A history of the property

main houseother structureslocal historyconjecture


The following satellite image of the property is courtesy of the US Geological Survey. US citizens are paying taxes so we can have a picture of our house from outer space – there can be no representation without taxation. The image dates from May 1994 and covers the northern segment of the property:



The main house

The house was built in 1840 in the typical Loyalist style. The load-bearing outer walls are of fieldstone and mortar and are three feet thick at the ground floor window level, the beams are un-hewn white pine and hemlock and the original basement was no more than four feet deep with an earth floor. There would have been three rooms on the ground floor and three upstairs with a steep interior staircase. An un-insulated shed on the south side of the building served as a “summer kitchen”. Outdoor plumbing was the order of the day, and the original well appears to have been dug about twenty feet north-east of the front door.


Towards the end of the 1980s the house received a major overhaul, which was conceived unsympathetically and executed incompetently. A shed dormer was added to the north side to accommodate an upstairs bathroom. A permanent kitchen and basement was constructed on the south side, with an attached garage. The basement under the original house was dug out and concreted. Mouldings, doors and cabinetry were executed with the cheapest materials. No french drains were installed around the new basement, nor was there a sump or drain installed, which led to chronic damp. The new addition was given a siding in grey industrial brick and the roof was tiled with asphalt.


Many of the structural problems arising from this renovation had already been addressed by the previous owners, leaving us to tackle mainly aesthetic and practical projects, which have included the following, executed mostly in 2003:

v      Converted the attached garage into a mud room and bedroom suite

v      Replaced the brick with untreated eastern cider siding

v      Added windows to the south side of the kitchen

v      Installed a wood-burning cook-stove with hot water pre-heat circuit in the kitchen

v      Replaced septic tank and built new drainage field

v      To keep water runoff away from the house, changed grade on south side of house and built a dry field-stone retaining wall

v      Replaced melamine window boxes with white oak cabinetry (2004)

v      Installed a new metal roof (2006) 


Other structures

There is an L-shaped barn west of the house and a former cold-store south and west of the house. Both buildings were clad in galvanized sheet metal during the 1950s and 1960s and there is evidence of roof replacement and other major repairs, suggesting that at least part of the structures may have earlier provenance. The barn had until the 1960s been used to keep pigs and a dairy herd, although in the absence of ventilation systems it is clear that the numbers involved would have been small.


The cold-store was built in the 1950s and still contains refrigeration equipment in working order. It was used to store the apple harvest until seasonal prices improved but was rendered obsolete by the construction of large-scale co-op warehousing in the area (that would control atmospheric content as well as temperature.) The cold-store has two garages at each end, the one at the east end containing the loading dock for the cold-store and the one at the west end added in the 1970s and built with cement block and a flat roof.


In 2005, we converted the cold-store into a cider house. Inside the garage at the east end of the building we built a timber-frame structure with kitchen and bathroom on the ground-floor, and a staircase leading to a large loft space with mezzanine upstairs. The space is used for cultural activities and is open to the local community. The rest of the cider-house now comprises a large processing room where the apples are juiced, a fermentation room and a ‘vinaigrerie’, as well as a wood-working workshop. The building has electric heating and an air-exchange system to control humidity and avoid stagnant air. On the south side of the building we built a lean-to solar greenhouse using a brick wall and water barrels as the thermal store.


In the barn, we have built sheep stalls, and an insulated heated chicken and duck house, as well as rewiring the buildings and connecting a hydrant to the pressurized water system of the house. The barn also stores hay in the loft as well as drying wood. We converted one of the lofts into a three-season artist’s studio.


There is what appears to be the foundation of a building at the south-west corner of the cider-house, which is the highest point of the property. It appears to be roughly 24 by 12 feet in size, although it is next to a rock pile and difficult to delineate with any precision. The location and dimension suggests a possible site of an old log cabin.


There are, in common with the rest of the area, vestiges of boundary walls made of dry field stone. Most of these are logically laid out along field and property perimeters and for the most part they have ceased to exist as effective barriers. The only stone wall that remains intact runs along a short section of the southern perimeter of the property, which is the US border. It is about 50 feet long, with an abrupt beginning and end. The area is now a woodlot, although clearly not first or second growth. Being on the far side of a creek, and surrounded by rough, un-cleared terrain, the wall cannot be related to agricultural activity.


Some local history

The Hemmingford area was settled by Europeans after the Revolutionary War and the town was incorporated in 1799. It was not included in the seignories of Nouvelle France and played no recorded role during the extended warfare between Britain, France and their Amerindian allies that preceded US independence. Although the British saw fit to describe the area as “Waste Lands” to be sold or given to Loyalists, it would presumably have been occupied by Amerindians and is likely to been hunting grounds of both Mohawk (British allies) and Abenaki (French allies) nations.


The first Loyalist settlers arrived in the 1790s, mainly from Vermont and New Hampshire and were followed by large numbers of Scots. Irish and French settlers moved into the area in significant numbers from the 1840s onwards. Covey Hill Road forms the “first range” within Canada, i.e. the most southerly east-west road, with lots on the south side running to the border. Our property forms part of lot 14 of the original survey.


Covey Hill is the northernmost feature of the Adirondak range and is named after a leading Loyalist from New York. The eponymous road starts at the corner of route 219, which was originally called Clelland’s Corners and was the site of a hotel, a school, a courthouse and the barracks of the Hemmingford Rangers militia. Among the earliest settlers, there is ample evidence of subsequent movement. Significant numbers of them left during and after the War of 1812, for primarily political reasons. Others moved on in search of easier livelihoods after the best trees had been cut. Even among the most prominent Loyalist families, Hemmingford-born generations migrated back to the US, some of them having successful political careers there. Today there are a very large number of family and place names in common between Hemmingford and nearby towns in upstate New York, and dual citizenship is common.


The first economic activity undertaken by most settlers was potash production, which involved cutting and burning first-growth hardwoods, then boiling and drying the leachate of the ashes. This was packed in barrels and, for settlers on Covey Hill Road, would have been floated down either English or Little Montreal rivers during the spring flood. The timber itself would have been too difficult to transport from this area given the lack of large waterways. Cash from those first potash sales would have financed acquisition of tools and house building.


Apples were brought by the earliest settlers, and the last trees of the original Scriver (a leading Hemmingford family) orchard survived until the 1970s. Commercial apple production began after the railway allowed reliable marketing and expanded rapidly in the early 1900s, such that the government established pomological research stations in the area.


The apple orchards on our property were established in the 1950s with the plantation of standard trees. In the 1970s and 1980s semi-dwarf trees were planted. The varieties are common to the area, mainly McIntosh, Cortland, Empire and Spartan, along with some Russets. At its peak, the orchard had about 1200 trees, of which 800 survive. The ice-storm of 1998 caused significant damage and it was not managed on a fully commercial basis after that.


Some conjecture

The border of south-western Québec was a relatively turbulent place to live throughout the nineteenth century. Apart from the War of 1812, when a US army marched through to its defeat at the Battle of Châteauguay near Ormstown, the area was also subject to raids by American sympathizers of the Patriotes after their rebellion in 1837. A raid by such ‘patriot hunters’ was stopped at Lacolle in 1838, with the participation of Hemmingford families. During the US Civil War, sympathizers from the Confederacy raised volunteers in the region, and a number of militia companies were raised during the Fenian Raids of 1867-70.


The existence of the foundations of an earlier house on our property may have been associated with an earlier settlement attempt that was abandoned. At any time during the various outbreaks of tension and warfare, American settlers in the area would have been under pressure to demonstrate their loyalty to the British crown, and perhaps a family who had settled and cleared our property felt obliged to move on because it felt unwilling to take up arms against its American kin. A more prosaic explanation is that the cabin housed the family during the arduous and multi-year process of building the main house.


The existence of the stone wall along the border is a more fruitful source of conjecture. The border itself was realigned north-wards by a couple of hundred yards under the terms of the Ashburton-Webster treaty of 1842, implying that the wall was built after that date. Given the proximity of militia barracks and the lay of the land at the point where the wall stands (on a rise with a clear view to the east and west along the border) it is likely that it was built as a picket line for sentries on the watch for Fenians. It is a sobering thought that apparently sensible people could have once stood on our property with the intent to cause harm to other human beings, believing the ludicrous notion that American Irishmen could conquer Canada in order to trade it for Irish freedom.


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