Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Sunday, March 31, 2019


Claramount, Picton
This splendid Colonial Revival home in Picton was built (or caused to be built) by lawyer Edward Young around 1906. The architect was William Newlands, whose name appears often in Kingston architectural history. The home was named for Young's wife, Clara.

But not all houses of this grand style had such grand origins.
I have been browsing the Wikipedia entry on  Sears Catalog Homes recently, and came across their pattern for the Sears Magnolia Kit Home (sold 1918-1922.)

Funny, despite my enduring interest in the mail-order home story, and a fruitful correspondence with a researcher out west, I haven't written much about them here. Now I don't have to; should you be the least bit interested (or even not at all) a browse through their site will make you a fan. Fascinating to see the pattern and materials list for Sears' Magnolia design. An extant home in Benson North Carolina, bears a striking resemblance to lawyer Young's home, but for the substitution of a rectangular monumental portico for the curved version in Picton.
Benson, N.C. (photo from Wikipedia -(but I made my donation, Jimmy, honest)

There are loads of images on the site, and this particularly annoying local TV interview, with redemptive early photos at about  the 1:30 mark. Perhaps the fact that it's been a funeral home since 1940 accounts for its being in such good nick.

The interviewee drawled on about the irony of this vestige of the now defunct Sears company living on - as a funeral home.

And if you're the kind of person who loves looking at photos of historic interiors (and if you're reading this, I'm just guessing...) here's a link to a real estate listing in South Bend, which one of them, I'm not sure (hope it doesn't go stale too soon) featuring an as-built Sears 'Magnolia.'

Love the dining nook. I remember a high school lunch with friend Laureen, in her Picton apartment, above the family's auto dealership on Main Street - the height of urban sophistication to my farm-girl eyes. We sat in just such a nook.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Your Purlins are Showing

Trethewey! Bless you.

Yesterday I was travelling back in time to our 2017 visit to dear friends and places in B.C. I've written a few posts about the time (and the architecture to be sure.) Victoria. Here's a link to one. If you're at all interested, use the search box on the blog. It's amazingly good. I find it useful, prevents me from blathering on all over again about a favourite place. And, Vancouver. Here's one I like.

I have been thinking about what an architecture friend said recently. He's based in Peace River, Alberta, and is doing a survey of  the heritage properties in the area. The oldest is 1904.

I did note that in a post (damn, that search engine is good, searched 'Edwardian Classical' and it tactfully, without judgement, reminded me I was thinking of Melville, Saskatchewan.)

 In Ontario it is our conceit to think our few late 1700 buildings (like Fairfield House - 1793) are old, yet in the west, even the earliest of those that endure (not the indigenous architecture, or settler structures of log and frame, which dissolve eventually) are mostly from the early twentieth century.

Of course, in a week, I shall be knocked off my proud Ontario perch, when we land in England for a look-see. First stop, Chatsworth.

This is fun. I've just spent several weeks within the discipline of writing for a literate editor, who raises eyebrows at the kind of verbal wandering that I've been doing here with impunity.

 So. About this house. It's a fine Craftsman Bungalow style home, built in 1920. It's name is Trethewey House. Its builder/owner, Joseph Ogle Trethewey, owned and operated the Abbotsford Lumber Company on Mill Lake.

The house is a Heritage Abbotsford Society municipal heritage site. Their  website contains a lovely black and white photo of the family who lived well here, enjoying the garden as did we, on our early spring visit. Sadly, the house was not yet open for tours. Next time.

I'm going to save us both time, and add in a link to a post I created seven years ago (good grief) about Craftsman Bungalows. Trethewey House displays so many of the characteristic details that I might have suspected it of being a kit house from the good folks at Sears Modern Homes, were it not for the fact that Mr. Ogle didn't need to bring in lumber from anywhere else, thank you.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Storming the Battlements

This image popped up on my screen-saver slide-show just now. I'd put the photos we took during our summer of '18 peregrinations with Cousin Elaine on to 'cycle.'

The wall has a medieval feel - the efflorescence on the concrete creates an ancient effect that belies its mere 120 years of existence. And those arched openings with the grills - so evocative.

And then this monumental entrance, hidden in the shadows. A heavy cornice, blind round-headed door topped by hood mould with bosses, applied to a slanting monolith looming above? Whassis? Entrance to a mausoleum? Sheltering bank and trees lend the spot an air of the sacred.

Then there's this pylon tower with string course, topped with a dignified cornice, its massive presence somehow conjuring pylons of Egyptian monumental gateways. Strength and beauty.

What we're looking at is an "engineering achievement of national and international renown" according to Parks Canada.

beauty and function

This is, of course, the breath-taking Peterborough Lift Lock National Historic Site. The lock was completed in 1904, built of steel and concrete, built by men who worked with shovels, and operated horse-drawn equipment.

Logging which continued in the north country, and ongoing fears of  American expansionism spurred its development; the growth of post WWII recreational boating kept it going.

Courtesy Trent Valley Archives

These historic photos were taken on opening day in 1904. The Historic Places account tries to capture the wonder felt by this neatly turned out crowd: "When completed in 1904 it was the highest hydraulic lift lock ever built with a vertical lift of nearly 20 meters (65 feet) and was reputed to be the largest unreinforced concrete structure in the world."

photo used with permission. Credit: Trent Valley Archives

The website PTBO contains several more archival photos, and '15 neat facts about the construction of the Peterborough Lift Lock.' Neat. Do visit.

See the boaters peeking out from the upper chamber?
Even today, it's a marvel, and draws crowds. We were especially lucky to have time to enjoy the immaculate shady grounds and interpretive centre, then to watch a batch of holiday cruisers descend from up-river (up-Trent Severn Canal) to our vantage point under the trees.

The structure itself, with "towers, caisson pits, breastworks, two chambers and mechanical works" both visible and invisible, and the lock's operation, I leave to those who know and love things mechanical. Follow the links in this post to get the facts.

 I'm here for the aesthetics, folks. Like the park-like topography created by the construction of this marvel, which seems so serene, giving not a hint of the huge raw site of earth and water-moving this would once have been.

And like the other 'character-defining elements' including the ornamental railings and the interior finishings of the lockmaster's cabin - expect we have to take their word for it, as I doubt the tiny white tower room would be accessible to visitors (and the lockmaster's job might be one requiring intense concentration.)
the lock-master in his flag-topped cabin..
lowers them gently down..

touch-down, and down to Ashburnham

For your further enjoyment of this amazing place, here's the Ontario heritage plaque and a somewhat silly Hallowe'en video (suggest you turn the sound off) which nevertheless takes one on a rare visit inside the structure.

And thanks to Jimbo Wales, here's a history of the Trent Severn waterway. Not an easy job, it wasn't.

(all quotes from Historic

And finally: almost as good as being there. Here's a YouTube video that takes us through the locks. Gloriously uncrowded. It gets exciting at about the 11 minute mark.

Monday, March 11, 2019

A Hall For All, is it too much to ask?

Town Halls have been top of mind lately, as I read the passionate postings of many Picton residents, over the fate of the Picton Town Hall. The fine website Save Picton Town Hall contains several handsome photos of the 1867 red-brick structure. Sadly, I have only this one, but it's illustrative of an important fact. Picton Town Hall has always been here - this 1975 image records a time when it was just across Ross Street from home, when Mom and Dad owned the fine old house at 62 King Street.

On another visit from the west, I recall attending with mom, one of the first Art in the County shows in a bright room with shiny wood floors, upstairs from the former fire hall.

And now Picton folks face the prospect of losing their town hall, seeing it become one more holiday rental, instead of a place by and for the people of the town. Council is flirting with development plans for a pod-type hotel (give me a break.) Truly, though, for elected officials, this is a judgement of Solomon.

photo courtesy Gilles Miramontes
The SPTH website identifies the original occupants of the building - a fire engine hall with hose tower, council chambers, a clerk's residence and an upstairs public hall, which has served in many capacities during its 150+  year history. As a fan of old opera houses, I'm very taken with its rebirth as the New Bijou Opera House in 1898. Now isn't that grand?

Here's a Streetview link so you can amble around the building for yourself. You'll notice the pedimented north facade front was altered for larger modern fire engines at some point, with three assertively plain doors cut into the facade, and the resultant building scars still evident. Although it lacks columns, the front is dignified by four brick pilasters, a dentilled band course under the cornice, round-headed windows centre-front and in the pediment, brick voussoirs and lintels supported on corbels.

poster available on the the SPTH website 
I'm looking for a pre-alteration photo of the facade. I understand from SPTH campaigner, Gilles Miramontes, who provided the photo above, that there's a dearth of views of the hall. There's a fascinating early 1900s image of the adjacent market building surrounded by stalls,  similar to the ones in Trenton and Napanee. Wish the photographer had wandered a bit further!

 The website has loads of historical information; I won't go into detail on the SPTH campaign as their site makes the case full well, and follows the ups and downs of the campaign, and the hall's fortunes. Here's a link to their Facebook page. The 'History' section is also available in a YouTube video.

Tomorrow night's council meeting will be high drama. Here's local press coverage, thanks to County Live. Of course, despite all the arguments on both sides, my allegiance lies with the heritage folks who are fighting so hard to retain a community space. By now, everyone realizes that the work will be just beginning, should the decision go in favour of community use. But it's a start.

And now perhaps, as we all like company during the vigil night before a big event,  here are some contemporaries of the worthy Picton Town Hall, to keep it company.

Notice the same classical revival form of the Napanee town hall, a larger hall, with a bit more historic detailing applied.

And then there's one of my favourites, the Trenton Town Hall. There are so many similarities - its location on a side street comfortably close to downtown, and its classical revival inspiration - although Trenton's hall has more Greek Revival touches - the eared window trims, the fluted corner pilasters, the heavier detail all round, in stone and white painted trims.

I wrote about Trenton in this (appropriately titled) post You Can Fight City Hall. It hasn't been easy for the friends of this hall, either.

Good luck, SPTH folks. We're in your corner.