Monday, March 19, 2012

Where Else but Black Rock....

can you get home from work, take the dog for a swim, run three miles with her, then take her for another swim -- all before dinner?

Not a lot of cities can offer a perk like this.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

More Canal History

Sometimes an old house is all we have left of a forgotten part of the past.  In the case of the structure I am showing today, the forgotten piece of history is a canal.  And of course you can often find old early 19th century Georgians near a canal.  In the case of this instance, the city is Dundas, Ontario in Canada.

In this case, the old Georgian was not a residence, it was a customs house.  Along with a walking trail (which used to be the canal), this structure is part of an old and troubled canal that most people probably don't know about.  Here's a jumble of historic information....

Southern Ontario, near the Niagara was heavily populated on purpose. After the Revolutionary war, Britain wanted to populate the border near the United States as densely as possible.  Lots of incentives were offered for settlers to move there.  When you see Georgian structures they are often more elaborate in style keeping with homage to the mighty King George for whom the style was named.  You'll see more Georgians in Niagara on the Lake that conform to the more formal English style, and the more vernacular styles on the American side.

But on to canals....  When taking the train to Toronto, you'll pass over a bay/inlet in Burlington.  This is a sandy/loamy part of the lake that was never easily navigable.  Back in the early 1800's a gentleman by the name of Desjardin had the idea to build a canal.  He figured this would be a profitable way to help ships bring goods inlad through the bay in a less difficult fashion.  It was not easy for Desjardin to line up financing.  The Welland Canal was a competitor.  Investors were not easy to find.  But the canal was built.

The Desjardin canal was not a rousing success.  In fact, when it's creator died, he was found in a basement, killed by unknown means and his cause of death was said to be "by God's actions" or some such nonesense.  Some speculate he was trying to collect on debts owned to him.  Even though his venture failed in the end and he died broke, he was still in need of funds from his investors.

The custom house is on a very busy intersection in the City of Dundas. It is being used as a Physical Therapy offce.  It's never been a residence and although it is build of limestone and not brick, it still shares a very similar aesthetic to the Dayton House.  It also shares a canal history.

These isolated structures are often all that survive today when it comes to forgotten pieces of the past.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Historic Georgians in NY State

There are only about 5 houses listed on the Historic Register in NY State that are of brick construction in the Georgian style dating back to the same era as our Dayton House.  To add to the rarity of the house, only three of those structures are three-bay designs.  The Dayton House has characteristics that are shared between the three buildings but it is unique.

Hunting down information on the three buildings was not too easy.  The one house that has the best chance of being similar is located near Lake Champlain in Essex County, NY.  True to what I’ve posted before, the house was predictably found one block from a major body of water.  That’s good support for the theory that if you want to find a brick house like Old Man Dayton, look a block from the water!  In the early 19th century, Lake Champlain was one of the busiest ports in the country.

The Abraham Aiken House can be found at 22 Lakeshore Rd, Willsboro, NY
 Willsboro, NY:

Although I did a lot of searching, I could not find an image to compare it.  But I was able to find that it is a three bay Georgian.  Of the five or six homes on the registry in New York State, many of the Georgian homes are five bay with a center entrance.  That rules them out in my mind for being in the same category.  The Dayton house is more of a "vernacular" version of the style and I am guessing the Aiken house is too.   If I get a chance (which is not likely any time soon) to get to Lake Champlain I’ll try to see this house.  Unlike the Lewis P. Dayton House, this was an agricultural/farm home so it will probably be a little different – but my guess is that it will also share many similarities.

The Dayton's Corners School is a one-room school building in the town of Penfield, New York erected in 1857.  It’s not a house, but the style is very similar to our Dayton House – and another coincidence as far as the name goes (see the post about the Dayton House in Lima, NY).

I have not seen this structure in person but during the summer drive in close enough proximity to it on the way to our camp at Sodus Bay.  Driving through the Lake Ontario country-side gives us an opportunity to see many old brick structures that are similar to the Italianate period of our house.  But we have yet to see one old enough and in the same Georgian style as ours.  We have seen many beautiful brick homes in Lyons near the canal and there is one that comes close.

The Smith-Ripley House, which is now The Ripley House Museum, is a historic home located in Adams in Jefferson County, New York.  This might be compared to our Dayton House on steroids.  It’s a grander example of the three bay Georgian style:

What I am finding is that the Dayton house really is turning out to be an unique and a rare surviving example of a style and period of building.  This one reason we were successful in gaining registry status.   I'm going to continue to look for more and post about them when I find them. Happy Hunting!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


This house is on the Western side of the Welland Canal in Port Colborne.  It is on the South end of King Street before the road becomes commercial.  It is a short distance from the ADM mill.  I find more of these old brick houses near at the ends of the canals.  As is usually the case, I find one -- but rarely more.

Milling likely played a key role in the construction of these types of brick houses.  Mill and factory owners would have been the ones to build grand homes, while the other lots were used to house workers.

The ADM mill in Port Colborne is part of a large conglomerate (Archer Daniel Midland) that also owns a mill in Buffalo.  At one time, Buffalo was the grain center of America (c. 1925).  Mills in Black Rock were productive and important in the early part of the 19th century but ultimately failed to succeed because they could not compete with the facilities that were built on the harbor in Buffalo.  The mills in Black Rock never fully harnessed water power – rather than relying on the current of the Niagara River and instead used a small water fall that was created between the canal and the river.

The mills in Black Rock burned down and that form of industry died out.  The earliest mills were the Globe and North Buffalo Mills.  Managers from the Globe mill ended up opening the Thornton and Chester Milling Company.  From tracing the title of the Dayton House while researching for the registry application, we found that one occupant was the manager/CEO of the Chester Milling Company.

People always think of the mills downtown as the only evidence of the predominance of Buffalo in the grain industry.    There are really no vestiges of the industry as it once existed in Black Rock, other than the few remaining homes that housed the residents connected to the mills.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Port Colborne

Port Colburne is a town in situated at the South end of the Welland Canal.  It shares a few similarities with Black Rock.  The town was founded in 1832 and like Black Rock, life revolved around a canal.  The Welland Canal connects Lakes Erie and Ontario.  Today's canal was not the original -- there was an earlier version that opened in 1829.  It took five years to build the 26 mile waterway.

The main source of industry in the early days of the Welland Canal were nickel mining.  That industry benefited from the hydro power of Niagara Falls.  The town was prosperous enough to have a healthy start, but like Buffalo, the prosperity did not continue.  Unlike Buffalo, Port Colborne's canal never went out of use and is well used today.  The first ship to pass through the canal did go to Buffalo.

Like Black Rock, Port Colburne has a few old brick  houses that are similar in style to the Dayton House.  This once again proves the theory that you can find these old structures within close proximity of a canal.  Unfortunately, these houses have not fared well.  I have looked and looked along the canal for a surviving old brick example of domestic building for the early canal period, but come up empty  handed.  Here's what's left:

The first house I found is located on the aerial photo in the area I've circled.  This is closer to the terminus of the canal and is probably the oldest of the three structures I found.

The house is no longer occupied as a Residential structure.  Is is part of an industrial property -- a recycling/scrap facility.  The first picture faces South and is the front of the building.  This is a five bay Georgian style.  The addition seems to be a later addition and looks as if it is a separate area.  The second picture is a side view.  As you can tell, this house is a gonner in so many ways.  I don't think it will ever serve as a home again.  Sad!

Further down the road, you have two brick homes that are side by side and both constructed during the same period.  These resemble the Dayton House but there are a few differences as well.  These were also converted from residential to commercial use.  The integrity of the structures have been greatly compromised.  They are obviously in a serious state of deterioration. 

These examples are another example of how rare it is for these canal era brick residences to survive intact.  The ones that I find are always in a very sad state.  That in turn makes me sad.  But it also makes me feel very fortunate for being blessed with the house.  The old brick man is a survivor and I think he still has many strong years ahead of him.  In fact, bearing any great tragedy, I see no reason why the Dayton House won't survive long into the future.  The house has beat the odds for sure!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Distant Cousin

The Dayton House has a cousin in Bern, NC.  Gary Rogers found it and sent me pictures.  This house is in much rougher shape than the Dayton House -- but it's also for sale so if you want a fixer-upper, this one is 150K.  It's a smaller house -- this is just what the original section of the Dayton House was built like.  But other than the door being on the opposite side, these could be considered doppelgangers!  Thanks to Gary for sharing.... his wife would not let him buy it.

I work with appraisers and assessors and one gentlemen gave me a tip that if I want to find houses like mine, to look in similar areas -- in our case a block from a river.  He said if I went on these old brick house hunts near rivers, I'd find more examples.  As it turns out, the 218 Front Street is one block from the river!

Here is a more frontal view of the house.  You'll see that only two of the chimneys remain and the roof isn't as steeply pitched as Old Man Dayton's is -- that's the work of the Italianate update. You can see scorch marks on the bricks in the attic of the Dayton House which show where the original roof line fell.  The Italianate update probably came as a result of a fire.

I just love these old piles of brick and will continue to hunt for them!