Tuesday, September 11, 2018
Having a couple of weeks off work in September allows the opportunity to stray a little farther from home than can be done on a regular weekend. Decew Falls has been on the short list of places that I wished to visit for quite awhile and so off I went on an hour and a half drive down the QEW. Decew Falls and the two mills are quite easy to find and there is free parking on site.
John DeCou bought the property in 1788 and originally operated a saw mill to which he added a grist mill in 1814. Both were powered by overshot water wheels that turned on either side of the upper falls. A blacksmith shop, carpenter shop, school and church were soon added and the little community became known as Decew Town. After 1883 the saw mill was powered by one of three turbines at the grist mill and a set of gears can be seen crossing above the falls.
Ice was harvested from the mill pond every winter and stored in an ice house behind the main house. It was used in the summer to keep food from spoiling. An orchard beside the saw mill along with a few farm animals helped feed the family. Water to run the mill was greatly reduced in 1834 when the First Welland Canal was built and the mills were subsequently sold and closed. By 1860 the grist mill was in ruins but in 1872 Robert Chappell rebuilt it naming it Mountain Mills and installed a turbine instead of a water wheel. The picture below shows the turbine shed and the metal penstocks the supplied water from the mill pond.
When the City of St. Catherines initiated a waterworks project on the creek just above Mountain Mills in 1875 they bought the mills so there wouldn’t be any claims of water shortages. They rented the mills to different tenants for a few years before selling them to Wilson Morningstar in 1883. Morningstar ran the mills until his death in 1933. When Wilson bought the property the saw mill was in use as a community centre and dance hall. After a brawl one night he closed and converted it back into a saw mill. After he died it fell into disrepair and was eventually dismantled. The saw mill now on site was reconstructed in the 1990’s and is not operational.
Wilson and Emma Morningstar bought the mills and property for $3,500 on their first anniversary, February 7, 1883. Emma hated the original wooden frame house which was small and the agreement was to replace it eventually. This was done around 1895 with the house that still stands on the property. John DeCou had joined the military during the War of 1812 and his field stone house in Thorold was used as a command centre for the British. When Laura Secord made her famous 12 mile hike through the woods and swamps to inform the British of an impending American attack she arrived at John’s house. The subsequent battle was known as the Battle of Beaver Dams.
Upper Decew Falls is a 22 metre ribbon falls with a deep plunge pool at the bottom. The best views, save going to the bottom, will likely be had after the leaves have fallen. There are several vantage points from along the side of the ravine but it looks like people have been leaning out over the cliff by clinging to trees. There is also a place where people have installed a small rope to allow access to the bottom but it didn’t look very safe. in 1890 a spiral staircase was built around a giant tree that was growing from the floor of the ravine. it provided safe access, for a fee, to the bottom of the falls.
The blue side trail that connects Decew Falls with The Bruce Trail is known as Morningstar Side Trail and it runs for only 700 metres. Along the way I found the remnants of a very large cluster of Northern Tooth fungus, Climacodon Septenrionale. These polypores derive their name from the words “climac” meaning ladder and “odon” meaning teeth. They have hundreds of fine tubes, looking like teeth, that grow out of the underside to release their spores. Once the spores are finished the fungus rots away in a matter of a couple of days. These ones are well decayed but the “teeth” are still quite visible on many of the plants. While not poisonous, they are considered inedible because they are tough. The fungus rots maple trees from the inside eventually killing them.
The side trail follows an ever narrowing ridge of land which comes to a point after the trail ends. There is a way to the bottom using roots and rocks but is not recommended for hikers who are not experienced and it is also subject to weather restrictions. It could be very slippery when the mud is wet. At the bottom the creek has been dammed to create a swimming pool, complete with a swing rope.
Beaverdams Creek has a trail that runs along the side however there are several places where newly fallen trees make passing a challenge.
Lower Decew Falls can be heard for quite a distance before it begins to poke out of the trees as you round a bend.
The lower falls are 8 metres high and form a steep cascade with several distinct steps. The trail climbs back up the side of the ravine to make a passage around the lower falls. With all the recent rain this part of the trail was very muddy and being by myself it wasn’t practical to attempt it. I’d rather not be blogging about a rope rescue.
It was time to make my way back to the car and return home ahead of the rush hour traffic. The trail tracker below shows the route of the hike with the Bruce Trail meeting the side trail at a near 360 degree turn.
It would have been interesting to get pictures from the bottom of the upper falls but perhaps another time.
Google Maps Link: Decew Falls
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