Entrepreneur, E. C. Griffin

The Village of Waterdown owes much of its existence, layout, former prosperity and name to a young entrepreneur, Ebenezer Culver Griffin, who visited the area following the end of hostilities from the War of 1812 and saw the potential for industrial development along Grindstone Creek.

Born in 1800, he was the son of United Empire Loyalist Smith Griffin, who founded the village of Smithville in the Niagara Peninsula. Following in his father’s footsteps, with plans to develop a small milling complex, E. C. Griffin purchased 560 acres in East Flamborough from Colonel Alexander Brown in 1823. His purchase included a section of the Grindstone Creek, the Great Falls and a quarter mile of the valley that was wide enough to accommodate two mills – a saw and grist mill.

Before the decade of the 1820s had ended, Griffin had built a General Store and with his brother, Absalom, a hotel – both to serve the growing trade and traffic along the Dundas Street highway. By 1831, he had supervised the clearing of enough land to employ a surveyor to draw up a plan of village lots – this survey, called the Griffin Survey, records the early development of the village that is today Waterdown. Looking to extend his small industrial complex, Griffin again purchased property from Colonel Brown, giving him virtual control over one mile of the Grindstone Creek valley.

From the date of this purchase in 1837, future industrial development along the creek was entirely controlled by E. C. Griffin in the deeds for land that he sold or leased.

Levi Hawke, a small mill owner, was given the right “for taking out water and no more to drive and turn two lathes either for wood or iron except for three days, Monday, Wednesday and Friday when water is to be allowed to go through the raceway to Lot 12 for tanning purposes.” He even placed a prohibition forever of “any woollen manufacturing except with the permission of E. C. Griffin,” so as to maintain a monopoly on the manufacture himself.

The mills attracted other trades and craftsmen to the area and the village became an established centre for the supply of goods and services to the agricultural settlers of East Flamborough. Though the village name logically derives from the Great Falls, legend suggests that it was the result of Griffin’s abstinence, as he substituted the traditional bottle of whiskey for water at the naming of his mill.

When a bystander noticed the change and said “throw that water down,” Griffin, hearing only the end of the remark, named the structure Waterdown!

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

Editor’s note:

Since this article was published in 2010, our former Society president Nathan Tidridge was presented with the following information.

The name Waterdown was in honour of the Forest of Waterdown close to Royal Tunbridge Wells in Kent County, England, the former home of William Smithers, father-in-law of Ebenezer Culver Griffin.

Barbara E. Chipman, 2015

As published in his book, “The Extraordinary History of Flamborough”, the medieval forest of Waterdown has a recorded history that stretches back to 788 A.D., and was included in the Manor of Rotherfield.

This article was originally published in the Flamborough Review, 17 June 2010.


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