The story of this old house was set in the stones
Now defunct quarry supplied product to build 1856 home
When Jerry and Nina Chapple saw the intriguing stone house for sale on Sydenham Street in Dundas almost 50 years ago, it was “instant falling in love,” says Nina.
A new heritage planner at the City of Hamilton at the time with a master’s degree in architectural history, she saw the story in stones.
“It was solid stone, with classical details, not high style, but what made it for me were the beautiful proportions,” she says.
The house stood out for its beautiful double front doors. The north half was built in 1856 and the south half in 1858, with stone from a long gone quarry just up the street.
“There was no easy way to move stone then, so the supply had to be close by,” Nina says.
The Chapples would raise two kids (including son Alex, a film and TV director) and various dogs in a house they felt privileged to own, she says. “We took care of it, we were stewards, but now it’s time to move on.”
It’s up for sale, listed at $850,000 and the hope is that the new buyers will love its history and charm as much as the Chapples.
Though it looks like two houses with its two front doors, it was converted to single family dwelling in the 1950s and the Chapples have continued to make improvements. A stone wall was exposed during a kitchen renovation, skylights added, pine floors refinished and bathrooms improved.
“We have been, for half a century, providers of employment for just about every trade in the greater Hamilton area, and gladly so,” says Jerry.
The impression on arrival is a house rooted in an easygoing sort of elegance. To the left of the centre hall is a spacious dining room with built-ins for china and glassware; a large opening to the study and library beyond expands the sense of space.
To the right of the centre hall is the sunny living room, big enough for a wood-burning fireplace, piano and conversational grouping of sofa and chairs. The ceilings are ninefoot-two and the windows are sixfeet tall. Those are dimensions that transform space.
From the beginning, Nina says, they saw the potential in the 160year-old house.
“I love the way the spaces flow into each other, there is light coming in from all four directions. It’s the light and the materials, the pine, exposed stone walls, the openness I love. A lot of that was our contribution to the house.”
Though the house has a heritage designation from the city, the intent was never to make it a museum piece. As Nina explains, the often misunderstood designation covers the public facade of a building but the interior spaces and the exterior walls not on view to the public can be changed.
“Designation is a process, and usually things can be worked out,” she says.
Chapple was a heritage planner at the city when the Ontario Heritage Act came into force. A grassroots movement took hold in Hamilton after the shocking demolition of the wonderful Birk’s building. Staff, students and volunteers worked fervently to get 90 historic properties designated and four heritage districts established by 2000. A crowning achievement was saving the iron railings on the High Level Bridge. If the bridge hadn’t been designated, the plan was to install concrete barriers that would have blocked the view of the bay and Cootes Paradise.
The Chapples are moving to an apartment. They’ll still be in downtown Dundas, close to the trails they love, where recently they joined volunteers on a butterfly and dragonfly count. Giving up home ownership will free up time to trek and travel. Will they miss 27 Sydenham St., with the gracious rooms, the lovely screened-in porch, the bedroom with its view of trees?
“Originally we thought we’d be buried in the basement because we couldn’t leave this place,” Jerry muses.
But they are ready to hand over their duties as custodians of the past.
“I call it a Goldilocks house,” Nina says. “Not too big, not too small, with room for dogs and kids. Somehow it’s just right.”
Big windows in the dining room of Nina and Jerry Chapple’s home in Dundas fill the room and the study beyond with light.
There are two doors, but it’s one house dating back to 1856. Nina Chapple wrote a book about the stone houses of Ontario, yet has not encountered a similar home.
The big living room has a woodburning fireplace and generously sized windows with deep sills. There’s a surprising amount of light for a house built in 1856.
Nina and Jerry Chapple are saying farewell to their heritage home in Dundas after 50 years.
Built-in shelves, left, line the study and frame the doorway to the dining room. A cozy bedroom in the home features rustic ceiling beams.
When the kitchen was renovated, the decision was made to expose one of the old stone walls.
The shady porch is a favourite spot.