Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016
Ball’s Falls is a quick drive down the QEW toward St. Catharines. In the mid-1800’s it was a major industrial centre and a hub for the region. By the late 1800’s most of it was gone and the commercial activity had moved off the escarpment and closer to the lake.
George and John Ball were living near Albany New York in the 1770’s with their families operating a potash business. Many settlers in that area produced potash by burning the wood on their property and then running water through the ashes repeatedly. This ash was then boiled down in a pot until a potassium rich fertilizer was created. When the American War of Independence broke out the Ball brothers fought on the side of the British. At the end of the war in 1783 they fled to Niagara and took up land as United Empire Loyalists. Their land on the Niagara Escarpment was an easy source of limestone and they operated several kilns on the property to produce lime. One of the kilns closest to the house is being preserved. A roof has been erected over the top of this draw kiln where at one time the chunks of limestone were poured into the top of the kiln. The fire was kept hot from below until the rock was broken down. The entrance to the oven is also being supported and inside the kiln the brick lining is starting to cave in.
The first job of a settler was to secure a place to spend the winter. Clearing the forest provided the logs to build the first family home. Having a permanent dwelling was also a requirement for gaining the full patent on the land. A house similar to the original Ball home is now being used to display the typical lifestyle of a settler and a spinning wheel can be seen through the window.
By 1809 a grist mill had been set up to grind flour for the local farmers. The building had four floors and George Ball was listed as the miller. During the War of 1812, the American forces made several advances into Upper Canada but had to keep retreating. When they did they would try to burn the mills along the way, as was done with John Burch’s mill at Niagara Falls. To protect the food supplies of the British Military, and the local population, the army decided to station troops at Ball’s mill to ensure that it wouldn’t be destroyed. As a result, the mill played a critical role in supporting the war effort.
The mill was expanded in the 1840’s to include another run of stones. Twenty Mile Creek was dammed above the lower falls to create a steady flow of water to operate the mill. Water was brought to the mill, in the background of the picture below, via the raceway which ran through the opening in the rock wall. The large water wheel is still in place in the mill. After turning the wheel the water poured out through the back of the mill and dropped down the ravine face to the creek below.
In 1816 they built a sawmill close the lower falls. There was plenty of timber in the area and many local bridges were made with lumber sawn at the Ball’s sawmill. In the early 1900’s the local supply of timber was exhausted and the sawmill closed. The lower falls can be seen in the cover photo and they are classified as a classic waterfall because the width and height are about equal at 27 metres. In the picture below, taken at the crest of the falls, you can see the walls of the gorge that the falls have cut over the years. This waterfall exposes the upper layers of the Niagara Escarpment. The top, darker layer, is the capstone of the escarpment known as the Lockport Formation. Below that is the softer shale layers of the grey and red sandstone known as Thorold and Grimsby respectively.
In 1824 they further expanded by adding a wool mill to their holdings. Built onto a 60 foot bluff overlooking the creek it was placed 1/4 mile upstream near the Upper Falls. The mill housed 8 looms that produced cloth and yarn. It was run by water diverted from above the falls. Due to the gradient of the land no dam was required to keep the mill operating. The archive photo below shows what the mill looked like during its years of operation.
The mill is long gone but there is still one wall and a window frame nestled into a crevice overlooking the ravine.
The upper falls are classified as a curtain falls because the width is greater than the height. The falls are 11 metres high.
To the left of the falls in the picture above is a section of rock where the water is pouring out between layers of harder dolostone and softer limestone. This is a type of karst activity that results from carbon dioxide mixing with rainwater. This creates a weak form of carbonic acid which can erode the limestone. Over time, the water has cut channels between the layers of rock where it flows out near the falls.
As the Balls became more established they built the home which still stands close to the grist mill and adjacent to the lower falls.
In the 1840’s there were several homes added to the community as well as a boarding house for the mill workers. All communities needed a place of worship and a little church was added for the spiritual welfare of the residents.
As the population grew it started to attract other tradesmen including a butcher, a cooper, a tailor, a bookmaker and a blacksmith. In 1849 George P. M. Ball, the son, had a plan drawn up for a subdivision for a community to be called Glen Elgin. However, the community had already reached its peak and the plan was never implemented. Two main factors led to the demise of Ball’s Falls. The opening of the Welland Canal helped to prosper the communities closest to it. Roads and railways ran along the strip of land between the escarpment and the lake and the area declined in importance. By 1883 when George Sr. passed away only the grist mill remained in operation. Within 5 years most of the buildings had been dismantled and sold for materials. In 1910 the grist mill closed and the town was gone. The blacksmith shop is seen below.
In 1962 The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority purchased the property and it is currently managed as Ball’s Falls Conservation Area. Some of the buildings at Ball’s Falls have been moved there from other locations to recreate the scene of the typical community. There are three marked trails in the park as well as The Bruce Trail which runs beside the lower falls. Twenty Mile Creek is prone to drying up in the summer so plan to visit in spring or after a good rain storm or snow melt.
Google Maps Link: Ball’s Falls Conservation Area
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