.

But we've always looked. And we'll keep on looking.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

New School

across the lock to Carleton U
This was to be another 'back to school' post, but somehow September got away from me. This photo keeps popping up on my screensaver slide show, so I must spend a moment in memories - and why not take you along?

I may have mentioned before that I set out for Carleton University in 1965, a green farm kid who found the academic and social demands of the school a bit overwhelming. While visiting Ottawa this August, and revisiting many of my old haunts, I was drawn to this spot.

One place where I felt at home was the Arboretum of the Central Experimental Farm (more on that later) a delightful domesticated 'wild space' along the Rideau Canal. Bridges and water reflections, meandering paths through hilly terrain, benches, lawns and gnarled old trees for sitting were a balm to my soul and allayed my culture shock a bit.

Add to that the history resonance of the lockmaster's house and the operational locking system at Hartwell Locks, and how could a 2PM lecture begin to compete?

The visit to Hartwell's Locks was the final stop in a summer spent visiting a number of well maintained Parks Canada locations in and around Smith's Falls, Perth, Merrickville and Burritts Rapids. I realize to my chagrin that I have not yet posted those wanderings.

L to R - Tory, Paterson, MacOdrum Library

But back to school for a moment.

Carleton was nearly as new and undeveloped as I was in 1965. The Rideau River campus had just opened five years earlier, with the Henry Marshall Tory (Science) and Norman Paterson (Arts) buildings, and the Maxwell MacOdrum Library, planted on three sides of a 'quad' - central to both the early campus and the life lived there - planted with equally new trees.

In 1963 the campus added a place for me to sleep - Renfrew House, once of two student residences - and Southam Hall, containing pretty intimidating steeply raked lecture theatres (no place for me to sleep.) In 1965, Carleton added the C.J. Mackenzie Engineering building - and little me. (No, no, Arts all the way.) The brick pillar of the Dunton tower was opened in 1970, the year I topped off my degree with a couple of night school English courses. I recall that the campus was under construction for most of my time at Carleton.

The old photo above appears in a fascinating post on a blog written by a student at Carleton in 2013. The blog appears short-lived, so I can't contact the writer to determine how to credit this very early (1965?) photo of Carleton. I hope no-one minds. Do read Mike Chiarello's post, and enjoy this photo of a tiny new university (which is still, after 47 years, still contacting me for support.)

I had a wander around the 'quad' enjoying new sculpture and the swing in one of the now giant maples in front of the totally remodelled library. Had a chat with a prof's waiting wife. Recognized that the place no longer held any dominion over me. And wandered back over the Hartwell Lock, hopped into to my waiting car, and headed back along River Road to my campsite on the Rideau.

'Best years of your life,' our Dad (who had to leave school in Grade 7 to run the farm) used to say of high school and uni. Wish he were still here to debate the point with me.

There. Isn't that better? Angst-free zone. University life, seen from the other side. Through the rear-view mirror.