Refurbished Manor House re-opens to public
BY MARGARET CALDBICK
Staff Recognized Federal Heritage Building, the Sir John Johnson Manor House National Historic Site in Williamstown, threw open its doors on Sunday for the grand opening of an indoor restoration project two years in the making.
Visitors were invited to an afternoon tea with dainty desserts and to see the three newly renovated rooms, the grand lofty-ceilinged “ballroom,” a roomy 560-square-foot room, part of a Gothic Revival addition to the east dating from the 1850s, and its adjoining rooms, a “concierge room” that originally served as a bedroom, and a central room that is part of the original circa 1790 log house.
Lifted and gone are the carpets that were laid when the Sir John Johnson House housed the Williamstown Branch of the SD&G Library. (In 2017, the library was relocated to nearby St. Mary’s Centre.)
Sunday’s guests were received by Lynn Lafave, chair of the Sir John Johnson Manor House Committee (SJJMHC) who pointed out the changes inside, the first stage of an interior renovation that eventually will include renovating the house’s second floor to create one full suite and three bedrooms.
The official and future goal of the committee – and at the heart of the next phase of fund-raising – is to provide stylish and comfortable accommodations so visitors can come and stay in the historic home.
In the meantime, people looking for a venue for a wedding reception or any gathering of 60 or so can rent the newly refurbished main floor rooms with full bathroom and access to the house’s kitchen.
The main floor restoration project was paid for through SJJMHC fundraising and follows the completion of a $665,000 stabilization and restoration project to replace the building’s roof and repair and shore up its foundation.
That project was undertaken and paid for by the building’s owner, Parks Canada (PC) that acquired the house in 1971 when it was ushered into the Canada-wide system of national parks and national historic sites.
On Sunday, guests sat at tables in the ballroom that has been re-plastered and painted a buttery yellow, a colour that was approved by PC this past summer after evaluating the room’s original colours.
While volunteers handled some of the work like tearing out carpets and the plywood subfloor, the painting and woodwork were undertaken by hired contractors. With the carpets gone, the rooms’ original pine and maple floors are revealed. Overhead in the ballroom is an original plaster ceiling medallion where a crystal chandelier once twinkled.
In fact, the SJJMHC is asking the public for the donation of a suitably-sized and historically appropriate chandelier to replace the original. The committee is also looking for several large oriental carpets for the ballroom. Income tax receipts will be provided for these and any cash donations above $20.
The Sir John Johnson House houses the Glengarry Archives that are used for genealogy research by visitors from around the world. Its archive holdings include local land and church records, the research papers of Frank Risteen on Sir John Johnson, and the Women’s Institute Picnic Grove Tweedsmuir books and Loyalist and Glengarry History books.
The Sir John Johnson House was originally part of a grist and sawmill complex built by Sir John Johnson sometime between 1784 and 1792. There were two major additions to the original refined log building -- a two-storey addition on the west side was erected about 1825, and a larger Gothic Revival addition to the east dating from the 1850s where the ballroom is located.
To rent the Sir John Johnson House ballroom and adjoining rooms, visit the site’s webpage or call 613347-2356. The house’s winter hours are Mondays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. or by appointment.
“Our aim is to use the house again, and – if fundraising goes the way we want – to have the house lived in again,” says SJJMHC committee member Brent Lafave.
“We’re just volunteers and so far the reaction has been ‘Wow!’ This is our legacy and a legacy you can use.”