Saturday March 28, 2015
(Revised March 31st)
It was minus 10 with a wind chill of minus 18. This was one of the coldest morning hikes of the year, in spite of the date on the calendar. We parked in the Meadowvale Conservation Area parking lot where the Second Line dead ends south of the new Derry Road. We crossed under the bridge and walked north where the Meadowvale mill pond once connected with the river.
When John Beatty arrived in 1819 he brought the first settlers to the area. He built mills along the Credit River and founded Meadowvale. In 1831 Beatty sold his mills to James Crawford who opened saw and carding mills to compete with John Simpson who operated mills on lot 10 south of Derry Road. By 1836 Meadowvale had reached village status. In 1844 Francis Silverthorne took over from Crawford and greatly expanded the mill complex building a saw mill. In 1845 he added a large grist mill. When it burned in 1853 he got backing from the Bank of Upper Canada and rebuilt. During the Crimean War the price of flour had jumped from $1.50 per barrel to $3.00. Silverthorne stockpiled grain in an effort to take advantage but when the war ended in 1860 the price fell to $1.00 per barrel. When the Bank of Upper Canada foreclosed on his loan, William Gooderham, who was in charge of the bank, bought the property. Gooderham and Worts had also purchased Alpha Mills, north of Streetsville, the same year. Silverthorne retired to the family mansion, Cherry Hill.
After the Gooderhams the mill was owned the Wheelers until 1895 when it was sold to Henry Brown. Henry restored the mill and returned it to full production. In 1906 he set about developing Meadowvale into a tourist attraction. The first step was to increase the size of the mill pond and create what came to be known as Willow Lake. He built a larger dam further north on the Credit to allow more water to be retained. By following the western wall of the former Willow Lake we were able to locate the remnants of this dam. Concrete remains can be found on both sides of the Credit River.
Water is held in the western most parts of the old Willow Lake as we made our way along the berm toward the old mill. The land along the western side of the old lake has been scooped out to create a retaining wall for the mill pond.
After publishing this post I came across the following picture in the heritage assessment of 2014. It shows an aerial view of Meadowvale with the old mill pond drawn in with dark blue and previous courses of the river in light blue. Derry Road runs across the lower right corner and second line across the upper right corner. Silerthorne’s grist mill is sketched in where the mill pond approaches Derry Road then follows along it in dark blue as the tail race. His saw mill is drawn in a little above there where an old tail race returns to the river.
As you approach old Derry Road concrete structures from the mill come into view.
The mill stretched over both sides of the millway with the water wheel, and later the turbine, generating power to turn the grinding wheels to produce flour.
The foundations on the west side of the millrace are pictured below. Notice the stonework in the middle at ground level that marks a former water tunnel through the wall.
This picture shows the main foundations for the water wheel. Notice the bridge in the background where the tail race leads out along Willow Lane on it’s way back to the Credit River.
The mill changed hands several times until it went out of production in 1950. The Emersons owned the mill at the time and kept it for storage. Fire is a common fate for grist mills and the community became concerned about its safety. The wood was 100 years old, dry and full of a century of flour dust. When Luther Emmerson was told he had to demolish it he did so himself. Smashing it up in a fury and leaving the pieces where they fell. The wood was carried away and the rest settled and was filled in. They say the old turbines are still buried in the basement.
The mill stone has been preserved on the site of the Silverthorne Mill. Mill stones come in pairs. The lower stone is stationary and is called the bedstone. The upper stone, or runner, spins and does the actual grinding. The grooves serve to channel the flour to the outside of the stones for collection. The grain is fed through the eye in the centre of the runner stone to be ground between them. Both upper and lower stones are preserved here.
Willow Lane used to be known as Water Street and is home to some of the oldest houses in the village. The house at 1125 Willow Lane is the oldest remaining building in town having been constructed in 1825 by John Beatty. It later belonged to Crawford, Silverthorne and Gooderham as it seems to have changed hands with the ownership of the mills.
By 1917 Guelph was linked to Toronto via the Toronto Suburban Railway line. It ran from Lambton to Guelph, passing through Meadowvale. The line ran from 1917 until it was shut down in 1931 when travel between Guelph and Toronto had switched to bus and car on highway 7. The tail race from Silverthorne’s mill ran between Derry road and Willow Lane. The foundations of the old suburban railway line remain but are badly crumbling.
The picture below shows the railway bridge over the tail race in 1915. The past 100 years have taken their toll on the bridge. The route of the train is even less easily distinguished as a flood control pond has been built on the old right of way south of Derry road.
Walking along the river back to the car you could hear the rustle of slush in the river as it rubbed along the river bank. We weren’t the only ones hiking up the Credit River.
By 1856 the mill was a major employer in the village and Silverthorne built cottages for his mill workers at 7077 and 7079 Pond Street.
Charles Horace “Holly” Gooderham came to Meadowvale to run the mills on behalf of his father William Gooderham of Gooderham and Worts in Toronto. In 1870 he commissioned a 21 room mansion that cost him $30,000. The Gooderhams ran the mills, a cooperage and the general store in town. When William Gooderham died in 1881 Holly left for Toronto and the estate was sold. During the 1920’s it belonged to Samuel Curry whose brother, Walter, was a Member of the Legislative Assembly in Ontario from 1919-1923. The house received several modifications over the years, including the oversized front portico and the white siding in the late 1970’s.
Meadowvale was the first community to be honoured with the designation “Heritage Conservation District“. The original community survives, largely intact, complete with it’s narrow streets designed for horse and carriage. There are many historic buildings in town which will form the basis of a companion post.