“If you build it… they will come”. It has been said that when ‘Mother England’ wanted to establish a new settlement in Upper Canada, she would send a miller ahead to encourage development in a designated area. The reasoning here was that farmers would take up land within a day’s travel from a grist mill. Hotels, pubs, general stores and blacksmiths would be sure to follow to meet the needs of these travelers. Thus, Joseph Abbott Keeler (son of the 1st settler Joseph K. Keeler) arrived in Colborne, Ontario. Joseph A. “a most important personage in the locality” is best known today as the founder of Colborne and Castleton and was a merchant, Justice of the Peace and the first Postmaster here in 1815. Joseph built flour and grist mills at Norwood and at Castleton. Joseph also donated the land and laid out the public square in Colborne and donated land for several churches and schools in the area.
Castleton was first called Piper’s Corners because of the creek running through English Hollow. A name change to Centerville was later adopted, but because of confusion with the nearby village of Centreton the town fathers decided on Castleton after a town in Vermont U.S. where most of Joseph Keeler’s original forty settlers came from.
Keeler’s mill in Castleton was said to be a lumber mill and operated until the lumber supply was depleted. With the village rapidly growing, commerce changed to apple growing. Apples were processed in an evaporator built beside the mill pond and shipped all over Canada, U.S. and overseas. The overseas markets were lost during the First World War and the apple market sadly declined.
Keelers’s mill on Piper Creek in Castleton, the site of a former saw mill said to have been built there in 1795 and likely destroyed by fire as mills have been prone to forever. The current mill was built around 1820 and powered by water from the millpond. At the back end of the mill was an extension built over the water wheel and water from the huge pond travelled some distance from the mill through a wooden ‘trestle’ and dropped some thirty feet to the wheel below. This system would have been almost identical to Ball’s Grist Mill in Baltimore Ontario. The original millstone (from France) was used until 1906 when the mill was switched to a steel grinder. The Mill House was built in 1870 with an addition added in 1905.
In 1870 Samuel Purdy bought this mill and started the Purdy Milling Co. A note of interest, Samuel was a member of the famous Purdy family that operated a huge grist and saw mill in Lindsay, Ontario for many generations.
As destiny would have it, a severe drought in the 1830’s was causing extremely low water levels in the millpond. To overcome this problem, Purdy wisely installed a Diesel engine imported from England to replace water power. This engine produced an amazing 38 HP and was used until the 1950’s.
The original flour mill ran until 1900 and then was switched over to a feed mill. The Purdy Family ran this mill until 1948, and has been operated by several owners over the years.
Again, the great old mill was in jeopardy when in 1986 a massive flood from Piper’s Creek burst the mill pond dam taking out the back of the mill along with the original drive wheel which is likely still on the property.
Was this to be the end of this Grand Old Lady? No…Thank goodness!
In 2011, this twenty acre site was purchased by the current owners and the old Mill House, the gardens and the old barn have been lovingly restored. Hopefully the 6,000 sqft, 189 year old ‘diamond-in-the-rough mill will someday be restored. At some time, it appears that someone had roofed the mill in metal which hopefully provided some protection to the mill interior. The stone foundation appears to be have been shored up and the roof rafters have been reinforced to mount solar panels on the south side to generate electrical power. These solar panels married to the mill are a perfect picture of the Past and the Present!
In closing, I hope the old mill is someday restored and will again have a bright future.
This impressive old mill is located in the town of Castleton at the corner of Percy and Mill Street.
The “2oldguyswalking” team would like to extend a special thank you to the mill owner for taking time from his busy schedule to give a couple of strangers who showed up ‘out of the blue’ on his driveway one day, the grand tour of the interior of the mill. (Ranger fell in love with the place and even the Bushwhacker was suitably impressed!). The mill owner’s information and knowledge were invaluable for this blog and his pride in what they have accomplished and may yet do is evidence of what this mill could look like in the future. Can’t wait!