This Heritage Paper looks at the history and architecture of one of the very fine stone buildings in the village of Waterdown, 50 Mill Street North, known as the Cook House. This house is one of three buildings that received Heritage designation from Flamborough Township Council in 1982.
The early history of the land on which the Cook house stands is linked to several famous Waterdown families. In 1796, Lieutenant Alexander McDonnell or MacDonnell of the 84th Regiment received a large grant of property in Concession 3, probably as a reward and payment for fighting with the British in the American Revolutionary War. His award of so much property along Dundas Street was probably based on Governor Simcoe’s decision that only trained ex-soldiers, who could be quickly mustered in case of invasion to protect this vital road without having to delay for further training, could receive such land. He did not develop the land and it was among property later purchased from the government by Colonel Alexander Brown. Col. Brown purchased eight hundred acres, four hundred on which he lived, and four hundred west of it — the site of the village, the Grindstone Creek dividing it into two parts.
Between 1823 and 1837 the Waterdown village site was purchased from Colonel Brown by Ebenezer Culver Griffin Esq. of Smithville — this included Lot 6, Concession 3 on which the Cook house stands. About 1831, a survey of lots was made by Hugh Black, a Provincial Land Surveyor, on Mill and Dundas Streets, and from this came the original plans for Waterdown. Ebenezer Griffin and his brother, Absalom, who was also his business partner, were extremely prominent businessmen. They owned a flour mill, an ashery, a carding mill (one of the first in Upper Canada) and a saw mill that drew custom from the whole section east of Hamilton to the Fifty-Mile Creek and south to the Grand River, and on the north from west of Rock Chapel to east of Hannahsville.
In 1844 Ebenezer Griffin sold the property to his brother, Absalom, who in turn sold the property to Absalom Anderson in 1850. Although there are records of buildings on the property by this date, they are described as frame structures. The architectural style of the house suggests the date of construction unlikely to have been before 1850, and most probably during the 1860’s, when the land was purchased by Lumber Merchant John Creen.
The Census of 1861 records John Creen as aged thirty-four years, a Wesleyan Methodist and farmer, with his wife Eliza and their daughter Catherine living in a one-storey frame house. In 1864, he purchased land on the Grindstone Creek upon which stood a Griffin-built flour mill, and the stone house was probably built for him at about this time, for he had now become a prominent businessman and his home reflected his position in the community. In Mitchell & Co’s, “County of Wentworth and Hamilton City Directory for 1865-1866”, John Creen is listed as the Proprietor of the Upper Mill on Mill Street, but in 1871, the property was sold again. George Washington Rymal was the purchaser, and he continued the milling business for many years. During the 20th century, the house has been home to a succession of educators and mill owners, including Dr. Riddell who was Head of Schools in Hamilton, Mr. Cooper, a principal of Waterdown High School and Mr. Walter Fielding, a past part-owner of Slater’s Mill.
The elegant cut-stone house is now the home of Mrs. Hamilton Cook, and is an outstanding early example of the Ontario Vernacular style — rectangular in shape, one and one-half storeys and a centre gable. The house is situated on a well-kept lot, adjacent to Nicholson and Stetler’s Jam factory, and close to several other fine stone buildings on Mill Street North.
The house is constructed of ashlar or limestone, the front facade is particularly impressive, due to the use of hand-cut stone instead of the more economical rubble or frame, but this is possibly to reflect the builder’s prominent position in the community. The fine central doorway is recessed with wood panelling on the sides, sidelights, and surmounted by matching mullioned transom. The original six-panelled front door with its porcelain door knob and porcelain door bell handle are still in use, and above this door are cut stone radiating voussoirs. The windows are double hung, but the glass is probably not original. In the centre gable is a large, ornate gothic window with small panes of glass and fine tracery. The ornate bargeboard of the gable complements the facade, but some doubt exists to its originality. The cornice is boxed plain, with a plain frieze and returns. The two end chimneys are not original.
On the first floor of the north side are two bays similar to those on the facade. On the second storey there are two smaller windows containing original glass. On the first floor of the south side there are also two bays, one similar to the windows on the facade, and the other similar to the smaller windows of the second storey on the north side. The second storey windows match those of the north side.
A stone back kitchen has been removed, this had been added after the house was built, and had three bedrooms on top of it, possibly to house servants. Originally there was an orchard on the property and a French stable containing six stalls and a “driving house” at the rear of the house. Mrs. Cook has a newspaper clipping of 3 February 1883 listing the house for sale and describing it in this way. The clipping also states that the house boasts a view of Lake Ontario from its second floor.
On the ground floor are three rooms and a hallway. This hallway is unusually small with a very compact enclosed and steep staircase with no middle landing. The hallway opens onto all three of the ground floor rooms. To the left and right are two large doorways leading to a large living room on the north side, and a small front room on the south side. The third hallway door leads to the kitchen — it is a considerable smaller doorway since it has the stairway overhead.
The living room runs the depth of the house. Between the two windows on the north side is a fireplace without a mantel — but this is almost certainly a late addition to the house, as the original heat was from a stove, and both chimneys are additions too.
No. 50 Mill Street North is one of the finest stone buildings remaining in the village of Waterdown, an example of the work of the superior stonemasons at work throughout the nineteenth century. The house is historically of interest, having been built on part of a large mill property and having been owned (though not always occupied) by various owners of the lumber mill which continues in operation to the present day.
“The Governor’s Road” – Mary Byers and Margaret McBurney, University of Toronto Press, 1982.“Waterdown and East Flamborough 1867-1967” – Waterdown East Flamborough Centennial Committee, W.L. Griffin Ltd., Hamilton, 1967.Architectural Report on the Cook House by Alister Campbell and Valerie Vance, Flamborough Township LACAC Summer Project, 1980.Census Records of East Flamborough Township, 1861.Mitchell & Co., “County of Wentworth and Hamilton City Directory for 1865-1866”“Wentworth Bygones”, Volume 9 – Head of the Lake Historical Society, 1971.Trade Advertisement from Sutherland’s “City of Hamilton and County of Wentworth 1868-69 Directory.”
Originally published in Heritage Happenings, March 1983.
© The Waterdown-East Flamborough Heritage Society 1983, 2020
Editor’s Note:The lumber mill mentioned that “continues in operation to the present day” refers to Slater’s Lumber Yard. Located on the west bank of Grindstone Creek where the Grindstone Mill Condominiums are now located, the buildings were destroyed by fire in the 1980s.