The Dodds & Miller House in Glen Tay
I have committed to getting family stories written this year and am using prompts from a variety of websites to get started. They all seem to suggest starting with ‘your’ story so here goes. I am publishing this ‘stream of consciousness’ rambling in the hope that I can convince others to write about their life story as well. I’m hoping that my relatives from the various families of my tree will take up the challenge.
The following is a summary of information researched by my sister Ruth Miller Baker for a school project about 1972. I have added detail from my memories. This article does not reflect changes to the house since the 1970s.
The Dodds-Miller home was built in 1858-59 by Ralph Dodds our Great-Great Grandfather. Ralph was a partner in the woolen mill originally situated adjacent to the bridge on the south bank of the Tay River. The house is located on Concession 2 Lot 20 Bathurst Township, Lanark County, Ontario, approximately four miles from the town of Perth. The deed for the house and farm was transferred to Robert Miller in 1909 (Great Grandfather), to George Herbert Miller in 1921 (Grandfather) and to JR Ernest Miller, (father) in 1949. It was later passed to John Miller my brother and his wife Karen about 1979.
Alexander Dodds, acquired the Adams sawmill when the Dodds brothers purchased the Adams property and thus the solid board construction used in this home was a practical choice.
The Main House c1859 – 1970
The original house, a one and a half story ‘Georgian style’ home, is 38 feet by 28 feet. It was plain in design with little ornamentation but functional and economical to build. The solid board construction meant that it was well insulated for the time of construction.
There are ten-foot ceilings on the first floor. A parlour is to the left of the main door, a dining room to the right. Across the back of the house, during my childhood, were two long narrow rooms that served as a kitchen and a laundry-utility room. One of these rooms had an archway and door into the parlour, suggesting that a wall had been removed. Originally there were three rooms – a bedroom, a sitting room and a kitchen.
On the second level, the bedrooms have knee walls, but they are sufficiently high that they do not restrict movement. The bedrooms have an eight-foot ceiling towards the centre of the house.
A central enclosed stairway leads from the front door to a spacious upper hall that I believe was originally used as a sewing room by the family. Four bedrooms branch from the main upper hall. The hall was later sub-divided to provide an additional bedroom and a bathroom. Beneath the main stairway are stairs to the basement. There is a possibility that the hall that runs parallel to the stairs was created from part of the original dining room. I remember that one of the doors didn’t quite match the others. If this was the case, the staircase may have originally been open and not enclosed.
Foundation and Basement
The foundation of the main house is stone, believed to have been quarried on the farm, and measures about 18 inches in thickness. The side of the house under the parlour, to the left of the front door, was excavated to a depth of about six feet and a cement floor was added at some point. This portion of the basement has an access door to the garden. It also contains a quarried rock cistern to store rain water captured from the roof and eaves-troughs and was still in use during my childhood.
The portion of the basement under the dining room, to the right of the front door was excavated to an uneven surface of bedrock. This area has a dirt floor and about three to four feet of height between rock and the sub floor of the house. It was traditionally used as a root cellar.
As the basement of the house is close to the spring ground water level, all shelving was suspended from overhead beams and a floor drain was used to drain any seepage.
Interior of House
The main beam of the house, constructed from either pine or hemlock, is hand hewn and measures ten inches by ten inches by 456 inches. It spans the centre of the house. Cedar sleepers are located on top of the beam and are cut with one flat side. They are 9 inches by 9 inches by 336 inches long. Pine boards, one and a quarter inch thick and ten inches wide are nailed to the sleepers and create a sub floor for the house. This sub-floor may have been covered with carpet in the parlour as it was refinished and used with scatter matts during my childhood. In the dining room, tongue and groove hardwood was added on top of the subfloor at some point. Originally finished with a dark stain, Dad sanded and refinished this floor to a lighter finish.
The joists between the first and second floor are sawn pine, two inches by ten inches by twenty-eight feet. The rafters in the ceiling are three inches by five inches and various lengths of pine.
The exterior walls of the house are constructed with pine boards, one inch by seven inches and various lengths. These boards are piled one on top of the other and are fastened together with hand shaped square nails, three to six inches in length. The edges of the boards are staggered to create a nine-inch wall. The overlap of the board edge eliminated the need to apply lathe, and plaster was applied directly to the interior side of the stacked lumber. At the corners of the house, the ends of the boards were dovetailed. This is a process where alternating boards are positioned ‘in’ from the start of the previous board so that alternating boards of the joining wall can overlap accordingly.
On the exterior side of these walls, twelve-inch pine sheeting boards are attached in a vertical orientation. The joins were covered with one inch by three-inch by twenty-foot batten strips. These strips were removed in 1958 when the house was sheeted with stone veneer insular-board. For many years, the original pine sheeting was still visible on the house where it was enclosed by the porch that fronts the worker house addition.
Square boards were nailed under the eaves and cornices as trim to finish the appearance of the house. This was the only ornamentation on the house.
All windows have sandstone window sills that measure six inches by twelve inches by 48 inches (lower level) or 40 inches (second level). They are believed to have been cut from stone on the farm.
All seven windows on the lower level of the main house are 44 inches by 72 inches. At some point, on the front of the house, the original twelve pane windows were replaced by four large panes. In my childhood the twelve panes were still in the windows on the side and back of the house and in all the removeable storm windows attached each fall and removed in the spring.
Second floor windows are 36 inches by 60 inches and have four large panes.
All the doors in the house, interior and exterior, were the open bible and cross style that tradition said was to ward off the evil spirits.
The front door was surrounded by square ‘lights’ – across the top and down the sides.
Chimneys and Heating
All the chimneys have been rebuilt over the years. They are located at each end of the house and the flues were built into storage cupboards in two of the bedrooms. The brick masonry was supported on a plank that rested on two three-inch by 18-inch pine planks that ran from the bedroom floor to the ceiling.
Heating was from free standing stoves located throughout the house. One was in the parlour and heated two bedrooms above. Another stove sat in the corner of the dining room and heated the bedroom above. A third ‘cooking’ stove was in the narrow room at the back of the house when I was a child but may have been in the ‘then’ utility room prior to that time. A second large cooking stove was in the workers house addition.
I can remember more than one chimney fire over the years but only one when the fire department was called. Dad would choose a mild day midwinter to clean the pipes so that the creosote buildup was carefully controlled.
The dining room was trimmed with chair rail and wainscoting. The parlour had more elaborate trim including wood panels under the windows. All main floor rooms had baseboards that were approximately twelve inches high and grooved door trims that were about eight inches wide. The parlour trim was finished with a ‘combed’ varnish design and I remember watching as it was ‘freshened up’ by a neighbourhood painter.
The Mill Worker House Addition c1910
The mill worker house, believed to have been built in the 1880s, was moved from an adjacent lot. It is 18 feet by 20 feet. Originally it had three small rooms on the main floor but at some point, walls were removed to create one room with an eight-foot ceiling on the main floor. There was a one small step and a wide landing to manage the level change between the two houses. The door between the worker house addition and the main house was a wide door suggesting that it may have originally been a side or ‘coffin’ door for the main house. A second, unmatched door joined the addition to the ‘utility’ room where the laundry was conducted, and the men washed before meal time.
On the second floor there are knee walls, approximately three to four feet from the floor, sufficient to place a bed beneath them, but not high enough to stand erect. In the centre of the building, the ceiling is less than a full eight feet. Originally there were two second floor rooms but when the houses were joined, there was a centre hall and two storage rooms created from one of the bedrooms. The centre hall had about four steps leading to a door into one of the bedrooms in the main house.
A very narrow, steep stairway, with a door at the bottom, connects the upper and lower levels. The walls of this house are two by four studding with lathe and plaster inside. The exterior was clad in clapboard.
The worker house addition sits over a crawl space.
The original chimney was in the centre of the house.
The Porch Addition
When I was a babe and for the next few years the area outside the door of the mill worker house addition was a mass of lily of the valley every spring. That’s were the new babies were put to sleep during their morning nap. Early in the 1950’s – I was old enough to remember it – Dad excavated the area in the jog between the main house and the mill worker addition. The lily of the valley did not survive. I remember walking a plank to get to the door! The next year he got the concrete poured to cover the rocks in the excavated base he had laid, just in time to cover it with paper feed bags and straw to keep it from freezing and thawing during the winter. It must have been about the spring of 1953 when Mom was able to push the carriage that held Ruth onto the concrete for her morning ‘airings’. For a year or two we enjoyed have a ‘patio’ and then there was money enough to do the roof extension over the concrete. By the 1960s, windows and door had been added and the exterior finished. The porch became valuable play space for the Miller kids. The family was outgrowing their shared accommodation.
By the 1960s the board and batten exterior had disappeared under a layer of stone chip insulbrick siding and the porch was enclosed with windows and door. New windows with sliding panels provided windows that no longer needed ‘storms’. New front step replaced the narrow earlier steps and were covered with an aluminum canopy. The house was updated!