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Canadian Historic Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History No. 10

The Architectural Heritage of the Rideau Corridor

by Barbara A. Humphreys

Frame Houses

The early frame houses of the area followed the same general form and plan as their stone counterparts. The majority were 1-1/2-storey, end-gabled buildings having either a straight eave line or a gable over the centrally located front door. Later in the period another style was introduced: the front gable house with an off-centre door and side-hall plan. The front gable design was a derivation of the temple-fronted house which was popularized in the United States during the period of the Classical Revival.

This front gable plan became increasingly popular as towns developed since its relatively narrow width suited the smaller street frontage which town planning economics favoured. Consequently in the Rideau area, particularly in the small communities, frame buildings of this style are seen with increasing frequency from the 1860s on. In due course a side wing was added, resulting in the L-shaped plan. This L-shaped plan, which was very popular toward the latter part of the century in all parts of rural Ontario, was not extensively used in the Rideau area before 1880; consequently few examples were recorded and they were as often in brick as in frame.

Basic construction of the frame houses, except of course for the exterior walls, was similar to those of stone. Foundation walls were of rubble and log beams were frequently used. Although mill-sawn framing lumber was available and used in some houses at an early date, in many instances it was apparently quicker and more economical to cut all timber on the site. Exterior walls were probably filled with grout, but to what extent this type of infill was used is difficult to determine since structural examination of the walls was rarely possible in the survey. Again, due to the limitations of the survey, no details were obtained of the wall framing methods used on the houses of the Rideau Corridor, but it is reasonable to assume that they followed the methods being used else where in Upper Canada at the time. After 1830 when mass production of nails began and they became very inexpensive, the use of the balloon frame was favoured.

The exterior finish of the pre-1880 frame houses in the Rideau Corridor was almost invariably clapboard, usually narrower boards than the clapboard used today. Some stucco was used, as on the Benjamin Tett house in Newboro (Fig. 54); board and batten finish (Fig. 55) is seen in the towns and villages but rarely in rural areas, and no examples were recorded of a flushboard finish. Many of the original wood finishes are now concealed by composition covering or have been renewed or replaced, but a surprisingly large number have withstood 100 years of exposure to the elements, preserved to some extent by innumerable layers of paint.

54 Benjamin Tett house in Newboro, North Crosby township. Built in the late 1830s, it served as store and post office as well as a home for Mr. Tett who was a member of the Canadian legislative assembly (1858-61) and of the Ontario legislature in 1867. The unusual door design with a small semi-circular transom and sidelights and quarter-circle windows in the end gables are notable architectural features of the design.

55 Board and batten finished house in Eastons Corners, Wolford township, of front-gable design trimmed with "eared" mouldings in the Classcal Revival style.

As with the stone houses, heating of the early frame structures was by means of fireplaces and by mid-century, by stoves only. Chimneys were more apt to be of brick than stone but were still located at each end, except for the front-gable house where a single rear chimney or a rare centre chimney served both cook-stove and heaters. Windows of the frame houses are similar in design and size to those of the stone houses; openings are almost invariably rectangular in shape even for the front gable windows, if such exist. Entranceways are quite plain on the smaller frame houses, but on the larger ones rectangular transoms and sidelights are frequently seen.

Most of the earlier frame houses recorded are simple, basic structures lacking detailing of any kind; decorative detailing on those frame buildings where it does occur is most commonly in the Classical Revival style and initially again concentrated, as with the stone houses, on the front entrance. Toward mid-19th century, however, as the availability of finished millwork increased, the better frame buildings began to display more decorative detail than their stone counterparts. For example, while the house on Main Street in Newboro (Figs. 56, 57), built about 1860, has the classic door design used on contemporary stone buildings, a bracketed pediment has been added. And even when the rare fanlight transom is seen on a frame house such as on the residence in Bastard township dating from about 1860 (Figs. 58, 59), further embellishment has been added in keeping with the Classical Revival style. Window trim, too, became more decorative, the most popular form being the pedimented style seen on the house in Newboro (Fig. 60). This house also displays a classically designed door with rectangular transom and sidelights. Eaves, where trimmed, retained the pattern of classical mouldings used on contemporary stone houses until about mid-19th century, when the picturesque aspect of the Gothic Revival began to appear in the use of decorative bargeboards. The earliest of these bargeboards were often intricate and usually very individual in design, as for example that seen on the gable of a house in South Crosby township (Fig. 61). Later in the century as mass-production of millwork became more common, this type of trim became coarser in design, and often a pattern appears repeatedly within one community, probably the design being made at the time in the local mill.

56-57 Classically designed mid-19th-century house in Newboro, North Crosby township.

58-59 The fanlight of this frame house in Bastard township (Con. 3, Lot 28) is blue and red glass: the house, now refinished in aluminum siding, dates from about 1860 and was once a roadside inn.

60 House in Newboro, North Crosby township, with clean classical detailing on windows and door.

61 House in South Crosby township (Con. 2, Lot 16) with steeply pitched gable, pointed window and decorative bargeboard of the Gothic Revival style.

In addition to an increase in the use of decorative trim typical of the period of the Gothic Revival, some of the frame buildings show the influence of the Regency style. The Regency was a style influence in Upper Canada concurrent with that of the Classical Revival but is seldom seen on the stone buildings in the corridor. This style, developed in England, was essentially "landscape architecture," closely correlated with the romanticism prevalent in the arts in England in the early part of the 19th century. Its use dictated irregular outlines with bays and projections, large and important chimneys, tall first-floor windows, wide verandahs extending around the building, and flat stucco finishes to set off the trim and treillage of the verandah supports. In the frame buildings of the Rideau Corridor this style was manifested in the use of verandahs and large first-floor windows, the latter sometimes combined with very small second-floor windows on the front elevation. On a 1-1/2-storey house this resulted in floor-level windows on the second floor, a very inconvenient arrangement to say the least and a result of designing from the outside in. An example of this arrangement is seen in the Watts house in Eastons Corners (Fig. 62). This Regency style combination of two sizes of front windows was naturally more successful on two-storey houses such as the house in Kemptville shown in Figure 63.

62 The Watts house in Eastons Corners, Wolford township, built with small Regency windows on the second floor, was originally a store as well.

63 Regency style frame house in Kemptville, built about 1840.

Verandahs, the other distinguishing Regency feature, were used extensively on the frame houses, particularly those of front-gable design. However, since verandahs were not an integral part of the main structure and usually the first part of it to disintegrate, those now in existence are often additions or replacements, and without extensive research it can be difficult to tell which. Few were recorded which displayed the rather geometrical treillage associated with the Classical Revival period of the type seen in a Brock Street house in Merrickville (Figs. 64, 65). The fine and fancy fretwork designs of the later Gothic style were more common, but not often as elaborate as that on the house in Burritts Rapids (Figs. 66, 67).

64-65 Early styled treillage on a Brock Street house in Merrickville, Wolford township.

66-67 Verandah treillage of the decorative Gothic Revival style has been well retained on this mid-19th-century house in Burritts Rapids, Oxford township.

Obviously there are some very attractive frame houses in the Rideau Corridor. Inevitably, while they may have the same proportions, they can not have the air of solidity possessed by their stone counterparts nor their aging charm. But the front-gabled styles and the board and batten finish blend well with the small-scale setting of the villages and towns, and many of the larger clapboard houses with their sweeping verandahs and tall gables are an attractive addition to the countryside.

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