Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Looking down on Westport

The day was so very hot, wilting by 11AM. I had left my cool Murphy's Point campsite in the pines to follow a walking tour around Westport.

So I heeded my instincts and headed for higher ground, a place our mom and dad visited often, the Foley Mountain Conservation area. After a walk down to the cooling shore of Upper Rideau Lake, I stormed the heights, gaining a rocky foothold from which to feel the pine-scented breezes and love the town from a distance.

My travels through the town began and ended at the impressive little Westport Museum which would be a strong contender for the most local artifacts in a single structure.

Lots of interpretation, as well. From the hand-lettered signs on displays, I learned more about hair wreaths and sacred swastikas than I had ever suspected. The board and batten clad building was built in the 1850s. Once home of a boat, furniture and coffin manufacturer, it was later outfitted with two forges and bellows and converted to the blacksmith shop. Really got my attention when I read that the resident blacksmith and family lived upstairs. The day of my visit, it was stiflingly hot up there, no need at all for a couple of hot fires below. Poor family!

But the best thing that happened there, was picking up a copy of The Historic Walking Tour of Westport, Ontario. Just the thing. Gave me motivation to soldier on in the heat (but the Continuation School must just be down Rideau Street a bit..." No, never did make it.) answered a few questions about some of the distinguished homes along the shore, and opened up to scrutiny the areas's now invisible industrial history .

This late c19 woodworking shop with the conspicuous tin-clat false front housed the town's Oddfellows, Masons and Lions (consecutively or simultaneously was not clear.) It's now a printing shop.

The effect of the bracketed cornice is lost now that it stands alone. The profile of the building can be spied so easily as it is missing its neighbours, Pickles Rice's Gas Station and Byrnes Undertaking and Harness Shop (both visible in a 1936 photo.) Isn't it just the shiniest thing, clad in tin, pressed in a rock-faced pattern? Sure was radiating heat the day I ventured by.

Nice fretwork trimmed porch, nice trees. This was the Church Street home of the boat-building Conleys. I recall the link between the skills of the boat-builder and those same talents expressed in his home, from when we travelled in Lunenburg and Mahone Bay.

Join me in my trudge along Church Street?

Next door is the home of Dr. Barry, then Dr. Stevens, the dentist. Like the Conley house, it was set far enough back on its property that it escaped fires that destroyed much of the village in the early 1900s. The gracious home is now The Victorian, luxury suites and spa. The Loft, a 'modern rustic' retreat, is nestled behind the modified Palladian window with brick voussoir in the gable. Bird's eye view of town and lake, I would expect.

Love the feature window on the main floor, with the stained glass transom.

Sweetest little houselet just around the corner on Spring Street. Didn't make it into the guidebook. Plain little thing, but the builder blew everything on the pilastered doorcase with full entablature. That feature managed to survive the vinylizing of the structure, the vinyl trim snugging neatly up to the doorframe.

Also at the corner of Church and Spring was this mansard roofed (note the glassed in bump-out window, a modern take on the elaborate dormers of the day.) This impressive brick started out life in the late 1880s as the home of A.M.Craig "the inventor of the one-piece harness buckle."

Now I'll not have you laugh. There was a factory devoted to its manufacture, in two locations (the first destroyed by fire in 1909.) The buckle's second manufacturing location survives today, as condominiums!

But back to 18 Church Street. In the early1900s this was the Hecht general store, later it housed local pharmacy, doctor's office and pool hall (there's talk these days about doctors writing prescriptions for arts and athletic pursuits) until the 1920s. The C.W.L. was the longest owner, 1921-1988.

Across the street, ironically, was the 1889 Methodist church.

And now, some houses, just because I liked them.

This pair is on Rideau Street, the way into 'downtown' Main Street from Highway 42.

Now it's getting exciting. Behind 51 Main Street, at the corner of Rideau street, behind an iconic summer home we catch a glimpse of Rideau Lake. Some Queen Anne details of the dwelling have survived the application of white vinyl, offset by crisp black paint.

Fish-scale shingles in the gables with half-moon vents, billet detail below the eaves and along the raking cornice, interesting detail along verandah roof, posts and portico (do I see a Gothic arch?)

A bit further along Main Street is the Post Office.

post office mascots - lizard and squirrel
Misty conditions on the previous day, when Den and I were conducting our initial recce of the village prevented me from doing justice to the 1935 'Collegiate Gothic' Post Office, or to the work of the Quebec stone carvers who turned out  the lizards flanking the main doorway, or the squirrel on the corner of the tower. Not sure of their significance, but the handcrafted weather-vane of a mailman on the spire, delivering in rain, snow and sleet makes sense. Can you make him out?

lizards to the left of me...
Best thing about the above photo is the great coffee I had on patio at the Vanilla Bean (everyone else was queuing up for ice cream) when I returned to the area the following day. It's housed in an 1890 stone building which first served as a windowless stone-cutting and monument making business. By 1924 it was an ice-cream parlour (perfect!) then a pharmacy. Their great coffee was good medicine for this Westport wanderer.

Tipping down toward the shore of Rideau Lake is the stub end of Spring Street called (for reasons I haven't checked into) Fetch Murphy walk. A hot day draws everyone to the water's edge - there was a time when it was even more inviting. For here is Westport Spring. Where a communal tin cup used to serve all comers, the spring is now sealed off, the more cautious municipal drinking water standards people having moved in during the 1990s. But water will find its own level, and a remnant of the spring now serves visiting dogs well.
A footbridge has connected this picnic area with Goat Island offshore since the 1960s. Once goats were pastured on the island during the summer. Don't goats swim?

Refreshed and returned to busy Main Street, I pause to study this old stone commercial/residential building. Part of the facade is of large ashlar blocks, the rest neatly trimmed and laid rock-faced cut stone. Can't quite figure out why - maybe the builder had leftovers from another project?

Of all the happy places in Westport, this is my happiest. This is the grand Foley House, built in 1867, a red brick British classical home and mercantile built by Declan Foley (hazard a guess where he's from?) Westport-made brick, limestone details like quoins and lintels quarried and cut nearby and transported to the build site along the Rideau.

Sir John A. spend the night here. He certainly did get around didn't he? So many places claim "SJA slept here" that one wonders if he ever climbed into his own bed.

Just love the shop front, looks original, and so wonderfully restored and painted, probably during the 2009 renovation I read about in the tour guide.

And there's more. When I visited the place was listed for sale by Sotheby's. And of course, there a virtual tour.

Real estate links provide great opportunities to see properties inside and out, and I include them where I can, but they often end up broken, when the place sells.

Foley house is listed at $1,800,000 so perhaps this link will provide AR readers with a sneak peek for longer than most.

This sprawling white frame structure houses The Cove Inn, housing some nice rooms, a wonderful restaurant and patio under the trees overlooking the Millpond, and a great pub which seems to be an entertainment hotspot for the area. 
 The white house across the street has served as an extension of the inn until this winter. I've just read of a fire which severely damaged the Fredenburgh Guest House across the street in January.

Very sad to think that when I visit this lovely spot next time, it will be missing this grand home which once belonged to a family which operated a furniture factory just down the hill at water's edge.
(former?) Fredenburgh Guest House

This is a glance back uphill to Main Street, taken from the bridge between Rideau Lake and the Mill Pond, once the site of substantial industry - as it was in all small communities where people made their own necessities. A couple of old photos in the guide show how congested the area was. (when it is summer again, I will contact the museum for permission to reproduce one here.)

The yellow-painted building is Hiram Lockwood's store and home, built 1872. By 1898 it became the Union Bank, and now, in summer, sells ice-cream to tourists.

Now we're on the bridge over the channel connecting the Mill Pond (once called Sand Lake, if I'm not mistaken) to Rideau Lake. In the days of water-power, this was an industrial hub, as the stream was harnessed for water-powered mills. A gristmill, later Fredenburgh's furniture factory stood on this site. A luxury hotel was built, and burned (suspicious circumstances) before its scheduled opening in 1930. Purchased in 1949, the site became the home of TomKat bats (you'd have to be a baseball player, I suppose.)

This much-improved structure, dubbed The Mill Retreat, transformed the lakeside property after 201l. You can visit it here, or in person. Looks very inviting.

Remember A.M. Craig, discoverer of the one-piece harness buckle? Admittedly,  this is a long post, so scroll back up to the corner of Church and Spring Street to pick up the story.

This brick industrial building housed Craig's second factory, the first having been destroyed by fire in 1909 - becoming known as the Westport Manufacturing and Plating Company. That name, and a view too! And adaptable - from saw mill to dance hall to fish hatchery to condominiums by 1988.

Although it's close to a busy road, the units are also temptingly close to the lake. A Streetview link provides a look around the property - seems to be a little park at the waterfront.

From this spot County Road 10 charges back up hill on the way to Perth.
Or you could take the turnoff, enter Foley Mountain Conservation area once again, and look down on Westport, and all of its amazing history.

Is anyone still with the tour? Orland? Sylvia?

1 comment:

  1. Always liked driving through Westport. Nice to see what riches await if you stop and walk around! Thank you.