The Village of Waterdown developed upon land that was originally granted to Alexander McDonnell in 1796. In 1805 ownership was transferred to Alexander Brown who built a sawmill at the falls on Grindstone Creek. This creek provided power for the endeavours of the early pioneers and thus the Village of Waterdown was born. The enterprises of Brown, and later of Ebenezer Griffin, accounted for substantial industrial growth in the Grindstone Creek Valley. The valley, known as Smokey Hollow was fuelled by dams and raceways, and was the site of saw, grist and flour mills, a woollen mill, a brass foundry, tanneries, rake, snaith, cradle, and basket factories. Waterdown was incorporated as a village in 1878 but a series of fires and a decrease in the water power of Grindstone Creek heralded the slow decline of the settlement’s importance.
Although few remnants of the old mills remain, many other original buildings from the village’s pioneering days have been preserved.
1. The East Flamborough Township Hall
As a sign of Waterdown’s importance to the township, the Council of East Flamborough bought a site for a town hall in 1856. A year later this magnificent classical two storey building was opened. Built of local quarried limestone, it was designed by local builder Walter Grieves and carpenter John Graham. Today it serves as the village library and, mounted inside are the grave-stones of two early Waterdown settlers, Alexander Brown and his wife Merren Grierson. It is believed these stones were removed from the Union Cemetery when a family monument was erected and were used in a walkway at the cottage of the cemetery caretaker. Discovered quite by chance in the late 1970’s when the cottage was demolished, they were placed in the library during Waterdown’s Centennial celebrations.
2. 29 Mill Street North
A fine one-and-a-half storey, red brick home constructed c.1870. The most notable feature is the fine wrap-around front verandah with unusual decorative bargeboard.
3. 43 Mill Street North
The small milk chocolate coloured one storey cottage is built of stone with a painted cement rendering. Built during the 1850’s, local tradition has it associated with mills along the Grindstone Creek, notably as the office for Forstner’s Sawmill c.1875-1901.
4. 73 Mill Street North
“Walnut Shade” built c.1850, is of frame construction to which stucco has been applied. This symmetrical house with its truncated hip roof has none of the fancy features found on many of the homes on Mill Street North. The white fence at the front of the property surrounds a tiny, attractive front yard.
5. 107 Mill Street North
One of the finest buildings on Mill Street, probably built between 1850 and 1855 before it was sold to William Featherston. The stone cottage is part of the property that Absalom Griffin sold to David Davies for twenty five pounds in 1851. The large garage was moved from the Planing Mill across the street where it had been used to store coffins.
6. Grace Anglican Parish Church and Cemetery
In 1847 Frederick and Elizabeth Fielde donated two acres of land for the site of an Anglican Church in Waterdown. Since building funds were not immediately available, the present stone church was not erected until 1860. Since that time the Parish Hall, the Vestry, and the Narthex have been added. The first recorded burials in the cemetery date from the 1840’s.
7. 168 Mill Street North
Wilbert Harris, a local blacksmith, purchased this lot in 1882 for $300.00. It is believed that the one-and-a-half storey frame dwelling was likely built at this time. The main house is L-shaped in plan with a cross gable roof. While the windows are primarily rectangular in shape, the gable end is enhanced with a semi-circular window. The house sits very close to the sidewalk, but still possesses an attractive garden enclosed by a picket fence.
8. Mary Hopkins School
In 1918 this property, which had been used as the fair grounds, was purchased as the site of a new school since the old one in Sealey Park had become overcrowded. Opened in January 1921, this large brick school was originally called the Waterdown and East Flamborough Union School Section No. 3. The High School occupied the upper floors until 1927 when a school was constructed on the corner of Dundas and Hamilton Street. The name of the school was changed to Mary Hopkins in 1964 in honour of the first teacher in Waterdown.
9. 261 Mill Street North
This well kept Waterdown home, part of which may date from the 1860s, is surrounded by an immaculate garden. Once known as the Griffin Farm House, this building later housed a popular Waterdown Bed and Breakfast.
10. 27 Wellington Street
Located on the north east corner lot of Wellington and Victoria Street, this sturdy two storey red brick house was once occupied by Hugh Drummond and his family. Built around the turn of the century, this home is noted for the decorative brickwork above the windows, especially the unusual design around the large first floor bay window.
11. 19 Elgin Street
Facing onto Elgin Street, this corner home with front and side verandahs has had several additions made to it since construction c.1880-1890 and all have been well camouflaged. Originally a small frame cottage, local tradition has that the owner, Mr. Scanlon, a carpenter by trade, enlarged the house unknown to his wife – Mrs. Scanlon left for a visit to the U.S.A. and on her return, came home to a two storey house.
12. Nelson Street
Since the tiny cottages along Nelson Street are located close to the banks of Grindstone Creek, which flows past the base of the sharp embankment at the east end of the street, they were often occupied by mill workers. Nelson and neighbouring Raglan Street were laid out in the McMonies and Stock Survey of 1856. This area is known locally as “Dutchtown”, a corruption of Deutschtown, probably because many of the early families were of German origin who found work in the mills. Note how many of the houses along this street have been beautifully renovated, especially numbers 7, 10, 21, 33, and 42.
13. 1 Raglan Street
The small stucco over frame one-and-a-half storey house on the corner lot appears to face both Raglan and Victoria Street. Built in the traditional Ontario style of centre gable, its simplicity is typical of the houses built from 1860-1880 for the thousands of immigrants flooding into Ontario. The enclosed verandah facing Victoria Street is a 20th century addition.
14. 50 Victoria Street
Constructed upon land that was once owned by Christlieb John Slater, this building is believed to have been a casket factory during the 1880’s. Note the decorative cupola and lamp post. The building is now called the Village Carriage House and serves as a Bed and Breakfast.
15. 94 Mill Street North
This magnificent brick home, constructed c.1890, was designed by John Reid who was well known throughout the Waterdown area for his unique architectural style. Irregular in plan, the main body of the house is a one-and-a-half storey, with a two storey square tower set diagonally to the main building, and a one storey verandah flanking the east side of the house.
16. Knox Presbyterian Church
The first Presbyterian services in Waterdown were held in a school house on Vinegar Hill in 1830. By 1840 there were two Presbyterian churches in the village. In 1877 when the two churches united the congregation began to gather in the old stone Knox building and the Sunday School met at St. Andrews Church. When a larger building was required for the congregation, this impressive brick church was built. It was dedicated in 1901.
17. 62 Mill Street North
John Creen sold this property to prominent local doctor William Philp in 1868 for $1,100.00. The one-and-a-half storey residence was built at that time and is one of many Waterdown homes constructed in the Gothic Revival style. It includes the traditional three bay elevation with centre door, flanking windows and a pointed arch window in the centre gable above the door.
18. 50 Mill Street North
An example of the work of superior stone masons in the nineteenth century, this building features coursed stone block on the front facade, and uncoursed stone rubble on the side walls. The house, constructed c.1865, was valued at $1,400.00 in the 1868 Assessment Rolls. Having been built on part of a large mill property, this building has been occupied by various owners of the lumber yard situated behind the home. Note the unusual recessed entry and the pointed arch window in the centre gable.
19. Slater’s Lumber Yard
The industrial frame structure located between Mill Street and Grindstone Creek is part of the former Slater Lumber Company property. The Slater Mill was the last of all the mills once powered by the Grindstone Creek. The mill was built by John Forstner in 1875 and was owned and operated by the Slaters from 1901 to 1939. For years lumber was hauled down to Brown’s Wharf at the Bay for shipping, and then by rail after 1912 when the CPR line was built. The original mill that burnt to the ground in 1936 was replaced by the building which stands today.
20. The Old Jam Factory
This large building located close to the Mill Street side-walk has been used for numerous industrial and commercial functions over the last hundred years. When it was constructed in the 1860’s the structure was designed to house a store and a factory. Local history claims that Charles Sealey bought the factory in 1870 for his son in order to keep him in Waterdown. Since that time various stores, a flour and feed mill, and a toy factory have all operated from this location. In 1925 Harlan Stetler and George Nicholson moved their jam factory to the building and remained at this site until the 1980’s.
Map of the Mill St. Walking Tour:
The Waterdown-East Flamborough Heritage Society
Research and design by Lori Dodman
Photographs by Maurice Green
Layout by Robert Wray