TOURING WOLFVILLE’S OLDER HOMES (November 2/11)

If you participate in one of the walking tours John Whidden has been conducting in Wolfville, you’ll learn a lot about the town’s old wooden houses and discover some of its less known history.

In a nutshell, the walking tour is all about looking at and learning about the older homes of Wolfville. It was an excellent tour and if the opportunity arises to participate in one of them, I recommend that you do. Whidden is well versed in the finishes and styles used in building Wolfville’s old houses and he explains them so clearly even architecturally challenged guys like me understood them.

There were some surprises on the tour. Whidden pointed out, for example, that the stretch of street we toured contained homes built over a 160 period and “represent most of the architectural styles found in Wolfville.” Except for a few alterations and additions, Whidden said these homes have retained their original appearance.

In the tour I participated in, we started at the Acadia University arena complex and walked west along the north side of Main Street. Along the way, Whidden described the array of century plus homes found on the north side of the street, at the same time commenting on the builders, the previous occupants and the various architectural styles and finishes used in constructing these magnificent buildings.

As for styles and finishes, some examples of what I mean by this is Whidden’s description of the houses at 576 and 590 Main Street. Whidden said the former house was built by “a local carpenter” around 1890 and he described it as a “vernacular house in Gothic Revival style.” The latter house, built in 1862, Whidden described as New England colonial style with “gingerbread decoration” on the verandah.

I was surprised to learn that about 100 of Wolfville’s old houses were built before 1900; at least 25, Whidden said, were constructed between 1900 and 1930. The houses we viewed along Main Street all were built before 1920. The oldest along this stretch (Kent Lodge) was built circa 1761. Whidden described this house, which was built on an Acadian foundation, as the oldest dwelling in Wolfville and “one of the oldest and most important in the province.”

Whidden said – and this to me was most surprising of all – that Wolfville has managed to main whole streets of older homes where “except for renovations, nothing has changed.” His comments on the tour told me every old home in Wolfville has a story to tell. Many of the older houses are “historic” in that they’re associated with men and women who one way or another not only influenced the town but played important roles in the Valley’s commercial and agricultural development. One example is the house at 600 Main Street, built in 1893 for William H. Chase. Another is the house at 663 Main, the boyhood home of the Hon. George C. Nowlan.

On a minor note, if you take one of Whidden’s tours, be prepared to learn a lot of new lingo regarding the styles and finishes of older houses in Wolfville. For example: Ginger bread ornamentation, arts and crafts style, Georgian Revival, Queen Ann Revival, eastern stick style, Doric corner pilasters, Palladian windows and so on.

These are a few of the terms Whidden used on the tour and so aptly, clearly explained.

 

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