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Keeping up the 'Castle'


To some, the electrical cord with a single light fixture hanging down from the cathedral ceiling represents a majestic chandelier in a once-glorious ballroom.

It is now a mostly empty third floor sitting on top of an eightplex in one of Barrie's most unique, although tired, structures.

"You kind of have to imagine what it once was and what it could be," says realtor Don Jerry.

Lount's Castle was constructed on a sprawling farm property on a hilltop in 1878. The windows of the lavish south-side turret offered a stunning view of Kempenfelt Bay, three kilometres to the south.

William Lount, an ambitious lawyer who finished serving a five-year term as Simcoe North MPP six years earlier, had the structure built along with a full carriage house, and called it The Oaks.

Its Second Empire style was modelled after the opulent architecture of Paris during the reign of Napoleon III.

Key features include the double-sided Mansard roof, loads of dormer windows, brackets beneath the eaves, wrought iron cresting above the cornice and a floral patterned slate roof.

William Lount's monument to his time was listed for sale this summer for the first time in 60 years. Jerry is the real estate broker handling the deal with his daughter, Alyson.

They're figuring someone interested in the historical aspect of the place will pick it up, but there's no question it needs work, and that means the purchaser will have to have access to more money than just the purchase price of the building.

So the price has fallen to $599,000 from $750,000.

This place is unlike any other in the city.

As Jerry says, there's only one castle in Barrie. But, in a way, it represents the other remaining old buildings in the city.

When Harris Steel's former china shop on Collier Street came tumbling down last summer, the general feeling was one of shame.

Earlier generations saw fit to get rid of the original train station near Memorial Park, the fire hall, city hall, the American Hotel along with several privately-owned buildings.

But that was before most of Barrie's current population arrived.

Since the tumbling of the Steel China and Gift Shop building, there's been some movement to develop a heritage registry -- a list of 81 buildings has been compiled.

The registry buys city hall 60 days when someone applies for a demolition permit. Right now, the city must issue a demolition permit within 10 days of the application, if all the necessary paperwork is place, explains heritage consultant Su Murdoch.

The city is in the throes of putting this through council, coincidentally while what could be Barrie's most interesting home is about to change hands. Although it appears it's going back to the drawing board.

Owner Steve Kearsey has lived in Lount's Castle his entire life. His father, who was the golf pro at the Sunnidale golf course before it became a park, purchased the 45-acre estate in 1950 and immediately set to work developing eight apartments inside. Since then, Kearsey has lived in every apartment but one.

"It was all country," recalls Kearsey, "our back driveway was the city limits."

There was another house in the field, a red-brick carriage house with servants' quarters and a hay loft above, as well as a chicken coop.

The surrounding property has been sold over the years, the outbuildings have disappeared and a quaint, quiet neighbourhood has slowly taken shape.

"It's a grand old place," says a nearby neighbour whose backyard offers a spectacular view of Lount's Castle. With just the right snowfall, he says, the structure hints how extraordinary it must have been after George Ball finished building it in 1879.

"I really wish somebody would buy it and fix it up," says the neighbour, who has enjoyed both the presence of Lount's Castle and some of its eccentric inhabitants since moving there 50 years ago.

Sylvia is a long-time tenant who graciously allows a tour through the apartment she has rented for the past 20 years. She took over the lease from her daughter, who lived there before her. The muted afternoon sun finds its way through the three windows of the turret and, there, across from it in the corner of the living room, sits a marble fireplace.

That's the one apartment that Kearsey has never occupied. He lives in an identical one below, which is occasionally splattered with furnishings from another time. Huge drawers from an old built-in wall unit serve as an end table and shelf. A walnut piece fitted with mirrors which once sat over the fireplace mantle hangs over a desk.

According to the Grand Homes walking tour booklet developed by Heritage Barrie, Lount's Castle was designed by architect George H. Brown, who designed most of the other Second Empire-style houses in Barrie around that time.

Lount moved to Toronto a few years after The Oaks was built. He became an MP for a year while continuing his law practice, quitting because it was cutting into his work and he said he didn't want to be a professional politician. Four years later, in 1901, he became a judge.

Throughout, he used the sprawling north-end house as a summer residence. Lount died in 1903, at the age of 63 of a kidney disease, at the time called Bright's disease. During his political career, much was made of the fate of his uncle, also a politician. Samuel Lount was the Reform member for Simcoe County in the 1834 to 1836 Legislative Assembly. He was hanged for treason following the 1837 Rebellion of Upper Canada in what was later described by some as judicial murder.

Taking a bit of time out from shovelling some snow from the long driveway after work, Kearsey says it's time to start thinking about retirement.

The building had to be dramatically modified when his family bought it. An old coal furnace was replaced with a boiler that has its own room in the basement. The electrical system was extended and updated and the former well-water system was eventually replaced by the municipal system when it was extended as Barrie grew north of Highway 400.

Kearsey continues to perform the small maintenance duties in the building, but says he should get ready to slow down a bit.

"It's time for me to sell it," he says. "I'm 60 years old. I've done it long enough. But it will be a little bit of a letdown to sell it."

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