Rouge Valley Conservation Centre

Rouge Valley Conservation Centre


An Example of 19th Century
Building Technology

By Bob Simpson

In researching the Pearse House for the purpose of restoring it to the conditions of 1893, while adapting it to meet current building standards, we uncovered methods of construction that change as the original structure was expanded over its lifetime.

The original structure, measuring approximately 17’6” x 26’6” in size, was a one storey board and batten clad farmhouse.  The stone foundation provided an approximately 7’ high basement. This method of basement construction was extended when the south and east additions were built. It was interesting to note that fieldstone was used for the foundation of the final addition, the 1920’s sun porch.

The circa 1869 ground floor structure was built using a timber frame method of construction, having 8” x 8” sills with an 8” x 10” centre beam supporting joists measuring 3” x 8”. All these ground floor timbers were pine, most likely from the Rouge Valley. Pine planks were placed on top of the floor structure and covered with tongue and groove maple flooring.

The north and east walls of the north room, part of the circa 1869 structure, were found to be of a modified timber construction, with irregular spacing of the 2” to 3” x 4” uprights, which were basically placed where it was felt necessary. In removing some of the interior sheathing boards, we uncovered evidence of former doors, windows and what appeared to be the original roofline.

Interior sheathing throughout the house consists of horizontal planks that are 1” thick by up to 22” wide and from 8’ to 16’ long. These planks are held in place by both square and round-headed nails. This planking was once with lath and plaster, which has since been removed. The few trim pieces that we located showed us that the baseboards were approximately 1’ high by 1 1/2” thick. The trim around the doors and windows was found to be 5 1/2” wide, probably once having decorative corner blocks.

The south part of the front section, built with balloon framing, is believed to have been added in 1893 to extend the original house. The floor structure was found to be 2” x 10” rough sawn joists on 12” centres. Again, pine planking covered with hardwood tongue and groove was used for the floor surface.

The rear kitchen wing was built with a balloon frame system, consisting of 2” x 4”’s that extend from the bottom plate to the top plate with no evidence of fire stops between the wall studs, as would be required according to today’s construction standards.

The ground floor joists in this area consist of a hodgepodge of timbers of various dimensions. Flooring is 1” x 4” tongue and groove pine. The second floor joists were discovered to be recycled roof rafters. This was evident because of the birdsmouth notches that had been cut in the joists. It should be noted that in the construction of the Pearse House, many parts were recycled or short materials.

The brick veneer was added to the house in 1893, confirmed by the date worked into the bricks in the north gable of the kitchen. This date also appears scratched into the mortar of the cellarway, confirming that the major expansion and alterations of the house took place at the same time as the brick was added.

To add this brickwork to the earliest sections of the house, a stone perimeter support was added to the outside of the existing foundation. All battens from the board and batten siding were removed. As the brick courses were constructed, large square-headed nails were driven into the existing siding and sheathing to hold the brickwork in place.

It is interesting to note that the bricks used for this house had a fault in their manufacturing process, a mark on the surface of the stretcher side. Bricks with a similar fault were found on the old Dominion Brewery on Queen Street in Toronto prior to its sandblasting.

While looking at old houses in travels throughout the Greater Toronto Area, no other homes were found with this particular pattern of light brick with darks accents.

Development of the Pearse House. The circa 1869 portion of the house, the first part to be built by James Pearse Jr., is shown as a shaded area. The earliest section of the building is not visible on the exterior. but is revealed when the interior structure is examined.

Floor Structure of the Circa 1869 Cottage. The heavy timber framing makes this earliest portion of the Pearse Hourse readily distinguishable from the later additions. For the sake of clarity, the changes which altered the floor structure in 1893 are not shown. This illustration is based on a drawing by Bob Simpson.

Pearse House History (continued)

To donate to the Rouge Valley Conservation Centre click on the button below:

Click here to see photos of the Pearse House’s transformation into the Rouge Valley Conservation Centre.