Editorial By: Clare Crozier | Photography By: Dr. Christopher Cooper
Living in a home that has been in our family for four generations has been an interesting and challenging experience. In the early 1860s my great grandparents returned to their native Scotland where they commissioned a Glasgow architect to draw up plans for their Dundas, Ontario home. Construction of their 14-room, 4,500 square foot stone home commenced in 1866 and was completed the following year. Located in Dundas’ picturesque Cross-Melville Heritage District the original property had frontage of 168 feet on Melville Street and ran back the full width of the block to Park Street. In later years the property was subdivided, leaving an irregular shaped lot of 102′ by 144′ as we find it today.
Tucked into the side of a hill our home was constructed of finely cut ashlar-coursed limestone on the front facade, the sides and raised basement are wrought in irregular shaped wrought-coursed stone. Perhaps the home’s most distinct feature is the attractive porch, which reflects the ideals of an English designer who invented this popular decorative style of ornamentation.
Note the broached and crandled plinth that supports the finely cut ashlar limestone exterior facade.
Our odyssey of owning a century old home began in the early 1980s. When replacing the roof we found the original 1867 wood shingle roof buried under three layers of asphalt shingles. As we strove to meet today’s living standards, while respecting the century old traditions, we have totally refurbished our home by replacing the original 60-amp knob and tube wiring with a 200-amp service, updated the plumbing, renovated the bathrooms and kitchen, restored the porches and created a perennial heritage garden.
Many visitors tell us when crossing the threshold of our home it’s like stepping back in time. As you enter the house, you pass through the original stained-glass side panels and etched glass purple trillium door. Skirting (baseboards) range from 13 to 18 inches and plaster cornice mouldings grace the top of the elegant 11-foot ceilings which feature acanthus leaf medallions intermixed with Tudor roses and Scotch thistles.
Wide doorways, fireplaces, with the original iron hob grates still in place, and pine-board flooring add to the character of the home.
In our decorating efforts we have endeavoured to respect the heritage of our home. Interior wall coverings and colours were chosen to complement the antique furnishings, china and porcelain pieces, many of which are original to the home. The dining room suite, which dates back to 1845, and other period pieces were gathered at estate sales and auction houses. An art conservator, from the Hamilton Art Gallery, was engaged to restore many of the oil paintings done by my grandmother, an 1898 graduate of the Ontario School of Art.
A rich tapestry of colours: yellow, burgundy, hunter green and golden hues dominate our home’s living area. The yellows and greens are carried into the kitchen and poolside areas, where summer accessories blend with the garden for summer gatherings with family and friends.
The heritage gardens, which took truckloads of manure, top soil and cedar mulch to create, continue to evolve from year to year. A four-level, tiered, hillside rock garden dominates one end of the pool area. Old perennial standbys such as hosta, heuchera, ladies mantle, soloman’s seal, lilies, roses, and monarda fill the formal gardens. A variety of hydrangea and other shrubs have been utilized for their colour, texture and shape.
In an effort to share it with others we have opened it for numerous fund-raising home and garden tours: for non-profit organizations, local churches, the Carnegie Art Gallery, and the Royal Botanical Garden.
The City of Hamilton Municipal Heritage Committee recognized our efforts by presenting us with the 2008 Hamilton Property Conservation Award, for demonstrating outstanding contributions to the conservation, restoration, and preservation of Hamilton’s built history.
It has been a joy living in the Homestead, our treasured 143-year-old family home. Would we go to all this expense and work again? In a heart-beat!