Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Miller's Tale

One of the loveliest things about writing stuff, is that folks occasionally suggest places and people to me. And those people (and their places) make me welcome, and share their stories. Not long ago, friend Catherine sent me an article from a local paper, about a project in Castleton.

Now if you've been along on the journey for awhile, you know I love this village. I wrote about it here. The pedimented windows of the village occasioned another post, and I recalled my first visit, a talk by preservation giant Peter Stokes, the day we lost him.

I've shared several of Castleton's distinguished buildings. And there are more. Last Friday I met Candace Cox, and had a tour of a very important one - the village mill.

Let's start with some history - then I'll let you in on a project which is making history.

We start way back around 1806 when teen-aged Joseph Abbot Keeler, founder of Colborne (his fine house still stands in the town,) built a mill at Piper's Corners, on the creek of the same name. Although that mill no longer survives, nearby stands the second mill in the village - Purdy's Mill. The Purdy family operated the mill from 1875 to 1948.
J.A.Keeler house, Colborne

The 1878 Belden Atlas of Northumberland and Durham Counties features an image of the 20 acres of property surrounding the mill at Piper's Corners, as the village was once called, attesting to the importance of a mill in creating a community. The mill was powered by the waters of Piper Creek, dammed upstream and directed through a flume and over the wheel, which was housed in an extension at the back of the mill building - no longer standing.

The Belden's image (to which I'll provide a link shortly) also depicts the miller's house, bridges, homes and horse-drawn vehicles in that typically bucolic Belden setting.

the miller's house at Piper Creek
Not too much has changed. Once powered by water, the mill is now powered by the dreams and plans of Candace and Mitchell Cox and their talented offspring Lochlan, Caelan and Cachell, who landed on this spot in 2011 after years of research, from their former home in Edmonton. The former Purdy's Mill has been renamed the Mill at Piper Creek, in deference to the creek which still flows through the cedars on  the hillside property.

Here's the Cramahe township heritage information about the mill.

The family lives in the former miller's house on the hill above the mill. They are all active in the village. Last year Candace, Mitchell (a professional pianist,) daughter Cachell and friends worked with the youth group of Castleton United Church, to show what community spirit looks like. Here's a link to newspaper coverage of their 2016 'up-cycling Castleton' project.

photo by Candace Cox

They decorated the village with donated brightly painted bikes and flowers, and produced a calendar featuring the photos of Erich Bojarzin and other villagers (I am very proud of my copy) to help cover costs. Thanks to Candace for allowing me to post part of one of her photos, a bike posing with my favourite general store.

As you know, I'm a fan of making heritage buildings pay their own way. Not every important heritage building can be a museum. We are amply gifted with house museums and pioneer villages in our province.

We have to find a way to preserve and repurpose the best and most iconic of those which remain. And this mill at Castleton fills the bill.

the mill office
Candace and Mitchell, their not-for-profit board of directors, and supporters are working to raise funds to restore the mill, and give it back its life as the centre of the village - this time as a performance space. They are giving the area hints of what is to come, in a series of fund-raising events at Castleton's historic town hall. Here's a recent newspaper article.
So. I know you're going to want to be in touch. To follow progress. To check on upcoming events to attend. To pledge support - or encourage others - for this wonderful project which will bring new life to this historic village.

Here's the mill Facebook page.
Here's their terrific website - it provides more info on the vision, the history, and Candace and Mitchell's own work. It also shows you that Belden engraving I mentioned above. Do visit. On-line and in person.

You might also want to connect to talk about equipment and furnishings. Candace and Mitchell realize they cannot retain all of the milling equipment. They will rescue and rehabilitate some pieces to add character to the venue. They have also been contacting museums to ascertain interest.

Most intriguingly, they also recognize the potential for repurposing some of the pieces into furnishings for studios, shops, homes. I particularly like Candace's idea for converting the 1890 Silver Creek Centrifugal into a kitchen island. Just takes some imagination.

Like the folks from The Mill at Piper Creek.

the future is bright for the Mill at Piper Creek

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Head for the Hills

Not long ago I wrote about hills so I'll take the liberty of creating a somewhat corny segue to an introduction. I'd like to make Ancestral Roofs readers aware (if you aren't already) of the worthy blog Hills of Heritage

Not long ago, I received an email from the editor, Ian Anderson, who had linked Ancestral Roofs to their blog list, wondering if I might reciprocate. And I hastened to do so, for it is brilliant.

Hills of Heritage "is a guide for residents of Southern Ontario and their neighbours, to the physical, written and oral evidence of our shared past." The blog adopts the mandate of heritage preservation and education.

The earliest entry is from June 2013. Topics range from the politics of heritage preservation to coverage of Caledon and area heritage events. The editor invites readers to contribute items.

Like my recent gift The Grand River: Dundalk to Lake Erie, the blog Hills of Heritage reminds me that there are dozens of places I need to visit: to learn about their architectural history, their farming heritage and their natural beauty. The Caledon Hills, Albion Hills. Bellfountain, Cheltenham badlands (who knew?), Forks of the Credit have leapt off the page and onto my bucket list.
A few days ago, I changed my laptop slideshow to photos of Black Creek Pioneer Village. As they have been popping up, I have realized that with the exception of the Roblin Mill, I didn't devote any blog time to this wonderful place we visited a couple of spring-times ago.

My first visit to Hills of Heritage created a link. Just last month, the blog announced a guest speaker on the topic of Ontario's devastating Hurricane Hazel of October 15, 1954.

The photos shown here seem appropriate, as Black Creek Pioneer Village grew out of  the period of damage assessment, the creation of conservation authorities and formulation of regulations prohibiting future building on flood plains - all in the urgent need to prevent the death and damage caused by Hurricane Hazel.

The log house here, the barn and the frame Georgian house sit on the banks of the Humber River, and have sat here since 1825/6 when Daniel and Elizabeth Stong and their family of eight dwelt and toiled there. Here's a history link on the Black Creek Pioneer Village website. Do go visit.

If you're arm-chair travelling instead, drop by Hills of Heritage

Farm Story

Our lovely friend Bill, the multi-talented "simple farm boy" was talking about barns the other day. He shared his love for them, and asserted that he could look at a grouping of farm buildings and tell their story. Bill's account resonated.

I have been meaning to "tell the story" of this wonderful collection of farm buildings for some time. Since I first encountered them, early on the morning of the last fine day of autumn, before the morning haze had lifted.

I hasten to add that my story is fictional. I don't know the history of this farm or its family. I do know, all too well, similar stories that have happened over my lifetime, in my home county of Prince Edward, among our neighbours and our family.

The day I stopped, there were no signs of life. No vehicles. No farm equipment. No livestock. Not even any rubbish. Just a grouping of farm buildings with a once fine house. Trees, a grassy lane. Empty, like perfect movie set for a turn of the last century farm drama.

So. What does this set tell me? It's a big house. Built as second, or likely third house, after a first log dwelling and a later frame one. By this time, the farm was prosperous enough for a large L-shaped house, and the family was sufficiently well-off to afford some spool and bracket frippery on the verandah. White brick lintels over segmentally and round arched windows. A door on the second floor suggests a roof balcony at one time, maybe? Elegant bay windows on the west side, and on the facade hint at taste and position in the rural society.

Did the family have sons who were expected to take over the farm, in the old way? Did this happen for a generation, maybe? There are two front doors; was this a double house shared by parents, a son and his family? But then did grandsons opt for city work and city lives, as in our own family's story? Or were there daughters only, who joined other red-brick farmhouse families along the road?

The old well pump still stands out front - someone proud of the old ways, wanting to keep a reminiscence? But there's a new concrete verandah and steps, likely replacing a failing wooden one contemporary with the posts and gingerbread. There was a time when concrete was the new best thing - but also a practical, low-cost alternative. Happened on our farm, when the aging wrap-around wooden verandahs became unsightly, and there were other places for the scant income.

The lovely gable designs haven't "seen a coat of paint in a while" as dad would have said, and spoolwork is missing. No time and money to keep up with these unessential bits of the farm. Chimneys look sound.
So. What is the real story of this lovely house and farm buildings? Are they going to stand here in solitude until they can't stand any longer, another bit of our rural past fading away, replaced by a spiffy faux craftsman style country home subdivision? Or are they waiting for a nostalgic family member to retire and return to this place of memories, ready to rehabilitate it and bring it a new life? Maybe even a young family who wants to put the good Hastings County soil back to work?

This farm is waiting.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Nothing Suspicious Here

Stauffer Library, Queen's University
 I have always wondered about the three red brick houses along John A. Macdonald Boulevard at Union Street, in Kingston. But never enough to get out of the car to take a photo, which is why you will have to resort, like me, to Streetview if you are to have a look. You may have noticed them too.
and a jay-walk away

And, like me, you may recall thinking there's something just not quite right about them. I've always assumed that they'd been a bit aggressively modernized, with verandahs and trim, chimney, trees, fences and landscaping absent. They always looked like they were planted, rather than built. Not lived in.

Turns out, these Victorian houses are not a home.

Should you (or I, for that matter) turn left on Union Street, then left again, you will be in a position to enter Correctional Services of Canada. Well you/we would, were the grounds open to the public. There sit the three red brick houses, at the end of a long driveway, in a parklike setting.

a campus survivor
I don't know what they're doing down there, but here's the story of how they got there. Just the other day, an outstanding photo popped up on Facebook redirected from the excellent Kingston blog The Kingstonist. The photo accompanied this story, which explained that the three houses were the lucky ones in a block of c19 houses demolished by Queen's University, in preparation for the construction of the Stauffer Library.

I've contacted The Kingstonist folks to see if they might give me permission to show you the photo. Until then, word pictures will have to suffice.

old new Lake Street house
viewed from old train station, Picton
Imagine if you will, crowds lining Sir John A Blvd. Three gigantic flatbed trucks trundling along, three red brick 2 and a half storey houses perched ignominiously atop them. "The route was circuitous in order to avoid as many trees, power lines and narrow streets as possible....The move took 16 hours over two days." (Kingstonist)

The heroes of the day were the building movers. I can't confirm that the firm was CDS Building Movers, but their name comes up in connection with some pretty high profile moves. Their picture doesn't show in the CDS gallery. The site details the relocation of the Lansdowne Park Horticultural Building, in Ottawa, for example. Front Page Media group will show you around.

I've often wondered about the house move in Picton, a refined early brick house relocated for the new LCBO, who wanted that spot. One of these days I'll grab a photo of 4 Lake Street (and some nosh at the Agrarian Market which now dwells there.) And another day, I intend to get an interview with a house mover, to learn how they do this thing.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Family Photos

This lovely black and white photo of a house in Picton is a gift from my brother Eric. It's the result of some rummaging through his old negatives, motivated by a lovely invitation to visit the home on Friday.

There are so many layers to this great story.

Energetic, creative and immensely talented couple Dale and Laura bought the house last year. They are in the process of turning back its years. Back past seniors home, girls' group home, family home with apartments...and likely some lost years. The couple are removing the layers, and returning this elegant Edwardian doctor's home and surgery into their own.

Another layer. Laura and Dale made a walk-on appearance in a County and Quinte Living article back in the winter of 2013. I told the story of Fogorig, a stone mill, barn and house complex northwest of Belleville, and the families who had occupied it since 1834, when Thomas Allan built it. We ended by wishing well to "the new owners of Fogorig." Turns out, that was Laura and Dale.

Patience, friends. This will all fit together eventually. In the fullness of time, Laura and I connected on Facebook (as one does) so I was treated to Laura's post of the red brick house one day.

Seeing the photo took me instantly back to the 1970s, when our parents Ralph and Doris purchased that very home, 62 King Street in Picton.

I wrote a few years ago about the various homes mom and dad purchased, improved and sold in the years following the sale of the family farm.

gorgeous radiators

One of the apartments upstairs was to be home for our increasingly dependent Pierce grandparents. Brother Eric lived in this house his last year in high school. Over the decade, I visited from Vancouver a number of times.

Last Friday, Eric and I visited the house again. Laura and Dale showed us around. We were astounded at the work and care going into reverting the house to its original state.

a salvaged Edwardian staircase now graces this corner

And they were likely amused at our excited reminiscences. These few images (these were film processing at the drug store waiting for two weeks for the photos days) connect me with those emotion-filled visits home.

It was a delight to wander the house, and see the care with which old elements were being preserved and cherished. And how the broken up unloved rooms were being restored to gracious light-filled spaces, with modern amenities. A family home again.

Yes, it really did burn wood

We hope to return. Well, it will in time become easy for us all to do, as the couple plans to share the space, opening the principal rooms into Laura's weaving studio, teaching space and shop.

Monday, February 6, 2017

I Shall Return

This is silly, but when we took Power and Sail Squadron courses a decade ago, one subject that was drilled into our land-lubber heads was 'aids to navigation.' Good thing too, as one's safety, and the pristine condition of one's hull, depended on it. One mnemonic which sticks in my mind is 'red-right-returning.' The learning is that going upstream, returning to a harbour, the red channel marker is on your right.

The example at left is the entry to the lovely Trent Port Marina, in Trenton.

So this red/green tension hit me, when I looked at my photo below. This is another place I intend to return to. The day's fading light, biting wind off the harbour, and my need for that street tree to sport bright green all guarantee that. That, and my abiding curiosity about the place.

This is the Prince George Hotel, at 200 Ontario Street in Kingston. I vaguely recall that the first time we saw it, it was part of a movie shoot, playing the role of a New Orleans Hotel.

Historic Places provides copious detail on its appeal: "pre-1850 limestone commercial buildings integrated into a Second Empire mansard-roofed style hotel."The components range from a house built 1817-20 to a Victorian commercial terrace. Nice ashlar stone and quoins on the facade.

Streetview will have to stand in for  now. As you travel along the front, and up Market Street beside City Hall, you can detect the separate structures that were united into the whole that is the Prince George Hotel.

The hotel is featured as an example of Kingston's heritage renaissance in this Historic Places article.

One of the nicest things about the hotel is Tir Nan Og Irish pub.  Scroll down their Facebook page for some great Irish entertainment. And the menu ("elevated pub fare") is good too. My go-to is the chicken tikka masala boxty.

Soon as that tree at the intersection turns green...

Grand Tour

Not long ago, a regular Ancestral Roofs visitor dropped a line, asking permission to use a photo. She painted a lovely picture of her breakfast-time enjoyment of the blog. It's a kind and generous post that I shall return to whenever I become discouraged about the value of journalling in public.

In the course of our email conversations,  Marianne mentioned that she is a writer (of considerable stature, it turns out: biography historical fiction, natural history...) Last year she collaborated with her brother Gerard to create this toothsome book about the Grand River. Marianne's descriptive prose and Gerard's exquisite wood engravings (a medium I greatly admire) have created a wonderful book. It's published by Porcupine's Quill press, and is a lovely thing indeed.

The Grand River : Dundalk to Lake Erie now sits on my reading bench, a gift from Marianne. Its very presence seems to emanate an invitation to the Grand River country that I must heed before long.

The introduction describes their collaboration - she on the bank, looking and listening, he sketching, perched on a shooting stick at the edge of the river, an image as timeless as the river itself. An Alice in Wonderland Victorian summer afternoon.

Marianne and Gerard take the reader to towns, villages and wild places, their commonality being their link to the river. Places like Fergus, Elora and West Montrose, which we've visited over the years, are all now linked in my memory. At the times we toured, we admired rock-rushing water from picturesque bridges, or hiked along summer-warm trails, our views of the river episodic, fragmented, our main pleasure, the company of our friends.

The book recalls for me walks along the gorge and dinners at the Elora mill with La and Doug, or wanders through Fergus streets meandering like the river itself.

I remember a time in the mid-1980s when we treated ourselves to a 'stay' at the Elora Mill Inn, marvelling at the perfect Century Home decor. Glad we did it then. I had a quick look online to see how the inn was progressing, and found this link to a development which, well frankly, doesn't have the charm I recall.

Other lovely spots Marianne and Gerard visit in the book include the historically significant covered bridge at West Montrose, the only remaining covered bridge in the province, built in 1881 by two brothers John and Benjamin Bear. Thanks to the wonders of Google Streetview, you can view the bridge on a bright spring day, read the OHT plaque, and even drive through, maybe grabbing a kiss in the shadows, en route. The Historic Places website provides an aerial view.

The bridge has undergone a number of refurbishments, and replacements of elements, bringing up the delicious Theseus' Paradox. Here's a strident but concise introduction of this philosophical problem.

An idea is forming in my head...a road trip in May, bed and breakfast accommodation, and a visit to Paris in the springtime. Stratford, Doon, return stops in Fergus and Elora, riverside walks along the Grand, and a chance to meet these fine and talented folks. That thought should get me through a dreary February afternoon.

In the meantime, if heritage rivers and the people who value them are your kinds of people, consider purchasing this lovely lovely book. It's available through Amazon, although picking it up at an independent bookseller in a village along the Grand River would be much more fitting. Enjoy.

Calling Card

Victorian visiting etiquette.
I've learned a bit about the formalities, and about many other aspects of Victorian life, during my volunteer years at Glanmore National Historic Site.
The lives of Victorian society ladies revolved around 'visiting.' Each lady would have her day to be 'at home' for other ladies to arrive for tea and dainties, consumed while attired in hat and gloves, sitting on the edge of their seats, bolt upright in corsetted and bustled elegance.
even Americans visited
On days when one just dropped in, one offered a visiting card to the maid who answered the door, and waited in the reception room to see if herself might be at home, and deign to pop down for a chat. If not, the card would be left on a tray in the hall, for later action.

These lovely mementos are part of a collection of visiting cards and post cards I received from our Pierce grandmother.

Their purpose is to announce our visit to Camden East last week and our intention to return, when the weather is more hospitable, for a walk down Queen Victoria Street to have a closer look at its lovely Second Empire home, and right to the end to this lovely skeletal barn with its brave little roof lantern.

Have I mentioned that Frontenac County is my new favourite place?