Constructed in 1905, as a three-storey mansion for the prominent Gananoque manufacturer and provincial politician, Frederick J. Skinner, the Queen Anne Revival Style building was designed by the architect Frank T. Lent, and constructed by the firm Mitchell and Wilson (Figures 1-2). Lent worked as an architect in the United States, principally in Massachusetts and New York State before establishing a practise in Gananoque and Thousand Island area with a focus on suburban and summer residences. The firm of Mitchell and Wilson was a major lumber and building operation in Gananoque prior to and following the construction of 95 King St. W., and was responsible for many prominent structures in the area.
Over time 95 King St. W. has been used as tourist accommodation, a nursing home, apartments, and after 1999 as a bed and breakfast, (acquired by Don and Marion Matthews in 2001 and operated as Sleepy Hollow Bed and Breakfast since 2002).
Constructed in 1905, the house at 95 King St. W. reflects the domestic accommodation of Gananoque’s industrial elite at a time when, in addition to great growth there was notable improvements in the mechanisation and capitalisation of industrial activity. Additionally the mansion reflects the improvement of the social position of the Skinner family—along with several other families who came after the mid-19th century, and whose affluence eroded the influence of the traditional leading families.
For the first three quarters of the 19th century the Stone and McDonald families (and their inter-married offshoots) dominated Gananoque: the Stones being Loyalists and the first non-native settlers, the McDonald’s entering the line early in the 19th century through marriage. Built examples of this ‘gentry’ status include Gananoque Town Hall—an early McDonald residence which became Town Hall in 1911, and the residence of Samuel McCammon (at 279 Kings St. W., now the Victoria Rose Inn, Figures 3-4).
Whereas F.J.’s grandfather, Sylvester Skinner was described as “very slippery and not to be trusted without security, old man called very dishonest,” the ‘new’ merchant families which included the Skinners were already on the rise by 1868, when the McDonald’s sold their water rights on the Gananoque River that had powered the town’s mills of many enterprises. With the rights acquired by a group of manufacturers, the Gananoque Water Power Company was created to offer better regulation and allocation of water flow. F.J. was later a president of the company.
The completion of the Thousand Islands Railway in 1889 (originally constructed by the Rathbuns of Deseronto as a timber line to remove the cut lumber from the watershed of the Gananoque River), further promoted Gananoque as an industrial centre, as demonstrated by the incorporation of Gananoque as a town in 1890. The first Council of the new Town had an entirely new slate of officials, and none of the old-guard families.
In 1898, F.J.'s father, Sylvester, jr., incorporated the business under a provincial charter, with the name Skinner Co., Ltd. Sylvester, jr., served as president until his death in 1903, whereupon F.J. assumed the presidency. The business was clearly a lucrative operation to allow the new president to build a stylish mansion a mere two years after assuming control of the company, and to erect it in a location favoured by the town’s traditional elite (Figures 4-7).
The family company was established 1834 in Brockville by the elder Sylvester Skinner and William McCullough, and produced harvesting goods such as scythes, snaths and grain cradles. As early as the Great London Exhibition of 1851 the firm was awarded an exhibition medal for the quality of their agricultural tools. In 1857 Sylvester, sr., bought out McCullough, relocated to Gananoque (perhaps after financial difficulties), and admitted his two eldest son’s (Amasa and Sylvester Case) into the partnership—calling the enterprise The Globe Works. The manufacture of other products such as ash wood hames, saddlery, carriage hardware, crosscut saw handles, and steel snow shovels, contributed to the growth and success of the business.
The Skinner factory was located at 5 King Street East (immediately east of the former railway/current pedestrian bridge, current FIA Building, Figures 8-9). F.J. constructed his residence a short distance from his principal business enterprise—a traditional proximity in the 19th century, but a little old-fashioned for wealthy industrialists by 1905.
In 1910, with the advent of the automobile, F.J. expanded the operations of the company with the manufacture of round bar bumpers. F.J.’s foresight to manufacture components for the new technology, kept the firm at the vanguard of industrial developments. As the bumper business developed after the First World War, the company became a patent licensee of such concerns as the Metal Stamping Company of Long Island; the C.G. Spring and Bumper Company of Detroit; and the American Chain Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut. These relationships resulted in the continued growth of the company, and made the firm was desirable for acquisition in 1929 by the powerful Chicago-based Houdaille-Hershey Corporation. F.J. continued as president of the Canadian operations which were relocated to Oshawa in 1930. His son Fred Skinner, jr., succeeded as third president, following F.J.’s death in 1933, and the company (renamed Houdaille Industries) prospered well into the post-war period but is no longer.
F.J. was also prominent in the community as a MLA (MPP) for Leeds, twice elected as a member of the Conservative Party, and serving from 1926 until his death in 1933. His funeral was described as a noteworthy ceremony, with the Premier, George S. Henry attending. F.J. was interred as the first occupant of a stately and elegant mausoleum which occupies a commanding location in front of the entrance (Figures 10-11).
Constructed and clad with wood, the basic clapboard exterior offers a pleasing contrast to areas of intense ornament. Pressed metal panels are employed in a manner that replicates more traditional wood and terra cotta detailing, such as a fascia below the eaves (decorated with low-relief garlands), while window-sized rectangular panels enrich blank walls much in the manner of stained glass (but allowing a solid wall on the interior, Figures 14-16). Additional ornament of wood includes urn-topped supports for rails, or keystone-shapes in the surrounds of l’oeil de boeuf windows—both round and oval (the oval window, which illuminates the mid-stair landing, is the most elaborate stained glass window in the building; Figures 13 and 17-19).
The narrow, principal elevation faces Kings St. W., with the secondary façade arranged to create a pleasant composition for the less prominent Church Street (west) elevation. The west elevation is quite a jumble of different window openings and angles, but was not intended to have a prominent prospect (Figure 18).
These rooms are all richly appointed with oak (painted in parlour) for the doors, window frames, stair rail, wainscot, and built-in benches, while the ceilings are covered by decorative pressed tin (with each space having a different pattern). A dramatic entry to the entrance hall and stair is ensured by the commanding oak and bevelled glass doors set with equally elaborate hardware. This space also has some of the finest stained glass windows in the house—the richest of which being an oval pictorial composition at the mid-stair landing (Figure 23). For the convenience of visitors, a well appointed cloakroom was also incorporated into the stair structure (complete with stained glass window for light and privacy), located a half flight down towards the basement.
The dining room continues the decorative impulse of the entrance hall, with the rich atmosphere created by oak wainscot—incised with a groove at the top to allow the convention of displaying valued plates for additional ornamental impact (Figures 24-25). Whereas dining rooms tend to be long rectangles, at 95 King St. W. the octagonal shape of the chamber is somewhat unusual, with three of the equally proportioned walls filled by windows (part of a two-storey bay on the east elevation). The play of differently shaped rooms is a theme throughout the house, with almost all rooms featuring irregular walls or ceilings (Figure 26).
The double parlour is divided by a partial screen formed by paired Ionic columns and Ionic pilasters set on a low wall (Figure 27). More diminutive, tiered Ionic columns flank the elaborate mantels in each section of the parlour (Figure 28). Each half of the parlour is spatially distinct—that adjacent to the entrance hall has an angled visual pull towards the corner tower, while the rear portion (opposite the stair and dining room entrance) has an expansive feel from the wide ellipse of the bow window. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, parlours were typically considered a womanly domain (whether the residents treated it that way or not), and features such as the extra heat from two hearths, ample light for needle crafts, plaster walls instead of panelling, and the feminine connotations of the Ionic order, underscored the gender reference.
Past these front rooms were the private family areas. On the ground floor is the semi-private study (at the time it could also be called library or office), and kitchen, pantry and servant areas (including the back/servant stair). The second floor contained the four family and additional servant bedrooms (albeit set well to the rear, Figure 29). The concept of the entrance and stair hall giving access to all the principal rooms on the ground floor, was replicated at the bedroom level. At the top of the stair is a large space, with ample natural light, that could be used by the family when not dressed to receive people from outside the household (and often used as an unofficial office by the female head of the household where she could be out of sight, but within earshot, of the goings on below).
Originally the attic was an open space for storage and exercise space for children during inclement weather, but it was divided into apartments in the mid-20th century, with more recent alterations to suit to the operation of bed and breakfast accommodation.
The style favoured asymmetrical design, a wide variety of window styles and shapes on one building, projecting wings, porches, balconies, and high irregular rooflines, punctuated by many dormers, gables, and ornamented chimney stacks. Additionally, a wide selection of building materials could be employed, again, often all on the same building. 95 King St. W. has a masterful inclusion of these many varied qualities, yet responds to the challenge of the Queen Anne Revival Style—that of achieving an underlying discipline. Features that added to the complexity, but which have been lost at 95 King St. W., include chimney caps, and more pervasive use of railings with urn-topped posts (no longer present at the front steps, or atop the ground-level bow window of the Church Street (west) elevation.
The construction materials employed for the Queen Anne Revival Style were equally diverse, while red brick was common—often combined with stone or wood trim and panels of sculpted terra cotta, wood construction was also a significant regional variation such as in the Atlantic Provinces, or closer to Gananoque in the United States—particularly in smaller centres or resort architecture. Wood could be clapboard or shingle, and either left to weather naturally or painted a variety of brilliant colours. At 95 King St. W., the current owners have revived the concept of a brilliant palette based on archival and paint analysis of different periods, plus personal preferences.
The interiors of Queen Anne Revival Style houses were usually designed around a stair hall that served as a gathering and greeting foyer with built-in seating areas (situated at landings of often short or meandering flights), and storage cabinets or adjoining cloakrooms. Typically, the stair hall also offered direct access to the principal rooms on the ground level, as well as a generous landing on the floor above. The interior finishes were often as elaborate as the spatial configuration, featuring highly ornamented plasterwork or pressed tin or paper (particularly for ceilings), extensive woodwork, and stained and bevelled glass. 95 King St. W. is a textbook example of this format.
The Queen Anne Revival Style originated in England in the 1860s and 1870s, as a style favoured by the upper-middle class, and soon became popular in the United States. However, the introduction of the style was not common until the 1890s and then ceased to be popular after the First World War. Partly because of this relatively brief period of popularity, and because the style was expensive both in its materials and because it generally required the skill of an architect to effectively coordinate, exuberant examples of the Queen Anne Revival Style such as 95 King St. W., are not common in Gananoque or towns of similar size.
Born in Poughkeepsie, New York, Lent gained his B.S. from Rutgers University in New Jersey in 1878, and this was followed by two years of postgraduate training in the New Jersey-based architectural firm of William A. Potter. Lent described his first 20-years of architectural practise as focussed in the vicinity of New York City and Boston, with commissions in a total of nine states. In his middle to mature years, Lent became associated with the cottage country of the Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes area (e.g., Rockport). His first commissions in this area are of ca. 1899, and around 1900 he designed for himself a house at 120 Market Street (at the southwest corner of the intersection with Clarence). In 1901 he advertised himself to be “devoting his entire time to St. Lawrence river work as resident architect and inspector.” This geographical transition may have been prompted by his second wife, Fannie Clarke Deane, who was of Mohawk background.
Additional notable summer and suburban residences by Lent include: Dr. E.L. Atkinson’s cottage (ca. 1900), Big White Calf Island, Admiralty Island Group, Thousand Islands; Christ Church Rectory, Gananoque (ca. 1900) just down Church Street from 95 King St. W.; Nokomis Lodge, Howe Island (1914, destroyed by fire 2003); and 18 Barrie Street (at the corner of King) Kingston which was substantially remodelled to the designs of Lent in 1905 in an imposing Classical Revival style (originally constructed in 1830, it was renovated for Queen’s University, Faculty of Medicine 2007).
Institutional buildings, however, were not unrepresented in his oeuvre as demonstrated by the Gananoque Clock Tower, Stone Street (1903, Figure 30) and by St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Elgin, Ontario (1903-05), a towered Gothic Revival design of squat proportions but intricate interior woodwork by James Stanton. Gananoque’s Blinkbonnie Hotel is also attributed to Lent.
Although located close to the current centre of Gananoque, when constructed, the F.J. Skinner residence was definitely situated in a suburban environment, and accordingly is part of Lent’s preferred output of suburban and country domiciles.
Lent spent his final years at his principal residence in Sterling, Massachusetts, but returned each summer to the Gananoque area to reside in this cottage “Wee Rocks” on the south side of McDonald Island.
The Mitchell and Wilson Company dated back to 1840 when George Mitchell opened a carriage making business that soon included joinery and house building. The youngest son, David, survived to take over the family business in 1886 and in 1892 formed a partnership with David Wilson. Wilson was a bricklayer and took over the construction component of the business while Mitchell supervised the planing mill and supply aspects of the company. The firm was clearly a leading construction firm in Gananoque at the time of the construction of the F.J. Skinner residence in 1905, as Mitchell and Wilson erected the Gananoque Clock Tower with its superlative workmanship in 1903.
The Mitchell and Wilson Company maintained a prominent role in the building history of Gananoque following the construction of the Skinner residence, relocating to new premises at Market and St. Lawrence streets in 1912 (a year after Wilson died). The firm is remembered for other significant structures in the area, such as: Nokomis Lodge; the Gananoque Band Stand of 1921 (designed by then Gananoque Band member William Rees; the old high school (demolished), and the gates at the three town entrances.
Compatibility with Heritage Environs
The polychromatic exterior is an adaptation of colours derived from archival and paint analysis of different periods and, fundamentally, is in keeping with the Queen Anne Revival Style, while at the same time offering a balance to the towered exuberance of its neighbours such as 279 King St. W (Figures 31-32).
The site around 95 King St. W. is consistent with its early 20th century origins as demonstrated by early images of the property (Figures 31-33. The front/north and west/side elevations are prominently visible to the streetscape, there are a select number of trees that do not obscure these façades, and the primary ground cover is a lawn. Variations over time include the arrangement of shrubbery and flower beds, but these play a secondary role to the above landscape features. While provision for parking and cars is not original, accommodation for the automobile was an early alteration, as the first owner F.J. Skinner not only had the means to purchase a vehicle, but he also produced components for them, and required regular use of the vehicle for both his work as an MLA and a car part manufacturer.
Community Context / Landmark Status
The building has also been prominent by virtue of its owners or the accommodation it offered. F.J. Skinner was already an influential man in Gananoque when he commissioned its design and construction. His significance increased in the next near-30 years of his life, as his business prospered by addressing new technologies, and because of his two terms as a member of the Ontario Legislature.
Subsequent owners were not as prominent in business or civic affairs, but the alternate forms of accommodation offered in the structure over the years has maintained a prominence of sufficient stature for the building, such as with: early tourist accommodation, as a nursing home, notoriety stemming from an ill-fated attempt to re-zone the property for commercial use as an art gallery and, after 1999, as a bed and breakfast which since 2002 has offered a wide package of options beyond standard overnight accommodation.
Sleepy Hollow Bed & Breakfast, owner’s research file and website http://www.sleepyhollowbb.ca/ . Work on the building evidently continued until 1906, as documented by a piece of paper recently found in a built-in bench in the entrance hall which states: “Frank Wright, Painter, January 26, 1906.”
Sleepy Hollow Bed & Breakfast, owner’s research file, F.J. Skinner obituary, n.s., 4 November 1933; Skinner family mausoleum, Willow Bank Cemetery; Canadian Register of Commerce and Industry, ca. 1959, held in the Western Libraries – Business Library, University of Western Ontario, and Akeson, The Irish in Ontario, “Gananoque 1849-71,” p. 304.
Either of two curved pieces of wood and/or metal fastened over the collar of a draught horse, used to attach the traces (each of pair of ropes, chains, or straps connecting the collar of a draught animal with the swingle-tree (cross-bar pivoted in the middle, to ends of which traces are fastened in a cart, plough, etc.) of a vehicle).
Frank T. Lent: Sound Sense in Suburban Architecture: containing Hints, Suggestions, and Bits of Practical Information for the Building of Inexpensive Country Houses (Frank T. Lent, Cranford, New Jersey, 1893); Sensible Suburban Architecture: containing Suggestions, Hints, and Practical Ideas, Sketches, Plans, etc., for the Building of Country Homes (Frank T. Lent, Tremont Building, Boston, 1894); Summer Homes and Camps: containing Suggestions, Hints, and Practical Ideas, Sketches, Plans, etc., for the Building of Summer Homes (Frank T. Lent, Tremont Building, Boston, 1899); and Ah, Wilderness! Resort Architecture in the Thousand Islands, Pierre de la Ruffinière du Prey, Guest Curator, Dorothy Farr, Supervising Curator, Exhibition Catalogue, Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queen’s University, Kingston, 2004, p. 94-97
Biographical information and quote from, Freeman Britton, Souvenir of Gananoque and the Thousand Islands, privately published by the publisher of the Gananoque Reporter, quoted in Ah, Wilderness! p. 96.
Commissioned by Charles McDonald of Gananoque, the tower was part of the Fire House complex with the portion below the clock level serving as the hose drying chamber—the chimes could also ring to a code that indicated what area of town a fire or emergency had been noted. See, Gananoque Historical Society Newsletter, no. 4, Feb. 1986, p. 39; and Gananoque Clock Tower, heritage plaque.
Heritage Tour of Elgin, http://www.twprideaulakes.on.ca/elgintour/ .
Skinner House Owners