Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair!
There’s something so romantic about a lonely bell tower or rose windows of leaded glass. Or a Victorian mansion with a witch’s hat turret. Dreams of copper-clad cupolas and gazebos graced with gingerbread really get me going!
I love visiting old buildings, researching their histories and documenting them in photographs. The ones I’m interested in must be “of a certain age” (around a century or more), possess some notable architectural features or style, and have a story to tell of the area’s history and culture. And if they come with a local legend or ghost story, so much the better! I guess you could call me a veritable Collector of Curious Constructions.
Over the years, I’ve encountered quite a few with fairytale towers and turrets. Here are just some of them, with a bit of history thrown in:
James G. Ramsey House • 49 McKenzie Avenue, Toronto, ON
Built as a grand private residence in 1896, this house is situated in Toronto near the site of the former Castle Frank, summer home of Upper Canada’s first lieutenant-governor, John Graves Simcoe. I haven’t been able to find any information about Ramsey, unfortunately. However, with its odd circular balcony and witch-hat turret, his mansion certainly makes the perfect Hallowe’en house!
Credit Valley Railway Station • 78 William Street, Streetsville, ON
Around the time that I was planning this post, I stumbled across this peculiar building purely by accident, when I was forced to take a detour to work! Built circa 1879, the station was painted white instead of the usual “railroad red” typical of early stations. The corner turret provided a clear view of the tracks and served as the telegraph operator’s office. The station was constructed near the end of the railroad heyday and soon became obsolete; it was moved by horse-drawn cart to its current location in 1914. It is now used by the Victorian Order of Nurses.
234 Main Street North, Brampton, ON
This Queen Anne residence, circa 1882, features fish scale shingles (common in historic Brampton houses), the original front door, ornate iron weather vane, and a polygon corner turret.
George W. Packham House • 27 Wellington Street East, Brampton, ON
Packham was the owner of Brampton Brick, a company still in existence, and this Queen Anne house was built for him in 1892 using materials from the brickworks. Whoever stays in the fairytale corner turret bedroom is fortunate, indeed! It features fish scale shingles, a dormer window with pierced wood decoration, bracketed cornices and a flying goose weather vane.
Galt Post Office • 33 Water Street North, Cambridge, ON
Overlooking the Grand River, the former Galt Post Office (built 1885) was designed by Thomas Fuller, architect of Ottawa’s Parliament Buildings and many other public buildings, including 80 post offices. Their construction was part of a national program to establish a firm federal presence with prominent edifices in smaller communities across the country. Now a National Historic Site, the old post office is in the High Gothic style with Romanesque and Second Empire features. Local legend (likely concocted by an Irish pub that once inhabited the building) has it that the postmaster conducted an illicit love affair with an employee but broke it off to save his marriage. The love story ended in tragedy when, a few days later, the young lady’s lifeless body was found hanging from the rafters of the clock tower. I visited the pub once and felt odd sensations when I stood at the base of the tower steps, and in the creepy basement.
Toronto Necropolis Chapel • 200 Winchester Street, Toronto, ON
Opened in 1850 to replace a smaller Potter’s Field (a.k.a. ‘Strangers’ Burying Ground’), the Necropolis cemetery is the resting place of over 50,000 souls, including many prominent figures such as William Lyon McKenzie (Toronto’s first mayor and leader of the 1837 Upper Canada Rebellion), George Brown (a Father of Confederation and founder of what is now the Globe and Mail), Thornton Blackburn (former slave who made his way to Canada via the “Underground Railroad” and established Toronto’s first cab company), Roy Brown (WWI RAF officer credited with shooting down the “Red Baron”) and Ned Hanlan (world champion oarsman). The adjacent chapel, with its Gothic Revival arches, stained glass and spired bell tower, was built in 1872. Ontario’s first crematorium was added to the site in 1933.
Old Fire Hall • 2 Chapel Street, Brampton, ON
This Romanesque structure is Brampton’s oldest municipal building. It started life in 1854 as the market and town hall and became the fire hall when the 40-foot bell tower was added two decades later. The tower had a secondary purpose: the fire hoses were hung from it to dry. To the left of the fire hall is the Carnegie Library, a rare Beaux Arts building erected in 1906. The library is one of 156 Canadian libraries funded by Scottish steel magnate and philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie. Only ninety of these structures still exist.
McIntosh Castle • 14 Sydenham Street, Kingston, ON
Kingston is chock-a-block full of fascinating architecture. Nestled in a quiet downtown neighbourhood is McIntosh Castle, a Gothic Revival villa built starting in 1849 for Donald McIntosh, a ship owner. A local story says that McIntosh promised his family a castle with a lake view to induce them to move to Canada from Scotland. Sadly, the family never got to live there; McIntosh ran out of money and sold the house in 1850. The villa was completed by successive owners. Another rather macabre legend says that, in later years, the crenellated tower containing a widow’s walk was added so that the lady of the house could sit in comfort with her tea and watch hangings at the gallows of the courthouse next door!
Boldt Castle • Heart Island, Alexandria Bay, NY
Located in the Thousand Islands on the St. Lawrence River, Boldt Castle (above) was built in the Châteauesque style in 1900 by millionaire George C. Boldt (proprietor of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City) as a present for his wife, Louise. The 6-storey, 120-room castle was still under construction in 1904 when Louise died suddenly. Heartbroken and inconsolable, Boldt halted construction and never returned to the island, leaving the buildings to the elements for over 70 years. The castle and other structures, including the Power House (below, left) and Alster Tower (below, right) were acquired by the Bridge Authority in the 1970s, restored and opened to the public. We viewed these fanciful buildings from our tour boat on the river; the island is a point of entry from Canada to the United States, so a passport is required to visit!