The village of Waterdown was 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 endeavours 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. This valley, popularly known as Smokey Hollow, was fuelled by dams and raceways and was the site of saw, grist and flour mills, a woollen mill, brass foundry, tanneries, rake, snaith, cradle, and basket factories.
At the time of the first Assessment in 1841 the village population was comprised of 165 people. 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 structures from the village’s pioneering days have been magnificently preserved. Today Waterdown flourishes as a service centre, and as one of the beauty spots on the Niagara Escarpment.
1. 315 Dundas Street East
This fine red brick, one and a half storey Victorian house with gables and barge board was built in 1880 by prosperous local merchant Charles Sealey, first Reeve of Waterdown. Mr. Sealey gave the name Chestnut Grove to his property, possibly from the large number of Horse Chestnut trees that were growing on the land behind the house. Miraculously this house suffered no damage from the fires that devastated the commercial section just to the west of it in 1906, 1915, and 1922.
2. 317 Dundas Street East
Built in 1922, largely through the efforts of the Waterdown Women’s Institute, the Memorial Hall serves as a war memorial to the soldiers of Waterdown who died in World War I. The clock tower that was once mounted on top of the hall had to be dismantled in 1948 when it was deemed unsafe. The bell displayed in front of the hall used to ring in the old Bell Tower which stood on the same lot in the late 1800’s.
3. 319 Dundas Street East
Constructed in 1864, this building has housed numerous Waterdown businesses including the Boadicea Hotel, Alton’s Meat Market and both Edward’s and Buchan’s Bakery. The original fieldstone used during construction can be seen at the rear, and the large baker’s ovens used in the early 1900’s remain in the back section of the building.
4. 325 Dundas Street East
Popularly known as the J.T. Stock Building, businesses have thrived here since 1855. Among the businesses that have operated at this location, Featherstone’s Bakery, Stock’s Store, Reid’s Harness Shop, The Royal Bank, and Huxley’s Store. The first telephone line in Waterdown was installed in Stock’s Store, May 1882, and for the next twenty three years was the only telephone in the village.
5. The Railway
Construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway line along the bed of Grindstone Creek began in 1910. By 1911 the bridges had been built and in 1912 the railway line in Waterdown was opened. The large two storey house that served as the railway station was located east of the tracks, just north of the bridge at the base of Vinegar Hill. After 1950 passenger trains no longer stopped at this station, and in 1962 it was finally closed. The station house was burnt to the ground by vandals on June 23, 1966.
6. Board Street
Located at the foot of Vinegar Hill, Board Street descended steeply to Grindstone Creek, the Vance House, which later became the railway station house, and by travelling along the banks of the creek, Will Reid’s barn. The road is no longer maintained since traffic practically ceased with the closure of the train station and the destruction of the Vance House.
7. Union Cemetery
Of the 800 monuments found in the Union Cemetery, many proudly display the names of Waterdown’s earliest pioneers. These well known names include Baker, Stock, Griffin, Cummer, and McGregor. The name Union Cemetery originated from the two churches, the Presbyterian and the Episcopal Methodist, who shared the cemetery. The earliest section of this cemetery lies in the north west corner where the oldest monuments stand; dating from the early 1830s.
8. 4 Margaret Street
A charming two storey board and batten house that has retained some of the original features such as the small round-headed centre gable window and side verandah. Remnants of the gingerbread trim that once graced the verandah remain in the decorative brackets on the posts. Among the recorded owners, the Hasselfeldt family, one of several notable German families in the village.
9. 8 Margaret Street
This interesting Victorian house was the home of Mr. and Mrs. John Reid and their family. Its many unusual features are the work of Mr. John Reid, a builder of note who owned a planing mill along the east bank of Grindstone Creek. It is said that the present large impressive house was built around a log cabin which may have been the original Reid home of the 1840s.
10. 10 First Street
This Waterdown home was designed by architects McPhee, Kelly, and Darling in 1909 for Col. G. A. Inksetter, in 1922 it became the home of Col. John Connon and his family. The landscaping around the property was probably planned by the Connon family who operated gardens and nurseries in both the Waterdown and the Hamilton area.
11. 365 Dundas Street East
Ownership of this property in unclear, and therefore the specific date of construction for this Waterdown home cannot be determined. The rear section, built of course stone, dates from the 1837 – 1855 period, while the front one-and-a half storey board and batten section dates c.1860 – 1870. The rear property was used for market gardening during the first half of the century.
12. George Street
The extension of George Street which stretches east and runs parallel to Vinegar Hill was once known as Back Street, and leads to a picturesque ravine. The stream that runs through the ravine drains into Grindstone Creek. The water level fluctuates according to the season, but is highest in the spring due to the melting snow. It is known locally as Spring Creek and the waterfall as Arnold’s Falls. Since the property south of the wooden bridge is private we must ask tourists not to explore beyond this point.
13. 48 Dundas Street East
This charming cottage dates from the 1860 – 1870 period. Constructed of clapboard, overlaid with board and batten and with a low hip roof, it is one of a number of such cottages to be found in the village. Several well known Waterdown names appear in the Registry Book as owners of the property; Featherstones (1880s – 1920s), Vances (1930s), Shutts (1940s), and Hamiltons (1950s).
14. 340 Dundas Street East
This beautiful Victorian residence was built for the Eager family c.1870 and remained in their ownership for three generations virtually unaltered. The house is constructed of cut stone with a rough cast and lime cement facing that was added around the turn of the century. The most noticeable features of the house are the unusual portico with intricate woodwork of a sun motif flanked by fans, and the beautifully carved barge board of the gables.
15. The Weeks Block, Mill Street South
This fine stone building is instantly recognizable to thousands of people in Flamborough and the surrounding area as once being the home of Weeks of Waterdown. The corner section of the block, constructed soon after Ebenezer Griffin’s purchase in 1821, was operated for 75 years as a general store by the Griffin Family. Location at the crossroads of trade and travel in the village probably ensured stable ownership as the building has changed hands only four times in the past 170 years – Eager Family (1880 – 1924), Weeks Family (1924 – 1972), and Smith Family (1972 – 1990) have operated a variety of general and hardware stores on this site.
16. The American Hotel, Dundas Street East
The American Hotel, referred to in the past as both the North American Hotel and the American House, was built c.1824. It is one of the oldest hotels in Ontario, rising to importance during the period of stage coach travel. Although ownership has changed hands numerous times, the building has remained in operation as a hotel, closed only during prohibition. The two storey building once boasted a front verandah, an upstairs ballroom, and an archway on the Mill Street entrance which permitted carriages to drive through allowing ladies to go directly inside. The American Hotel contained the last old time stand-up bar in Ontario, and maintained segregated male and female front rooms until 1966.
17. 21 Mill Street North
In 1838 the Wesleyan Methodists built a simple frame church on Mill Street North at a cost of $1,400, “to serve the settlers who previously had depended upon saddlebag preachers”. The 1865 Wentworth County Directory Listing for Waterdown describes the Methodist Church as “built of hand-hewn plank and capable of seating 400 persons”. That same year the building was covered in stone, and except for the addition of a Sunday School in 1880 and other minor alterations, the exterior has changed little since that date. In 1925 this Methodist Church building became the United Church of Waterdown. When a new church building was required by the congregation in 1957, it was built on Parkside Drive and the Waterdown Alliance Church bought this building for their congregation.
18. 25 Mill Street North
Construction of the East Flamborough Township Hall began in 1856 after the Town Council agreed on June 28 to appoint ‘Messrs. Stewart, Foster and Morden as a committee to ascertain where a suitable site for a town hall can be obtained’. By December 1857 the building was finished and council minutes stated that, ‘L.A. Cummer and James McMonies, Reeve, certify that the Town Hall has been examined and . . . the building is satisfactory’. In the following month the council felt it necessary to establish a few rules regarding the uses to which the new building could be put: ‘The Public shall have the use of the Town Hall for any public lecture that is calculated to benefit Society in general – to the exclusion of all Tea Meetings, Bazaars and Shows, and Religious Worship’. In recent years the interior of this historic building has been renovated, a project that commemorates the centennial anniversary of Waterdown’s incorporation. Today it serves as the Village Library.
Map of the walking tour:
The Waterdown-East Flamborough Heritage Society
Research and design by Lori Dodman
Photographs by Maurice Green
Layout by Robert Wray