Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Saturday, February 29, 2020

X-Road story

Like friend and fellow blogger Larry Tayler, whose blog Making Eye Statements has recently found him revisiting photo files as an alternative to venturing out to make new ones in wretched weather, I find myself looking back through photos - and memories - in a quest for something green and warm. Today, I hit on some 'out-takes' of photos from a Signposts column which ran in the Spring 2018 issue of County and Quinte Living magazine. I took the photos the preceding autumn.
Deacon Bongard's house 1872

The story was about Bongard's Corners. I know, today folks drop the apostrophe (perhaps in despair at knowing where to put it?) but I remember that there were once Bongards living there, and they owned the corner. Literally.

A lot of what I know about Bongard's comes from a family history, The McCornocks from Ireland, compiled by Clara E. Thompson in 1990. Our paternal grandmother "was a McCornock" as they say, who was born and raised near the corner.

But this post is a building story, not a family story, so I shall not digress. This beautifully maintained blue house (I recall it in cream stucco with brown trim when the lovely Elsa lived there) was built by Deacon Bongard in 1872, from 10 thousand bricks brought by horse and wagon from Picton. An Ontario Gothic farmhouse classic, with its delicate pointed window, thanks to the louvered top section, the centre gable, symmetrical form, and fine doorcase with chinoiserie (I believe the portico was added, not sure how much else was restored, or added.) Must stop and visit the fine folks who live there, one day. 

The wonderfully wonky board and batten shed above has history, as you can probably tell. And it really is that crooked, check Streetview if you don't believe me. The old fellow gained his bent back honestly. In the book is a badly reproduced photo of three men building barrels for the apple trade, I suspect, here at Deacon Bongard's barrel factory.

The house next door (which I didn't capture because of a porchful of inflatable Minions) was built by Roswell Harrison for Deacon Bongard, and once housed the post office and telegraph office.

This little site is sacred to the memory of the Wesleyan Methodist Church build here in 1873. It was our family church until 1961 when it closed and the Bongard's diaspora migrated to Glenora U.C.
This ancient photo is borrowed from History of the Churches of Prince Edward County, a Tweedsmuir book (handiwork of the Women's Institute), revised and edited by Patricia Taylor, published by the Picton Gazette in 1971.

A Christmas gift from our parents to "Gram and Grandpa Pierce."

Roswell Harrison again. He had a way with a two-storey box bay hip-roofed dwelling. This house is kitty-corner from the one above.

this lovely porch endures
This house has seen many happy times. It was the childhood home of our cousin Jean, who still runs the family farm, from another house. Her sisters and my brother and I were implicated in many a shenanigan throughout our childhoods (and my brother during his adolescence, I suspect) in this warm and welcoming house. It stands empty now.

About Roswell Harrison I know nothing. But ancestor David McCornock married a Harrison girl, so I suppose there's a brotherly connection. Where's a genealogist when you need one?

I enjoy making the trip down this lane courtesy of the photos, both for their nostalgic value (I remember us kids tearing up and down while dad helped uncle pick apples in the orchard at the bottom) and because they are history.

In the CQL article  I recounted Viola McCornock's hike down to the steamer docking at Bongard's Landing, music books in hand, for the trip into Picton for her music lessons.

This drive-house just east of the corners is familiar to anyone who has driven the bayside from Picton towards Cressy. Boats were built on the upper storey, ice house was at the back of the main floor.
David T. McCornock house c1890

Our grandmother Viola was born in the adjacent house, built by her father David McCornock, after his return from a youthful visit to California with his brothers, to work on construction.

As his birth date was 1857, I'm guessing a build date of about 1890. It's said he designed the house after one he'd seen in California, a delicate Queen Ann inspired home, always filled with love. More childhood shenanigans there. I loved how the back porch looked down from a great height onto the fields and orchard on the bench below.

A picturesque spot, even now.
Love the salt-box shed.
A photo from the family archives. The girl at left, behind the fence (as all good Edwardian girls were) was our grandmother Viola.

It took years before I realized the house was from two different eras, the right side with its lovely wide centre gable, Gothic window with a bit of tracery, and handsome doorcase being much earlier, 1860ish (I seem to recall seeing the assessment books once, indicating the build date.) Inside were lovely Greek Revival mouldings. Here's the account about my childhood home back in 2011, and a bit of the family story here.

Although our house was a ten minute bike ride east on the same road (with a wicked hill) we were considered 'Bongard's'. We attended the same one-room school as our McCornock cousins, although at one time children east of the corners attended S.S.#2, closed by the time I began my school career.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

A Pleasure of Locusts

They've been called 'the settlers' ornamental'. And they seldom let me down. The distinctive tousled Black Locust tree so often serves as a clue to the presence of an early homestead. Almost without fail, a beautiful old home and outbuildings will appear, sheltered by these scraggy gentle giants. Only occasionally, incongruously, a slightly sheepish modern house is to be found, sitting where the ancestors once built.

The farmhouse I grew up in had locust trees out front. Heady fragrance and exotic flowers in June added to the general euphoria of end of the school year. In the late summer, I was fascinated by the castoff exoskeletons of moulting cicadas, clinging to the Locusts' deeply ridged bark. During the dormant months I loved their scraggly profile against winter skies, or shadowed on snow, and the rattling pea-like seed pods which remained like a promise.

L: locusts in ice C: mom
Turns out a lot has been written about the Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia). In fact, the tree was often called acacia in descriptions from the nineteenth century. A lot has been written by one woman, in fact, one Sherry Hambly in the Forest History Journal of Ontario (who knew?).

Although she is as drawn, as I always am, to their awkward, "lacily disjointed" silhouette in the sky, she admitted the research became a bit of a slog.
north of Grafton

The Black Locust gets around. It's a native to the Appalachian mountains and Ozark plateau region, and was 'discovered' (never mind that the local first people valued the wood for bows and arrows, and the toxic resin for medicinal purposes) by European naturalists in the early 1600s in Virginia. Specimens returned to England and Europe for the landscaping market over the next centuries.

King's Mill Road near Stirling

near Stirling
 Although it's subject to all sorts of pests, Black Locust wood is extremely strong - (nails made of locust wood were implicated in a successful naval battle on Lake Champlain in 1814.

north of Belleville
Other interesting facts:
-it's related to legumes (those pods are a give-away,) with nitrogen fixing properties
- it propagates by seeds (those pods again) but most commonly by suckering
- it is a bad tree, considered an invasive species and a 'tree killer'
-photos and distribution map here, courtesy of UoGuelph
- and lots more
near Smithfield

And how did the Black Locust make its way to Canada West in the years following the American Revolution? I'll quote Sherry Hambly, from a history of  a church in York Mills: "Apparently, the 'acacia' trees planted around it were transplanted from Long Island by an early settler, Cornelius Von Nostrand, who came to the area in the late 1700s." And we think we know the occasion.

The Experimental Farm in Ottawa established a Black Locust in its arboretum in 1890 (wonder how many there are now?)

Bowerman's Church, PEC
 And because no conversation with me happens without a sidebar: check out this lovely project called Caledon Heritage Trees. Although the document features not a single Loyalist Black Locust, it's an encouraging and important idea.

Hazzard's Corners Church

I've just been reminded that ancient Black Locusts surround very old Hazzard's Corners church, north east of Madoc. I was fortunate to visit a few years ago, in June. The scent was almost too heady for a sedate old Methodist churchyard.

Hazzard's Corners champion Grant reports that the trees seemed to have perished in a heavy frost a few years ago, but clearly they bounced back. Further proof, if proof were further required, that they are a hardy breed, indeed.

By May our doughty Black Locusts will be in pinnately compound leaf, by June in intoxicating flower. And all summer and fall their messy spreading branches and crinkled ancient bark will herald the appearance of yet another worthy heritage house to admire.

near Charleston Lake PP