Crooks’ Hollow, Part 1

Today, only the ghostly ruins of the famous Darnley Mill remain as evidence of the historic past of the small section of the Spencer Creek Valley known as Crooks’ Hollow. Dominated by the endeavours of James Crooks, this part of West Flamborough Township was once one of the most important industrial sites in Upper Canada, fuelling the economy and attracting skilled tradesmen and settlers during the first half of the 19th century.

In this area, the Spencer Creek, originally known as the Flamboro’ or Morden’s Creek, quickly gathers speed as it flows through the valley, dropping nearly 100 feet in a stretch of three miles before its great descent at Webster’s Falls. This provided the power that resulted in the array of mills and factories being erected along the banks of the stream during this industrial age. Dams at eight locations were constructed to control the stream during this period, which began with the arrival of the Morden family even before the final survey of the township was completed.

The thundering power of Webster’s Falls fuelled early industry.

Jonathan Morden, a sawyer by profession, was the first settler to recognize the potential value of the creek. On  September 5, 1801, he purchased Lot 7, Concession 2, which included a section of the Flamboro’ Creek, for £75. He and his only son James, or ‘Big Jim’ as he was called, erected the first sawmill on the Flamboro’ Creek before his death in 1803. They built an earthen dike from each side of the creek that forced the water over a stone dam and into a millpond. From there, a millrace carried the water to an undershot wheel installed to power the mill. Serving incoming settlers during the first decades of the century, Morden’s Sawmill provided most of the timber required for homes and businesses from the abundant stands of white pine in the surrounding area. During the War of 1812, Morden’s Sawmill was probably one of the suppliers within the Flamboro’ Creek watershed providing the timber required by the British troops for the construction of barracks and defences at Burlington Heights.

About 1841, ‘Big Jim’ Morden added a gristmill to the family’s holdings. The two mills were continuously operated by his son and grandson until the gristmill burned in 1905 and the sawmill was washed out by floods in 1907.

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, 18 September 2009.


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