Unionville – Dating By Design Styles

February 23 and 26, 2016

Gothic Revival, Queen Anne or Italianate?  What do design features reveal about the age of a building?  The town of Unionville was founded in 1794 by Philip Eckhardt who had surveyed the county under a ten year contract with the British government.  The town remained a rural community into the early 20th century and has retained many of it’s heritage homes.  Unionville has now been recognized as a cultural heritage district because of the historical community that has been preserved here.  The town boasts homes built from several major architectural styles that were popular over the decades. This post explores some of the defining features of those architectural styles using examples from the town, mostly from walking the main street.  Friday’s pictures are the ones with snow.  The examples are from Unionville but the styles can be used to give date ranges to buildings throughout Southern Ontario.

Georgian (1790-1875)

The Georgian Style was named after the first four British kings named George who ruled between 1714 and 1830.  The design is usually 3 bays (openings) and sometimes 5.  The plain windows are rectangular with small panes, often 6 over 6.  The roof tends to be of a medium pitch.  This example was built in 1835 and at one time served as the town jail.


The Regency Cottage (1810-1840)

This style of home was made popular in England when the Prince Regent had the Royal Pavilion redesigned using elements from eastern temples. Regency cottages tend to have low pitched roofs, compared to the Georgian, and a 3 bay construction. The front door is elaborate with two sidelights mounted on the pilasters and a transom across the top of the door frame. The windows tend to be large, running from floor to ceiling.  They are typically divided by thin glazing bars into small rectangular shapes.  The Eckardt house was built in 1829 for a member of one of Markham’s oldest families.  Philip Eckhardt had been a founding leader of the Berczy settlement in Markham and was responsible for the early construction of Yonge Street.


Gothic Revival (1830-1890)

This style became popular in England in an attempt to recreate the styles of the gothic and medieval periods.  They tend to have steeply pitched roofs , pointed arched windows set in high gables and decorative brickwork.  The house below has a regency cottage lower story but a Gothic Revival centre gable with the arched window.


The Gothic Revival style was frequently used on churches in Ontario and there are two great examples in Unionville.  The Primitive Methodist Church, now the United Church, was built in this style in 1879.


The Italianate (1840-1890)

The Italianate style was developed in England as a return to the architecture of the country villas of the Italian Renaissance.  The style makes a middle ground between the plain Georgian and the extensive gingerbread of the Gothic Revival styles.  This style typically uses a lot of brackets under the eaves and repetition of the ornamentation. Round headed windows in a decorative surround like the ones on Dr. Albert Pringle’s house below from 1877 are a common feature of Italianate style homes. Pringle served as the community doctor from 1878 to 1883.  This house has a high pitched roof typical of Gothic Revival instead of the low pitched roof more common on the Italinate style.  There are several homes in Unionville that exhibit a mix of styles.


Second Empire (1860-1900)

Second Empire was the official style used in France and her colonies during the reign of Nalopeon III.  One of the distinguishing features of this architectural style is the mansard roof. Francois Mansart (died 1666) is credited with developing this roof style which increases the amount of usable space in the upper floors.  He is considered by some to be the most accomplished French architect of the 17th century.  Mansard roofs have a four sided double slope where the upper slope is very shallow and the lower one very steep.  This brings the roof and shingles down the side of the building where they are usually punctuated by windows in the lower sections.  Second Empire buildings tend to be square, often with a wing projecting from one side.  The windows tend to be round-headed and bay windows are often used.  The house below was built in 1879 for Esther Summerfeldt and displays Second Empire styles.  The Summerfeldts arrived in Markham in 1794 with the Berczy settlers and lived on a local farm.  After her husband’s passing Esther moved into Unionville where she commissioned this house to be built.


The Queen’s Hotel was also built in the style of Second Empire.  The use of the mansard roof allowed the third floor to be used for guests because it allows for full head room almost to the outside wall.  The hotel was built in 1860 but was badly damaged by fire in 2015.  Restoration is ongoing but notice the large white door on the second floor.  This led onto a balcony that ran the length of the building.  The iron brackets for the balcony are part of the ornate detail which includes yellow brick quoins and lintles.


Queen Anne (1880-1910)

Named after Queen Anne who ruled from 1702-1714 the style actually has little to do with architecture from her period.  It emerged in the late Victorian era when variety and complexity dominated life.  They tend to have asymmetrical towers and bays and windows of all shapes and sizes.  Decorative bricks, wood and shingles were also used.  The example below has vertical wood siding.


Edwardian Classicism (1910-1930)

This style emerged in reaction to the increasingly complex styles of the late Victorian Era. They feature simplified roofs, often pyramidal, with large dormers featuring two windows. Verandas tend to have heavy columns with brick piers.  The most popular examples are known as the Four Square because they are two bays over two bays.  The example below has had the front veranda modified into a full porch.  The original brick piers can still be seen on the outside.


Unionville Vernacular (1790-1920)

A vernacular architectural style refers to those elements that are specific to the location. The use of local tradesmen as well as wood and trim produced at the Unionville Planning Mill give the town a unique flavour.  A four leaf clover motif appears on many homes.  The extensive use of gingerbread can also be attributed to the local planning mill.  The Andrew Eckhardt house featured below was built some time before 1856.  It features a gothic window with 12 panes, 6 over 6 windows and extensive trim.  It sits on a foundation of field stones while concrete foundations indicate a 20th century construction.


The Miller’s house is a good example of a vernacular home.  It resembles a Gothic Revival with it’s steep gabled roof but has rounded windows like the Italianate instead of pointed.


This date stone from the Evangelical Lutherin Church contains the earliest date I have seen inscribed anywhere in Ontario.  A frame church was originally built in 1794 and replaced with a brick one in 1862.  After the centre of town shifted south to the railway, the church was taken apart and moved in 1910.


The history of Unionville and an exploration of Toogood pond park await a future post.

Google Maps: Unionville

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13 thoughts on “Unionville – Dating By Design Styles

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