Because of Ranger’s love of rustic old buildings, especially grist mills, this story is the first in a series yet to come on local mills that have been recycled into other, usually commercial ventures. Pratt’s Mill in Cobourg, now better known as The Mill Restaurant and Pub, offers great golfing. As well, the old mill house is now a quaint B&B. This mill has a few personal memories. A favorite is when I was a young lad, before I could legally drive a car, but could drive a farm tractor on the roads. My father would send me from Camborne to the Mill in Cobourg, a distance of about ten miles with a trailer load of wheat to be ground into chop. What a thrill! The roar of the massive roller mill, the whir of huge leather drive belts driving massive shakers and sieves sifting grist, are still etched in my mind!
I will purposely leave out a lot of boring technical information, and concentrate on the lives of the millers and their lasting effects on the communities they once served. I would also like to do a story on the old ‘ghost mills’ that are long gone and mostly forgotten.
The grist mill was almost always the beginning of a new community. It was always an advantage for a farmer to have a grist mill nearby where his ‘grist’ of grain, oats and corn could be ground into ‘chop’ (an animal feed) or several grades of flour for home use. In 1841, the first two waterwheel patents were granted to Harvey Tripp and to George Rogers, both Haldimand Township farmers. Waterwheels were powered from the millpond water, and turned the mill stone to grind flour.
The millpond was not only useful for power production but was used by swimmers and water-fowl in the summer. Ranger still remembers a date skating on Pratt’s pond with his friend ‘Louie’ many years ago.
Even before Cobourg was incorporated as a town in 1837, it is thought that Asa Burnham might have run a mill at the mouth of Factory Creek, and sold his property at the northeast corner of Elgin and Ontario Street to a United Empire Loyalist, Ebenezer Perry for 150 pounds.
Note: Ebenezer Perry (1788-1876) was a merchant and a Canadian Political figure, having been a Conservative member of the Senate from 1871 until his death. He was the builder of the regency styled Woodlawn in 1835 which is located at 420 Division Street, Cobourg. This building still survives today and is a successful hotel and restaurant known as The Woodlawn Inn.
Mr. Perry was also a major investor in the Cobourg Harbor Commission, a major stockholder of the company that designed and operated a town steamboat and a director of the Cobourg Railway Company.
Perry’s Mill was built of stone, later destroyed by fire it was rebuilt in the 1850’s of brick. In May, 1864, a heavy rain caused a swell of water behind the milldam. It appears that the failure to open the dam’s waste gate caused the dam to give way. The resulting massive flood (with three lives lost) continued down to Lake Ontario as five other dams collapsed along the way!
In 1870, a Mr. Poe added another enterprise to the grist mill… a plaster mill, which required schooner loads of stone to be brought in for grinding.
Around 1889 the Pratt family purchased the Mill and ran it until 1986. Alex Pratt owned a flour and seed store in Cobourg and leased the flour mills in Baltimore. See Ball’s Mill/Lime Kiln Trail Review for more information on this mill and how it operated.
Mr. Pratt’s interest in the Mill began back in 1883, when the Cobourg Flour Milling Company was incorporated for the purpose of converting the old grindstone mill into a more efficient device known as the ‘roller’ mill. A $15,000 venture with partners Alexander Poe, John Dawkins and millers James Caruthers (a Haldimand Township farmer) and Alexander Eagleson (a Hamilton Township farmer) brought this plan to fruition.
Again the mill was lost in a fire in 1942, but the venerable old brick walls erected by Mr. Perry fortunately were saved.
There are very few operating water-powered mills left from the grist-grinding days, but history buffs should visit the Lang Mill (Lang Century Village) near Keene, Ontario. This mill occasionally grinds flour using steel rollers, and an old millstone can be found decorating the lawn of Barnum House on Northumberland Highway # 2 in Grafton Ontario.