American legacy

During its long history as one of the oldest buildings in the Village of Waterdown, the American Hotel has changed little in appearance from its date of construction c.1824-1830.

Known by a number of names during its more than 175 years in operation, including the American House and the North American Hotel, the building was erected as soon as the road through the little settlement that became Waterdown was passable. For wherever a road through the Upper Canada wilderness was cut, hotels, taverns and inns appeared like magic and the innkeeper, that “Jack-of-all-Trades” in the pioneer community, opened his establishment for business.

With the opening of Dundas Street and the arrival from Smithville of the young Canadian-born entrepreneur, Ebenezer Culver Griffin, the hotel was almost certainly one of the first buildings that can be associated with his name and ambitious plans for the settlement that was to become Waterdown. Griffin saw the great potential of the area with the proximity of water power on the Grindstone Creek and the location of the road.


The south-west corner of Mill and Dundas Streets, the present-day site of the American Hotel, was part of the first piece of property Griffin purchased from Col. Alexander Brown in 1821. Construction probably took place almost immediately, as both the building that housed his General Store, located on the opposite corner, and the hotel are believed to have been in operation by 1830.

The original hotel, the present front section, consisted of a large two-storey rectangular stone structure built tight to the intersection that would have been clearly visible to any passing travellers. The stone used in its construction may well have come from Griffin’s Waterdown quarries – most likely the one located on Vinegar Hill. At the rear of the hotel, or very close by, there would have been stables and a blacksmith, necessary requirements for travel on Upper Canada roads.

In 1829, Plumer Burley of Ancaster began a stage-coach service between Ancaster and York that left Ancaster at 4:00 each Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning, arriving at York an exhausting eleven hours later. Four years later, another company, William Weller’s Stage Line advertised that it was “transporting passengers westwards from York.” So within a decade of the hotel opening, there was a steady passenger trade in place.


Probably because of his deep involvement with the Temperance Movement and his rapidly expanding milling operations in the Grindstone valley, Griffin only owned the hotel for a short period.

The property was sold to Alexander Markle in 1832. William H. Smith’s Canadian Gazetteer of Canada West, published in Toronto in 1846, noted that Waterdown possessed two hotels, one of which was the American Hotel, with Mr. Samuel Anderson as proprietor.

Sylvia Wray is the former archivist with the Flamborough Archives. She can be reached through the Archives at

This article was originally published in the Flamborough Review, 10 March 2006.


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