Saturday,October 3, 2020
Elder Mills began life as a farming community that centred around a set of mills where the Humber River crosses Rutherford Road at Highway 27. To investigate we started at Elder’s Mills Nature Reserve which can be accessed off of Napa Valley Road. The 1877 County Atlas section featured below shows the town and the location of the saw mill (SM) and grist mill (GM) on the Elder property as well as the Presbyterian Church (and cemetery (*PC). The school house (SCH) is across the road from the church. It also shows three properties that still contain the Robert Agar House (1855), John Lawrie House (1855) and James Sommerville House (1856) that form part of the legacy of Elder’s Mills.
In 1850 James Gibb Thompson started milling in the area by building a saw mill, grist mill and carding mill along the Humber River. He sold the business to David Elder in 1869 and in 1874 when the post office was opened on the corner of his property the town took the name Elder’s Mills. His children continued to run the grist mill and comb wool in the carding mill until 1919. The Vaughan Archives photo below shows one of the mill buildings but is unfortunately undated.
At the foot of the ravine are a couple of flood control ponds which were showing steam fog this crisp morning. Water cools down slower than the surrounding land and cooler air will flow over the water. The warmth of the pond causes a thin layer of air above it to warm up and moisture evaporates into it. When this air mixes with more colder air coming in off the land a fog condenses out of the moist warmer air that looks like steam rising off the water.
A White Breasted Nuthatch was bobbing its way around the branches of a tree, often standing upside down. Walking straight down the branch of a tree is a quick indication that the bird you are watching could be a type of nuthatch. The back of the neck and cap of the head on the white breasted nuthatch is dark and make it appear to be wearing a hood. Nuthatches probe into cracks in the bark with their long straight bills and unlike woodpeckers they don’t lean against their tails when probing a tree.
There are two small storm water control ponds near the bottom of the hill that were originally separated by a row of about twenty small trees. All but four of these have recently been chewed off and dragged into the water to serve as food supplies. The picture below shows how ambitious the local beaver is as it is working on a much larger tree than it can possibly move after it fells it. It will then work on removing smaller branches and bringing them closer to the underwater entrance to their home.
The former Elder property has seen a few changes over the years. It spent 70 years as an industrial hub when the mills arrived and then it was later turned into a golf course. More recently it has been restored with new plantings and water management systems that allow meadows and wetlands to flourish all year. The noise of Elder’s Mills has been replaced with the tranquility of Elder’s Mills Nature Reserve.
American Goldfinch shed their bright yellow plumage after the mating season and it becomes harder to tell the male from the female. They are better set to blend in with their surroundings for the winter months. Some goldfinches will migrate south into the northern states while a few in eastern Ontario will move north into boreal forests for the winter.
There is a lookout two-thirds of the way up the side of the ravine that provides a nice view out across the nature reserve. The forests on the far side of Highway 27 are a bright red and orange that would really look nice on a sunny day.
The congregation of Knox Presbyterian Church had been meeting from as early 1841 in local homes. After the school building was erected they moved into it until they built their first frame church building in 1845. The church quickly grew to 175 members and by 1883 they had completed the construction of a new brick building on the same site. When the United Church was formed in 1925 nearly half of the congregation left to join the new denomination and the church never recovered its former size. In 1961 it closed and, sadly, the building was destroyed by fire in 1974. Older or damaged stones were gathered into a cemetery cairn in 1983. You can read about other Pioneer Cemetery Cairns in our feature presentation.
Across the road from the church stood the town school. The original frame structure was built in 1843 and then replaced with the structure that still stands behind a new front section. The bell appears to be missing from the small cupola but the date stone is still clearly legible. It reads “School Section No 15 Erected 1872”.
Robert Agar had his house built in 1845 and it is made of bricks manufactured on his farm. The use of light coloured bricks to form the quoins and add a pattern below the eaves makes this a very attractive home. There’s a rear entrance with a porch decorated with gingerbread.
James Sommerville built his story and a half house of split field stone collected on his farm. It was completed in 1856 and cut stone was used for the quoins as well as the window and door frames. It is a simple 5 bay Georgian style house and has recently been renovated and incorporated into the Arlington Estate Event Centre.
John Lawrie built his Georgian style house in 1855 at Lot 12, Concession 9 in Vaughan Township. Four generations of Lawrie family farmed on this lot over the next 120 years. John would have gone into Elder’s Mills to visit the post office for his mail and to get things for his farm. You can read more in our feature post John Lawrie Heritage House.
There were four other homes on Huntington Road that were listed on the Vaughan Heritage Register but only the Agar and Sommerville ones were designated. Developers have apparently demolished the others as the farms around them are being stripped for development.
Google Maps Link: Elder Mills Nature Reserve
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