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Home of the Week: ‘Things slow down’ in Port Hope


Asking price: $739,000

Taxes: $2,361.00

Lot size: 50 acres

Agent: Sandy Segal (Royal LePage ProAlliance Realty)

Steve Leach
Steve Leach

The back story

John Miller and Sandy Segal were feeling hemmed in by their small house and 19-foot-wide lot in Toronto when they began looking toward the bucolic landscape of Northumberland County.

They eased into country living by renting a few places in the rolling hills north of Port Hope, Ont. The town is served by a VIA Rail train that allowed Mr. Miller to commute to his teaching job at Ryerson University, where he served as chair of the School of Journalism.

“We ended up downsizing in 2001 to a rambling century house on 50 acres – a house we’d driven by many times – saying to ourselves, ‘How would we feel if we bought or built another place, and the this one came on the market?’” Mr. Miller recalls.

Steve Leach

The red-brick farmhouse, built in 1863, was originally owned by a Mr. Chambers, who founded the Presbyterian Church in the tiny hamlet of Knoxville. The church’s graveyard still stands across the road from the house, which was dubbed Knoxvilla by a previous owner.

Built in Victorian style, the house has five bedrooms, two bathrooms and a wraparound veranda.

The 50 acres includes a managed forest of red and white pine trees planted in the 1960s. As the trees are harvested for telephone poles, the owners act as stewards who ensure the health of ecosystem.

Ms. Segal, who is also the listing agent for the estate, says the taxes are low because the provincial government offers tax incentives to landowners who participate in the sustainable forest program.

Steve Leach

The property also has meadows, walking trails, perennial gardens and the remnants of an old mill. A small stream that meanders through the land eventually flows into the Ganaraska River.

Mr. Miller says descendants of some of the families that have lived in the house over the years have shown up at the door. They share stories and also want to know how the property has fared over time.

“I’ve never lived in a house where so many have come back,” Mr. Miller says. “People are drawn back to the house.”

Steve Leach

The house today

Most of the changes have taken place in the back half of the house, where a former summer kitchen was enclosed long ago and an addition has expanded the living space.

Today the large kitchen opens to a family room with views of the forest. The couple added a screened porch, which has become the preferred spot for dinners and gatherings.

Throughout, the couple undid many of the “improvements” made over the years.

“We tried to remain true to the way the house was conceived,” Mr. Milller says.

Steve Leach

In the dining room, for example, the couple tore out green shag carpeting and refurbished the wide pine boards.

Most of the original doors, windows and mouldings were intact, however, and the couple needed only to make a few repairs.

Ms. Segal says Mr. Chambers appears to have been well-off because the plaster mouldings and wood panelling would not typically be found in a traditional farmhouse. Upstairs, the couple tore down some old wallpaper and restored the wood floors, but first they held a smudging ceremony. The ancient ritual is believed to cleanse places of any negative energy that may have built up over time. The couple had also learned that a long-ago resident named Amos had died in the house from complications of appendicitis, so they addressed his spirit.

“We said, ‘We’re making a few changes. We think you’ll like them,’” recalls Mr. Miller. “It was quite charming.”

Steve Leach

Outside, the couple cut through woods and meadows in order to create hiking trails. Today, deer and comical wild turkeys use the pathways through the forest as their highways, says Mr. Miller, adding that a group of local bird watchers spread out over the property and counted about 25 species of birds.

Mr. Miller, who began writing fiction following his retirement from Ryerson, says living in such peaceful and natural surroundings spurs his creativity.

“My best time is on the riding lawnmower. It’s the best thinking time.”

Ms. Segal says the couple has found the Port Hope community an interesting mix of long-time residents and newcomers from the city. The area is very open and gay-friendly, she adds, and draws lots of artists and creative types.

Mr. Miller adds that carpenters, stonemasons and other specialists have congregated in Port Hope because of the many heritage houses and the passion for restoring them.

People in town take the time to chat when they meet friends and acquaintances, he explains.

“Things slow down and people want to talk more. The whole time frame that you’re used to in the city lengthens.”

The best feature

The former summer kitchen at the rear of the house has been transformed into a large kitchen with white-painted cabinets and soapstone countertops. A large, open brick fireplace tucked into a corner under the rear staircase has a built-in bake oven. The warmth from the fire creates a cozy sitting area, the couple says.

The open kitchen, family room and screened porch provide great spaces for entertaining, they say.

“We see some of our Toronto friends more than we did in Toronto,” Mr. Miller says.

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