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Courtesy of the Hamilton Conservation Authority

Courtesy of the Hamilton Conservation Authority

An artist's rendering depicts how the Hermitage ruins will look like once most of its walls are lowered to about chest height.

Conceptual plan cuts Hermitage ruins down to size

Arched entranceway to stay but most other walls go

By Richard Leitner, News Staff

A Hamilton Conservation Authority “conceptual plan” to stabilize Ancaster’s Hermitage ruins will keep the former stone mansion’s distinctive arched entranceway but knock down the rest to no more than about chest height.

Tony Horvat, director of land management, said the authority has been working with a heritage consultant on how to bring the crumbling ruins, including separate nursery and laundry outbuildings, to a safe level.

Authority directors voted last July to authorize staff to seek the necessary city and Niagara Escarpment Commission approvals to lower the remnants of the mansion, built in 1855 and destroyed by fire in 1934.

Acquired by the authority in 1972, the ruins are presently fenced to keep visitors out because their walls, which rise to a height of about 11 metres (35 feet), lean precariously in spots, requiring bracing to stop them from toppling over.

“You won’t see them more than four feet, other than around that arched doorway, because the bigger issue becomes kids climbing it and falling off,” Horvat told the authority’s conservation advisory board, which unanimously backed plan.

“Right now, it’s shown as kind of one height. The final design may vary somewhat based on how bad the wall foundations are in places and how the costs are,” he said.

“We’re trying to keep the desirable elements and spend the money on the archway and certain other features, versus every section of wall.”

Horvat said the project is scheduled to be completed over two years and will cost an estimated $144,000 to $194,000.

He said staff is still studying how best to repair the Sulphur Springs Road ruins’ decaying underground brick foundation, which is often saturated with groundwater, making it susceptible to damage from freezing and thawing.

The two options being considered are replacing the foundation with more stable concrete or stone, and lowering the site’s gradient by a half a metre so that the foundation is above ground, allowing for proper drainage.

Horvat said the latter is the simplest option and will remove about 350 cubic metres of earth over an area of 1,200 square metres.

“As we get further into detailed design we’ll take a look and see which one seems to be most feasible,” he said.

The authority hopes to submit final plans to the escarpment commission and the city’s heritage committee and building department by early June, with a goal of getting all necessary approvals in July.

The first phase of work would then begin the second week of August and continue through September.

Chief administrative officer Chris Firth-Eagland said there’s been no public outcry since last year’s vote to pursue lowering the ruins, but that may change as the actual work draws near.

Apart from liability concerns, he said the authority must decide how to spend limited dollars given the need to address more historically important ruins elsewhere, like the two-century-old Darnley Grist Mill by Crooks’ Hollow in Greensville.

Fully restoring the Hermitage ruins would cost an estimated $535,000 to $940,000, according to an assessment prepared last year by an expert in the field.

“One was just a fine house and some parties happened there,” Firth-Eagland said of the Hermitage, which has a mix of architectural styles and was built as a summer home and hobby farm by a wealthy Scottish immigrant.

“The Darnley Mill is a very significant piece in the local history of Greensville, Dundas, Hamilton. That’s kind of where industry started.”

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