Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Heritage Designation Follow-up



At this stage of the heritage designation procedure a notice is placed in the local newspaper.

In the process of requesting a heritage designation, Mary Smith and Larry Pfaff of the Heritage Committee brought to light a sad events regarding past owners of the Dusty Victorian, which resulted in a gradual and severe deterioration of the house between 1957 to 1975.
When Leonard Harstone passed away in 1932, he left behind his widow Beatrice and son Robert. They continued to live in the house until Mrs Harstone died in 1957. Known to be difficult and demanding, she did not approve of Robert's engagement to Elsie Hyde, a local girl, whom he had known most of his life. Whatever Mrs. Harstone's reasons, she exercised her power to prevent the marriage. It was not until her death in 1957 that Robert and Elsie publicly acknowledge their attachment and later were married. From this point on, the house was locked up with all of the homes furnishings and Mrs. Harstone's personal belongings. Even the many preserves she had made and stocked away were left untouched for nearly twenty years. Slowly, the house fell into disrepair, rotting away and loosing many attractive features. It was not until Robert's death in 1974, that his wife Elsie, put the estate up for sale and it caught the attention of Peter Behn and John Sheeler. A house that had been one of St Marys' gems was nothing more than an abandon, dilapidated house when they purchased it in 1975. 
Image courtesy of the St Marys Museum
Above is the house circa 1940

Seen below is the house in May 1975
The second storey balcony had rotten away, many shutters were missing, the gingerbread balustrade and the grand sweeping stairs - gone, as is the lush landscape, just to name a few things.
Image courtesy of Mr. Peter Behn May 1975, before they took possession.
Through the Heritage Committee, I had the privilege and immense pleasure of communicating with Mr. Behn. The priceless information and photographs he has so generously offered brought light to many questions I had. To learn of the staggering amount of restorative work they had done was simply mind blowing. They had restored the house to its original design and made numerous improvement in the process, taking care to preserve its intrinsic style. Mr. Behn and Mr. Sheeler (now deceased) owned an antique shop in downtown St Marys at 159 Queen St. They were successful in having this property designated heritage. As for 137 Water St. North, that would come much later with yours truly.

This is a shot of the large parlour now our library. It probably represents best how the house was during the Harstone ownership. The 'L' shape bookcase holds the Harstone's law books which have remained in the house ever since, but this bookcase is long gone. The colours for this room were very dark - fashionable style at the turn of the last century.

Image courtesy of Mr. Peter Behn
Furnishings and decoration styles may have change through out the years, but what is evident to me is the labour of love this house has benefited from since 1975. The fireplace was given a beautiful wood mantel, the walls were covered with an ornate golden yellow paper pattern, the windows were elegantly dressed with full length curtains and beautiful area rugs graced the floors. In the shots below, you will see the many gorgeous antiques through out the house during the Behn/Sheeler ownership which lasted from 1975 to 1983.

Fire place in the large parlour now the library. Image courtesy of Mr. Peter Behn
Front door of the large parlour now the library. Image courtesy of Mr. Peter Behn

Large parlour, corner where the Harstone bookcase use to be. Image courtesy of Mr. Peter Behn

Back door of the large parlour, now the library. Image courtesy of Mr. Peter Behn

View of the dining room from the front parlour, now the studio. Image courtesy of Mr. Peter Behn

Front parlour with view of the entrance foyer. On the camel back antique sofa is their little Italian Greyhound pet dog. Image courtesy of Mr. Peter Behn
I was not surprised to learn that Mr. John Sheeler was an heritage activist and was instrumental in creating what is now known as the Municipal Heritage Committee. The first meeting was held in 1977 where he served on the committee's executive. He was involved in the first municipal designations under the Ontario Heritage Act. The Queen Street Bridge and the Opera House are just a few examples of his efforts in the field of heritage designation.

Mr. Peter Behn was an active volunteer at the St. Marys Museum. Beside his expertise in antiques, he had a special interest in gardening. He worked hard to improve the borders, discovering heritage plants that had survived the changes in occupancy of the Dusty Victorian. 

(Harstone period) Circa 1975                                          Oct. 2013
May 1975                                                 Oct. 2013
Backyard May 1975                              Backyard Oct. 2013
Back North-East side circa 1975                  Back North-East side Oct.2013                
"...I am grateful that the house, since our ownership, has found individual buyers who use it as their primary residence. However, it is only natural that each party has their own ideas of what to do with it, and to what extent retain its originality. There are obviously changes which cannot easily be reversed, and a certain 'modernization' is inevitable."
Peter Behn

I agree, wall colours and furnishings will change from owner to owner, personal taste and modernization is inevitable, especially in such rooms as the kitchen and bathroom. One needs the conveniences of modern day life in order to fully enjoy one's home. These conveniences keep a home relevant, comfortable and desirable, but respecting its antique nature is important to us. We consider ourselves custodians of this house, trying our best to preserve, maintain and protect the important work previous owners have done before us. 

In 1983, the house was sold to Lori Webb Thompson and her husband Mike Thompson where they remained for twenty five years, raising their three children. Mrs. Thompson left her remarkable William Morris vision on the walls and ceiling of five major rooms, which can be seen in the previous post. Not to mention the embellishment of the exterior landscape with the integration of limestone retaining walls, a slate patio and a two story Victorian style shed/playhouse.


Patio Summer 2012

Backyard retaining stone walls and shed/playhouse Summer 2012



A house without a caring owner is as destitute as a homeless person.

Thank you to Peter Behn, John Sheeler and Lori Webb Thompson.


4 comments:

Gina @ VictorianWannaBe said...

Oh Anyes, I loved each and every photo, seeing the then and now is good to see. I enjoyed the history of the house too. You have done such a great job with the house. Thanks for sharing it with us.
Gina

The Dusty Victorian said...

Hello Gina,
One has to be a bit of an anthropologist to fully appreciate the history of an old house. Knowing about the people who lived here gives a clearer and more in depth picture. We've learned so much. So glad you appreciate it as well.
Anyes
xx

Mark D. Ruffner said...

Dear Anyes,

It's wpnderful that you have such a complete story of your house, and what a story it is! Parts of it sound like the plot of a movie! Seeing the before and after photographs is fascinating.

Mark

P.S. I like the peacock banner at the top of your blog — I assume it's another wallpaper border.

The Dusty Victorian said...

Hello Mark,
I never thought there would be so much information uncovered during this process. It fascinates me and yes, the mother and son Harstone story could make for a somewhat sinister movie plot. Hitchcock's Psycho comes to mind or the documentary Grey Garden's. The pretty peacock banner is in the dinning room.
Anyes
xx