134 Charles Street

The house is of average size, two storeys, brick, with a steeply pointed black slate roof. A short chimney juts out of one side of the roof. An oval window is nestled up at the top of the house, just under the roof’s peak, suggesting the possibility of a hidden room or a forgotten lookout from a cobwebbed attic.

Two windows look out from the second floor, facing the quiet downtown street. They survey the neighbourhood like old, mysterious eyes.

Downstairs, on the first floor, there is one window next to the front door, and both it and the door are shadowed and protected by the sturdy pillars and overhang of a roofed porch. It was constructed in that solid, useful style of the early twentieth century; square pillars, wide at the base and tapering upwards to support a black roof that matches the larger roof of the main house. The pillars, window trim and door trim were all painted a dusky green at one time, though they are peeling now in the cold sun.

The front door is a rich, oiled oak. Even from a distance, it is clear that it was well-made, built to last. Upon it, an iron door knocker rests, a curling, curved leaf pattern moulded onto its heavy metal. To the left of the door, a matching steel lantern with glass panes is affixed to the wall. Though turned off in the brightness of day, one could imagine the warm glow it would throw across the threshold and stoop in the darkness of night.

Three stairs lead from the slightly raised porch outside the front door down to a concrete walkway which in turn leads to the main city sidewalk. Scrubby grass grows on either side of the walkway, though it is now covered with a dusting of snow. Brittle, dried shrubs cling to the outer edges of the deck.

The house is one of the old, traditional family homes in a neighbourhood built around the turn of the last century for government workers and early affluent residents of the town. Back then, the neighbourhood was considered the suburbs, a distant fifteen minute walk across wide expanses of farmland from the few downtown streets where the government buildings perched. The house recalled that earlier time, the early history of the city, in its shape and its materials and the solid way it looked out at the street.

Many similar houses had been built around the neighbourhood at the time, creating a quaint village feel with their front gardens, porches and matching pointed peaked roofs. But few of them had survived to the present day. The majority of those that had been built of timber or clapboard had been knocked down, considered undesirable infill over fifty years ago as the neighbourhood had grown poorer, as families had huddled together inside cold shells, improperly insulated and without running water or electricity.

Now, those of the houses that had survived stood out as picturesque, preserved relics from another time.

What had they seen in their time? What stories did they have to tell?

Number 134 Charles Street was constructed on a narrow plot of land in 1905. Until the early 1900s, the land along the east side of Charles Street by the canal had supported abandoned warehouses, once the storage spaces for the nearby rail yards and docks that formed the important transportation arteries across the unforgiving forests in this part of Canada.

But in 1903, a prosperous, middle-aged architect spied the land and was inspired. Graham Revell was a well regarded architect in town and had designed houses for many of the  important and wealthy businessmen. He was known as being principled, upstanding, reliable. His tall, wiry frame,  greying hair and long moustache lent him an air of dignity and uprightness. His shoes gleamed, as did the lenses of his spectacles, and his glossy, black cart shone as well.

Graham Revell had been out for the day to oversee the construction of the grand, maple staircase he had designed inside the home of one of the town’s lumber barons. When the workers had finished earlier than he had expected, he sent them home, and steered his cart team toward the canal; he had some thoughts about his son, Jim, to ponder, and where better but overlooking the water?

He drove slowly up and down the small lane ways and streets by the little creek that flowed off the canal into a marsh. Children were running and shouting and throwing stones at the iced surface of the water, hoping that it had frozen enough for skating. At their outer edges, the streets in this area ended in uneven ground and crumbling warehouses. Beyond them, the canal flowed languidly by, filled with barges and other heavy boats hauling lumber and industrial products to and from town.

Pausing on one of the streets, Graham looked at this deserted land and thought, “something could be done with this. Something productive. Houses could be built. We could live here.” It would be more convenient to live in this part of town, near his office, and surely his wife would enjoy being closer to the shops and market.

The houses that lined the other side of the streets which stretched away from the canal were neat, nice, respectable houses. More were being built every day and soon it would be a prosperous little enclave. He was sure the people who lived there didn’t want to look across at the crumbling shacks and barns and at the ground littered with building materials. Surely, the land could be beautified and the same nice houses could be built along the eastern edge of the neighbourhood.

Graham went to the city council with his proposition and, in short order, the necessary deeds had been transferred, the land was cleared, the rubble buried under new earth, and work begun.

Once he had presented his proposal to the town, the land had been parcelled out into narrow plots and he knew that before long, other houses would spring up around his. But at first, his was only the one house being constructed on that block of Charles Street.

He chose the plot that looked down toward the main street and designed a sturdy porch so that he and his wife could sit out on warm evenings and read, or talk, or greet the passers-by.

By 1905, the house was complete, and Graham Revell moved in with his modest family; his wife, Martha, and his two boys, Jim and Peter.

Inside, the house was warm and bright. The sun rose at one end of the canal and arced through the sky, lighting the back of the house in the morning and the front of the house in the evening.

Though it was small, Graham had designed his house with the same meticulous care that applied to his clients’ homes and businesses. There were a number of rooms on the main floor, all separated from the hallway which led to a kitchen at the back of the house.

The first door in the hallway led to a front parlour which boasted a fine iron fireplace with an ornate, pillared mantel and a tile hearth, and a window, dressed in finest Irish white lace curtains, which gave the occupants a view down to the main street. There was a door at the back of the parlour, and another further down the hallway, both of which led to a dining room. The kitchen looked out over a small back patch of grass, the Common which was now being seeded for grass and lined with saplings, the Queen’s Road and, past that, the canal.

Stairs led down to a basement and up to the second floor, where there was a family sitting room, three modest bedrooms, a bath room and a water closet.

Graham had installed a trap door up to the attic in case there was ever any trouble with the roof. To let in some light, he designed an oval window at one end, looking out over the street. The family never used the attic and it sat dormant while they lived there, gathering dust.

The house settled and shifted but remained sturdy. As all houses do, number 134 developed a personality all its own. It gave off an aura of warmth, of solid durability, of functionality. The little oval window, though, always seemed to suggest there was something more, something intriguing, an unnoticed, unnamed presence, benevolent but mysterious all the same.

Graham, Martha and the boys shaped the house and the neighbourhood. In time, the other plots filled up with families and the street resembled all the others in the quiet residential neighbourhood, cozy in the canal’s bend.

Jim, whom Graham had been grooming to take over at the firm for several years, became one of the senior architects in 1917. His father had been feeling poorly and was happy to finally retire.

It was in early November 1917 that Graham suffered a heart attack and died in his sleep while number 134 slept soundly all around him.

Martha remained living in the house for several years, but eventually followed Graham and the boys sold the house.

Through the years, number 134 passed through several hands. A widow, Ruth Davies,  bought the house from Jim and Peter Revell and outlasted the Depression tucked snuggly between its four walls. When she passed away, a mother with three daughters moved in, struggling to get by on rations during the war, while her husband went to the Front to fight. Another family followed them, this time with a boy and a girl. They lived there when number 126 was a corner store, selling penny sweets to kids who arrived on bikes or on foot, before they ran off to play in the nearby playground.

In the 70s, the house was renovated, its windows replaced and walls knocked down to create bigger rooms and a more open appearance.

Meanwhile, the town grew and stretched and eventually engulfed Charles Street. It was now considered downtown, while the land that had once been thought uninhabitable became  the new suburbs.

The last family that lived at number 134 moved out there, out to the suburbs, taking with them their bouncing balls and their running, climbing, ruckus children. They sold the house, but no one knows who bought it. It has remained dark, empty, ever since, though a “Sold” sign did grace its front lawn for a brief time.

Now, the paint is peeling, the grass is scrubby, and brittle, dry shrubs cling to the outer edges of the deck. Some say that the house is haunted, that you can sometimes see a shadow move past the oval window up in the roof.

Perhaps it is haunted, perhaps it isn’t. But it does emanate an aura, a presence.

It is a character in its own right.

 

Related fiction:

Artifact (silverleafjournal.wordpress.com)

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