The Restored Cobblestone Bridge, Webster’s Falls Park, Greensville

Originally Published in Heritage Happenings, October 2007
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Ashbourne Mills – Township of West Flamborough Centennial Celebration, 1850-1950.

One of the most spectacular waterfalls in the City of Hamilton is Webster’s Falls, where Spencer Creek descends over the edge of the Niagara Escarpment and flows into the Spencer Gorge below. Early pioneers in the area, such as Joseph Webster Sr., a half-pay British officer began a long association with the history and development of the site, and as a result, his name is forever associated with the waterfall and the present-day park. The family developed the creek at this site and operated the Ashbourne Mills, a complex consisting of a dam and mill pond, a grist mill for peas, barley and oats, a distillery and a cooper’s shop for the production of flour barrels.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, declining water power and various industrial fires heralded the end of its industrial importance. The Bank of Hamilton, which held several mortgages on the property, sold the site to the Corporation of the Town of Dundas in 1917, on the condition that it be used as a park. The land around Webster’s Falls was slowly transformed into an attractive site, but the economic conditions of the 1920s limited the work the Town of Dundas was able to undertake. The Parks Board removed the old wooden dam that had served the Ashbourne Mill and extended the stone section in the form of a rustic bridge over the Spencer Creek.

The death of Lt. Colonel William Edward Sheridan Knowles in 1931, a former resident, Mayor and Chief Magistrate of Dundas, resulted in a sum of money becoming available to the Town. In the final codicil of his will, Knowles bequeathed the interest on his estate of approximately $197,000, for the…”beautification of Sydenham Street” in Dundas “and the Webster’s Falls area.” The codicil clearly expressed his feelings about the park, …”if a comprehensive plan of improvements were carried out, Webster’s Fall Park would be a property which would attract tourists from far and near, particularly if all cheap and tawdry places of amusement were forbidden.”

The cobblestone bridge, 1947 – shared by Kim Batrynchuk on “Old Hamilton Canada Photos” Facebook group. Picture from her parent’s collection.

No money was made available for any work in the park until 1938. The first suggestion of a bridge being part of the park improvements occurs in the records of the June 1938 meeting of the Knowles Bequest Board, a group of five Dundas businessmen, given the responsibility for carrying out Knowles’ instructions. Two months later, the Chairman of the Board, H. Grahan Bertram, President of Bertram’s Canada Tool Works in Dundas, met and discussed with R. K. Palmer of the Hamilton Bridge Company and County Engineer, Major Hugh Lumsden, ideas for the proposed bridge. Submissions from construction companies were requested and in September, the approximately $4,000 tender of contractor, Ernie H. Greenwood of Dundas for a unique cobblestone bridge was accepted.

Completed by late November, the bridge was built by local stone masons, Arthur and Bert Edwards, Fred Church and James Mason. Erected where the sluice gates of the former mill pond had been located, it was constructed of cobblestones collected from an Aberfoyle farm by Dundas High School students who were paid fifteen cents and hour for their labours.

Over the years, the bridge gradually deteriorated. Cracks in the concrete were filled and fallen stones replaced, but several strong Spring floods during the 1950s and 1960s severely weakened the bridge. During the 1970s, the Hamilton Region Conservation Authority’s flood control programme, through the construction of the Christie Dam and Reservoir, lessened the power of Spencer Creek and the annual threat of floods, but it did not result in the recognition that a programme of regular maintenance needed to be introduced.

A decade later, in 1981, the Chairman of the Knowles Bequest, Hugh Walker expressed serious concerns about the state of the bridge and its possible collapse, explaining that as a result of minimal maintenance and inflation, the amount of money generated in interest from the original will was insufficient for the desperately needed repairs. The Town of Flamborough’s L.A.C.A.C. met with members of the Knowles Bequest Board and the Town of Dundas officials, urging them to seek funding, but despite its designation as a heritage structure, no provincial funds were forth coming and eventually the bridge was closed to all traffic and slated for demolition by the Town of Dundas in 1999.

News of its imminent loss resulted in an overwhelming demonstration by the public about their feelings for the unique bridge. The Hamilton Spectator was swamped with letters from people recalling events such as family picnics, courting days and wedding photographs at the site.

During the summer of 1999, a massive campaign to raise the necessary funds to repair the historic bridge was organized under the leadership of the Optimist Club of Greensville and the Friends of Webster’s Falls Bridge. Within a year, the ‘Save the Bridge Campaign’, with a major grant from The Ontario Trillium Foundation, raised over $300,000 for the complete restoration of the bridge and associated landscaping work. On Canada Day, Saturday 1 July 2000, the Cobblestone Bridge was officially reopened to the cheers of thousands in attendance.

© The Waterdown-East Flamborough Heritage Society 2007, 2024.


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