Built in 1834 by Paten Atwood, the first flour mill in the Strathburn area was located just east of the Mosa-Ekfrid town line on the north side of Longwoods Road. The original flour mill was destroyed by fire and replaced in 1874 with a brick structure. The mill had several operators over the next twenty years including G.J. & J.B. Coulthard and Andrew Fleming. The mill ceased operations in 1920 and was dismantled in 1924.
Prior to the establishment of sawmills the early settlers built dwellings out of hewn logs. These buildings were typically limited in size but effective in providing a shelter for family and livestock until better accommodations could be built. Prior to the 1830’s and well into the 1840’s buildings in Ekfrid and Mosa Townships were log structures; including houses, barns, schools, and inns.
In 1820 Anselm Foster petitioned for a grant for establishing a mill on Lot 23, however no further action was recorded. Adam Burwell had also expressed interest in a mill at this location.
My Memories Of Ekfrid MillsGeo. W. McCallum, June 1982 ; From written documents provided by Geo. W. McCallum
I was born in 1907, so my memories are only as a child. I counted it an outing to go with my father with bags of grain with team and wagon to be ground into chop for live stock feed.
Mr. Fleming the operator at that time, would meet us at the porch and put the bags on a four wheel conveyor and push it on a track to where he wanted it, then put through while we waited.
The custom chopping was done on the main floor. The waiting period might be half an hour or two hours depending on how many customers were ahead. However the grinding capacity was quite comparable to the present day.
The grindstone was driven by a steam stationary engine of quite good size, high horse power that is. This was in the basement so to speak, with the level close to flood water, if my memory serves me right. This being pleasant and comfortable waiting area, especially in winter beside this steam heating plant. This plant was fueled by cord wood and the water of course came from the creek. (Newbigging creek it was called). Later years soft coal was used for fuel.
Mr. Fleming looked after the customers, and he usually had a boiler man looking after the engine. During the war 1914-1918 help was hard to get and many days Mr. Fleming looked after all; go down stairs fire the boiler then run upstairs and bag the chop. This become to tell on Mr. Fleming on his ageing years.
During the summer months he operated only two or three days a week. But after September when the farmers crop was getting threshed he naturally became busier. That is if the water supply in the creek was available as the dam was now getting out of repair. I think that he was hampered on this account once, to my memory.
On the second floor of this building were the flour mills or separators so to speak, many of them 5 to ten perhaps. This flour processing was done before my time and quite extensive I have been told.
Around 1918 or ’20 Mr Flemings health failed and the mill shut down.
Approximately 1920 give a year or two: the Campbell Bros. Of Melbourne were building a garage, [and] they had returned from the forces 1914-1918.
They purchased the old mill, and wrecking it to use much of the material for their new garage as it still is in Melbourne. Much of the brick was used and the boiler was used to heat the garage as well as two adjacent stores there. The flour equipment was sold to Dutton Flour Mills who up to quite recent made themselves quite famous milling pastry flour. Trade name SWANSDOWN. Many car loads were shipped. Dutton by this time had cheap hydro power.
When the highway (no2 or the former Longwoods road) was widened, it took in most of the property, of both the residence and mill also the horse shed in between used as shelter for the customers horses.
I think that I was told that when grinding first began that it was stone grinding, and by water power. Very little remains, or do I remember of the of the old dam of being much.
In my mind of all times I could not visualize what I was told of the greatness of this site.
to the Glencoe & District Historical Society.
The First Mill:
Patten Atwood and his wife Hannah (Brooks) had farmed in Dunwich Township, until about 1829 they crossed the river into Ekfrid.
In 1830 Paten Atwood acquired Lot 23 and by 1834 erected both a saw and grist mill. The mill was built on the west bank of Newbiggen Creek, which powered the mill. The original mill was certainly wooden, and likely a log structure considering the absence of a functional sawmill in the area. The details regarding where the millstones were acquired from, or how they were transported to the location are unknown. (The millstones used in the Napier mill took many teams of oxen to drag from Port Stanely to Napier in 1838. The roads at this time were very crude, and the local geography is laced with swamps, steep ravines, and winding gulleys.)
The establishment of the sawmill enabled residents to begin building framed wooden structures. Many existing homesteads along Longwoods Road would upgrade there dwellings, and the surrounding villages of Wardsville, Woodgreen, Strathburn, and Taits Corners emerged. Other local sawmills were built, however it was Atwood’s first mill that was critical in the initial development of the area.
The gristmill enabled local residents to grind wheat into flour in large volumes. Without a mill this is a very labour intensive activity that can only be done in small quantities. Whether both the sawmill and gristmill were housed in the same structure is unknown. It is possible that the function of the sawmill was outdoors.
In October 1839 Paten Atwood and his family decided to move to Illinois. In 1840 the ownership of the property and mills transferred to Andrew Coulthard. The Coulthard family added to the operations a carding and fulling mill (for preparing wool into thread).
“The first schools were of the most primitive construction – of log construction, with floor, roof and other features the same as the homes of the people…From The Township of Ekfrid 1821- 1941; published by the council of the township, 1949.
The first schoolhouse in the township [Ekfrid] was built on the east half of Lot 6, on Duncan Mclean’s farm near the north corner of the farm, about 1834. About 1840 the first school in what is now S.S. No. 4 was opened in a log dwelling house on the west corner of Lot 12. Other log schoolhouses were located on the north corner of Lot 13; at or near the present site of Riverside School; and in the westerly part of the township, Lot 21 R1S.”
Fire and Rebuilding:
Ekfrid Mills continued as an important and convenient operation on Longwoods Road. It was completely destroyed by fire in January 1874. The mill was rebuilt and operating by July. The new building was a brick structure built on the East bank of Newbiggen Creek, as shown in the photographs. The Ekfrid Mills became an iconic landmark.
From the photos of the brick building it appears that the original water power was derived from an undershot system. The water wheel would have been located under the door on the west wall, and the water would have passed under the wheel in a trough, causing it to spin in a counter-clockwise fashion. Sometime later the mill was converted to a wood burning boiler and the wheel was removed. Still later the boiler was heated using soft coal.
The brick building carried the name EKFRID MILLS on the western gable (partly visible in the photographs) but was generally known by the names of the operators: Coulthard Mill, Fleming Mill.
End of An Era:
Andrew Fleming purchased in the mill in 1910, but it was usually open only three times per week. The mill ceased operations in 1920 and stood vacant until 1924 when it was purchased by Robert and Stewart Campbell. The Campbell brothers dismantled the mill and used the materials to rebuild their shop in Melbourne. Years later Campbell’s Garage (located on the north side of Longwoods Rd. near the main intersection) was destroyed by fire and the garage was rebuilt again. Although the building has since been used as a fire hall, library and residence, it is still often reffered to as Campbells Garage.
Although there are no remains of the Ekfrid Mills that we can visit today, we are fortunate that a very similar mill from the same era was restored to a functioning state and is open to the public as a museum. The Morningstar Mill gristmill in St. Catharines was built in 1872 by Robert Chappel. Around 1892 the interior of the mill was destroyed by fire but the stone building remained intact. New equipment was installed and the Morningstar Mill continued operation until 1933.
In 1992 the volunteer group “Friends of Morningstar Mill” was established and they began to restore and then operate the mill as an operating gristmill. At the start of the restoration project, much of the machinery and stones were as they had been left in 1933.
For more information visit the Morningstar Website: www.morningstarmill.ca
Their site has a wealth of information regarding the operation of the mill, including photos and videos.
A Morningstar YouTube video can be viewed at: Morningstar Video