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 endeavors 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 fueled 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.
As a sign of Waterdown’s importance to the township, the Council of East Flamborough bought the 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.From 1979 to 2015 it served as the village library, and mounted inside were the gravestones of two early Waterdown settlers, Alexander Brown and Merren Grierson.
The monuments had been discovered on May 21st, 1978, by Mr. & Mrs. William R. Donkin while out for an evening stroll. The couple noticed the headstones on a Nelson Street property that was being prepared for the construction of four new homes. 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. Originally this property had been the home of John Burkholder, caretaker of Waterdown Union Cemetery. The lettering on in inscriptions was still legible, probably because the stones had been laid face down to form the walkway. The monuments were placed in the library during Waterdown’s Centennial celebrations.
After the tombstones were installed in the old library in 1979, the elevator took “unexplained trips all on its own,” said head librarian Lorraine Eastwood. The wording of a new monument stone in Union Cemetery corrects the name of Mr. Brown’s wife from Marion to Merren, revealing an error on the original stones. It is believed that the ghost in the library is Merren Brown, making sure that people realize her name was spelled incorrectly, and ensuring that people remember the role she and her husband played in the establishment of Waterdown. The stones have moved to the new library but the “ghost” still operates the elevator at a whim!
The building has been renovated, and now houses Brown Financial and Brown Lawyers.
This is 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.
The small milk chocolate coloured one storey cottage is built of stone with a painted cement rendering. Built during the 1850s, local tradition has it associated with mills along the Grindstone Creek, notably as the office for Forstner’s Sawmill c.1875-1901. It underwent extensive renovations in 2015.
“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.
One of the finest buildings on Mill Street, it was probably built between 1850 and 1855. 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.
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 1840s.
William 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.
In 1918 this property, which had been used as the fair grounds, was purchased as the site of the 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.
This well kept Waterdown home, part of which may date from the 1860s, is surrounded by beautiful gardens. Once known as the Griffin Farm House, this building later housed a popular Bed and Breakfast establishment.
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.
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.. Mrs. Scanlon returned to a two storey house.
Since the tiny cottages along Nelson Street are located close to the banks of Grindstone Creek, 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 who found work in the mills were of German origin. Many of the houses along this street have been beautifully renovated.
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.
Constructed upon land that was once owned by Christlieb John Slater, this building is believed to have been a casket factory during the 1880s. Note the decorative cupola and lamp post.
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 verandah on the east side of the house.
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 in St. Andrews Church. This impressive brick church was built to house the growing congregation and was dedicated in 1901.
Built in the 1880s or 1890s in Queen Anne style. In the early 1900s, Jack Slater purchased this house so that his son Herbie could have the tower bedroom where it was thought that the cool breezes would help his tuberculosis. Unfortunately it didn’t help.
John Creen sold this property to prominent doctor William Philp in 1868 for $1,100.00. The one-and-a-half storey residence 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.
This building features coursed stone block on the front facade, and uncoursed stone rubble on the side walls. The house was constructed c.1865. Having been built on part of a large mill property, this building has been occupied by various owners of the lumber yard which was situated behind the home. Note the unusual recessed entry.
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 1860s 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 1980s.
The Waterdown-East Flamborough Heritage Society
Research and design by Lori Dodman
Photographs by Maurice Green
Layout by Robert Wray