Until grist mills were established in Cavan Township, (Millbrook, Cavanville and Mt. Pleasant) farmers were obliged to walk on blazed trails to places like Port Hope with sacks of grain on their backs, to have it milled, and carry the product home.
One enterprising farmer in the district, John Thorn actually had two small millstones properly shaped so he could grind flour by hand! Saw mills were soon established to replace logs as building materials and planing, flax, woolen, carding, and shingle mills soon followed. By the 1890’s there was at least 20 mills in the Township of Cavan! Water power from mill ponds gradually gave way to steam and later to electric power.
John Deyell was credited with building the first mill in the Township at Millbrook on the site where Needler’s Flour Mill later stood. Another very significant mill near Millbrook was located about two miles north and east of the village in Cedar Valley on Baxter Creek.
This was the Adam Scott grist and sawmill. Scott was the first European to settle in Peterborough, Ontario. Scott built the first mill here powered by the Otonabee River and Jackson’s Creek. In 1827, Scott settled for two years on a farm near Smith’s Creek (later to become the Ganaraska river of Port Hope) and built a mill and a distillery in Cobourg. After moving to Cavan Township and building the mill at Cedar Valley, Scott worked here until his death by drowning in 1838! This mill was sold to Walker Needler by Scott’s eldest son (also Adam) in 1852. Walker Needler, a native of Lincolnshire, England arrived in Canada in the early 1830’s. Here he found the Scott Mill at Cedar Valley for sale and purchased the mill and 100 acres of land for $16,500 cash.
In 1857 a fire destroyed the Deyell Mill in Millbrook and Mr. Needler bought the site and built a three story mill which was managed by his son George. The mill house was built of red brick to the west overlooking the pond. Walker’s eldest son, George managed the flour mill for some years and on his death, his son Charles came into the business.
In 1909, fire struck again and the mill succumbed to the same fate as the Deyell Mill before it. The Needler family still owned the mill in Cedar Valley where the dam was washed out in a flood. As this mill was not fully utilized, they moved the south half (built by Adam Scott) and erected it on the site of the burned mill in Millbrook. The present mill was bought by Henry Attwooll in 1917. Henry’s nephew Doug Sheppard worked at the Millbrook mill (rebuilt after the fire) and Henry operated the lower (Scott) mill at Cedar Creek.
In 1922 Henry’s nephew Doug became a partner in the firm of Attwooll and Shepard and because the mill at Millbrook was only designed for grinding grain, they later added a grist and saw mill. To supplement the mill’s income Attwooll & Shepard sold lumber and building supplies at the mill, and in 1938 coal sheds were added to sell and deliver coal to local residents. A spring flood in March, 1948 washed out the original wooden dam. A new cement dam was installed by Tom Campbell of Millbrook and the mill was running again by July, 1948.
After Attwoolls’ death in 1959, the saw mill was closed down but the grist mill, lumber and coal business was carried on by his nephew Doug. In 1967 the property was bought by the Otonabee Region Conservation Authority in an effort to control water levels in Baxter Creek.
The Sheppard family was allowed to stay on the property for several years after it was sold. In 1972 Doug Sheppard died and the property was leased to a building supply business. In 1978 it became vacant and its fate hung in the balance until a group of citizens began a campaign to save it. To have lost the mill would have been very unfortunate as it had the longest life of many of the mills in the village and township…the first to have been built and the last to remain and operate as a mill. In 1984, thanks to the “Save the Mill Committee” the mill was fortunately saved from certain destruction.
Fast forward to 2015… the mill is again in serious danger of being lost forever!
This venerable old mill has recently been condemned, boarded up and closed to the public. Seems the Otonabee Region Conservation Authority is about to embark on a multimillion dollar replacement of the dam and update of the surrounding property. ORCA wants to sell the mill to the town for one dollar (the mill is in the way of dam repairs) and the town is not prepared to take on the debt of rebuilding or moving the mill at this time. Can or will another “Save the Mill” Committee step up after only three decades to once again save the mill? This writer certainly hopes so, what would Millbrook be without its mill?
Because of the Needler’s high profile (economically and socially) on the village of Millbrook, the mill and pond are still to this day referred to as “Needler’s”.
Note: in an unrelated but amazing story, Gordon McIvor in 1850 built an oat mill in Millbrook. His oatmeal was a hit with the villagers and the surrounding area. When McIvor died in 1909, he was buried in the Presbyterian Cemetery north of Millbrook. He composed his own epitaph and carved it himself on the millstone which he had originally cut for his mill. It still marks his grave and the epitaph reads:
“Beneath this stone there lies the bones
Of him who did it dress.
His work is done he has gone home
And now he is at rest”.
What more can be said?
Needler’s Mill can be found in Millbrook Ontario. Turn south off County Rd 21 (King St. East) a short distance south to Needler’s Lane.