A piece of Ancaster’s history has been saved until at least early next year.
Ancaster councillor Lloyd Ferguson urged his colleague to give him some time to find a solution that could protect and possibly restore the Hermitage ruins on Sulphur Springs Road.
Hamilton councillors agreed at their Aug. 15 council meeting to give the councillor up to three months to talk with heritage staff and residents about raising the needed funds to keep the slowly crumbling building from disappearing.
The Hamilton Conservation Authority had proposed lowering the Hermitage ruins to a height of 1.2 metres or less, a drop from up to 11 metres.
The plan would preserve the structure’s front façade’s distinctive arched entrance. The HCA has spent nearly $100,000 in repairs to the Hermitage’s ruins since acquiring it in 1972.
But despite the resources invested in the structure, the mansion and two outbuildings have continued to deteriorate. The HCA installed a fence around the structure to protect it from the public.
“It has been sitting for 200 years,” said Ferguson.
“It’s an important building for Ancaster. I’m very uncomfortable (with the plan).”
Ferguson said with the extra time he can contact various local service clubs, businesses and other organizations in an effort to raise the funds to fix the building.
“I do have something up my sleeve,” said Ferguson.
The HCA estimates lowering the fire-destroyed stone mansion’s remnants will cost up to $194,000, while full restoration is targeted at upwards of $940,000.
The heritage committee voted 9-2 last month against a city staff proposal to issue the necessary permit to lower the height only after opponents are given three months to raise funds to restore the 19th-century ruins.
Dundas councillor Russ Powers agreed the Hermitage needs to be saved.
“Sometimes you get the best support when (something) is threatened,” he said. “I think it needs a reprieve.”
Stoney Creek councillor Brad Clark called the Hermitage ruins an “iconic site” for the Ancaster community. But he had his doubts whether the structure can be saved by early next year.
“I don’t know if two to three months will be an appropriate time for a fundraising campaign,” he said.
Ward 1 councillor Brian McHattie, who is also chair of the HCA, and like Ferguson is a member of the city’s heritage committee, agreed there should be some time to examine if there are different solutions available.
“It was a difficult decision at the HCA,” said McHattie. “It’s a very important property in the Dundas Valley. But it has a funding issue.”
McHattie, an advocate for preserving Hamilton’s heritage buildings, has said the HCA doesn’t have the necessary money to restore the ruins. Complicating the problem is the current building is a liability issue for the organization because people are jumping the fence and climbing over the rocks.
An HCA consultant found the cement repairs on the ruins have failed and the upper portion of the walls are more than half a metre out of alignment in some areas.
The Hermitage was built in 1855 by George Leith, a wealthy Scottish immigrant. The building was destroyed by fire in 1934. After the HCA acquired the structure, it managed to get a heritage designation placed in 1990.