Napanee’s historic Town Hall gets a facelift

Peter Woodworth (centre) took a few minutes to chat with Kingstonist about the project he and his team have undertaken at the Historic Napanee Town Hall. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

If you’re familiar with Greater Napanee, you are probably aware of the beautiful, historic Town Hall and Market Square, which have served as a community hub since 1856. However, if you’ve visited lately, you may have noticed a significant restoration project is underway.

This summer, the Town of Greater Napanee has contracted The Brick Painters to re-paint the already-painted National Historic Site to a natural, authentic brick-and-mortar appearance using their “Faux Finish Restoration Painting Technique” — one brick at a time. Peter Woodworth is the Chief Artisan Craftsman on the project, and he took some time in a shady spot on Friday, Jul. 5, 2024, to discuss the project with Kingstonist.

Woodworth is the company’s Founder, Strategic Advisor, and Major Projects Consultant. The Brick Painters website states, “In the world of entrepreneurship, few stories captivate and inspire as much as that of Peter Woodworth, the industry luminary who dared to defy the status quo and pave his way at the young age of 16. Leaving behind a mundane, underpaid full-time job, Peter embarked on a weekend side hustle that would change the face of masonry across North America and reach as far as Australia. For the past 50 years, Peter has perfected his technique and transformed the face of masonry, one brick at a time.”

The front of Town Hall includes a columned portico which will be redone in the coming weeks. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

Woodsworth is gregarious and enjoys his artistry. He enthusiastically describes his technique.

“What we do is repaint already painted buildings to look natural,” he explains. “Everybody likes to have a lovely antique. natural building; they look into how much it will cost to strip it, and then they realize, ‘oh, then we’re gonna have to re-point all the mortar and all’ — it’s $50 a square foot, and a lime putty and all historical, and the bricks are so brittle and soft on an old building, so they eventually get to [the idea of] painting it again, when they realize, ‘we’re not gonna spend the million or the two million to get it back to normal.’”

“What we’ve done is given another option,” he says, smiling.

That option includes painstakingly painting each brick with a seven-layer faux finish “So that it looks like you had the big dollar restoration done on it,” he gestures to Town Hall, “This one, I’m trying to make it look like it’s 150, 200 years old by the patina that I put on the end to darken it down to add age. I’m gonna make it look older. I can make it look a little bit younger. All those are just variables in the finish. How you apply it, how you do it, how you mix it.”

He points to the foundation, currently painted with white primer. “I’m going to make all this stone here look like natural stone. So that whenever anybody walks by, they go, ‘Oh, look at the stone,’” he says with fawning amazement.

Each brick is painted uniquely, no two are the same.
Town of Greater Napanee summer student, Abbey Szuch, waters the roses on the south side of the building. Above you can see the paint job the Brick Painters are covering. Photos by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

Woodworth points out that his technique is very sustainable, too, saying that with a basic paint job, a building needs restoration every decade or so and that small things like graffiti can require cleaning and repainting whole sections making it look unkempt. Meanwhile, with his technique, “if we get a slight deterioration under a sill or graffiti on it, I can just fix one brick, and you’d never find it. No two bricks are the same. So it’s easy to do little touch-ups over the next 30 or 40 years, maybe even longer than that; I’ve only been doing it for about 30 years,” he says with a laugh.

“Every once in a while down low, maybe water splashes up and you [get a] little wear and tear, the downspouts gets a leak in it, and it wears some paint off and then we can fix one brick and it’s cool. So maintenance-wise, it’s very durable and inexpensive.”

Woodworth says the Town Hall will get celebrity treatment, “we’re painting all the window frames, scratching them and painting. All the wooden windows. We’re gonna redo all that stuff, and we got some repairs to do, plus we’re gonna stabilize and re-secure and fix all the columns out front. Some of them [have] some big cracks in them because they’re so old and they’ve been shrinking. We gotta stabilize them and then dig out all that caulking, and refill them all, and then refinish them right, including all the woodwork in the front, we’re doing everything from the sidewalk to the roof.”

He says he’s used to being looked at sideways by people who don’t understand his techniques, “I’ve had jobs in downtown Toronto on Bay Street, where I had swing staging up and I was reading in the Toronto Life magazine [where it said], ‘Have you seen these idiots painting this brick — but you know what? It looks really good.’”

“Not on this job so bad, but I’ve done so many jobs where everybody comes by and says, ‘This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen,’” he says indicating that people think the company is painting over brick with white paint, when in fact they are painting already primed brick to look like antique brick. “They’re like, why are you painting that beautiful antique brick white?’”

“They all think we’re sandblasting too,” adds one of the other people working with Woodworth. “It’s been in the local papers for the last five weeks and they still come over to me and say, ‘Oh that’s so sad you sand blasted that.’”

The back wall of the building is nearly complete. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

Woodworth laughs, “Yeah I did I did a corner on George Street in Simcoe and Peterborough last year and I had Town counsellors watching me the whole time and then when I was finally almost done, one comes down and they said ‘Did you strip the paint?’” he feigns shock. “I said, ‘well, you’ve been watching me for six months.’”

He says the Napanee Town Hall will take about six more weeks to finish at about six dollars per square foot of wall area “including the windows and the doors.”

The fact is, it looks amazing. “Yeah, and we’re proud,” Woodworth agrees before mounting the lift to get back to work.

The Brick Painters, hard at work. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

Heritage Value and Character-Defining Elements

According to Parks Canada, Napanee Town Hall was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1984. Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, November 1984 state that “because this attractive town hall is an enduring symbol of the development of local government in the 19th century. With its dual function as a town hall and market, its prominent location, and its use of classical detailing, this structure has remained a centre of community life. Erected in 1856, Napanee Town Hall is an early example of a combination town hall and market, an arrangement popular in Ontario before 1870. Designed by Kingston architect Edward Horsey with its simple yet stately design and porticoed entry added in the twentieth century, the town hall is a rare extant example of a town hall in the Greek Revival style. “

Key elements that relate to the heritage value of Napanee Town Hall include “its location in the heart of the town; its simple brick construction; its stately Greek Revival style, evident in its overall form and proportions, the regular placement of openings and the classical detailing, particularly its two-storey, gable-roofed massing with a monumental pedimented portico with giant free-standing columns approached up broad steps, and its smooth ashlar masonry construction; remnants of its original plan, which testify to its dual function as town hall and market… The imposing, columned portico was added in 1928.”

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