The Village of Darlington Mills Ontario started around 1794 just south of where the Vanstone Mill is located today at 116 King Street, Bowmanville. The first Loyalist families to settle here were the Burks, Trulls and Roger Conant. John Burk erected a saw mill and then a grist mill on the west bank of Barber’s Creek (BowmanvilleCreek) south of King Street, and later on established the Burk Department Store.
A small grist and flour mill in Tyrone owned by James McFeeters was purchased in 1852 by Samuel Vanstone and his son Jabey. (McFeeters was to become the first mayor of Bowmanville). In 1856 Burk rented his mill to Samuel Vanstone. Samuel’s son Jabey went on to purchase the Burk Mill in 1886 and replaced the old grinding stones with rollers, and was producing 150 barrels of flour a day. On the death of Jabey in 1902, his son Fred went on to operate the mill as a family business until 1975.
In 1820, Charles Bowman bought the Burk department store and renamed it Bowman & Co. He became very successful in business and town affairs. He and his surveyor are credited for laying out most of the town streets. By 1830 the name Darlington Mills was changed to Bowmanville in his honor.
It is an unusual fact that Bowman never actually lived here, nor was there ever a photograph known to be taken of him. Update: Recently a photograph of him and his family was discovered and is now on display at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery in Oshawa.
Some other early industries here were the Cream of Barley Mill, Jacob Nead’s Foundry, a woodworking shop, a machine shop, Gifford’s Tannery, The Milne Distillery and a pottery works. Some of these early businesses obtained their motive power from a dam below the bridge on Barber’s (Bowmanville) Creek. This first hydro-electric plant in the area was built beside the creek.
Some of the later prominent industries to make the Bowmanville Valley their home were the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co.; The Ross Can Co. (1919); The Canadian Canners Ltd. (1912-1960’s), The Dominion Organ and Piano factory; the Specialty Paper Co. and the Bowmanville Foundry. The Bowmanville Furniture Co. established in 1962 was unfortunately destroyed by fire in 1979.
The current bridge spanning the creek on King Street is the latest of six. In 1835 a stone bridge with beautiful decorative arches was destroyed in an 1876 storm. In 1890 a massive rain storm from the north, washed out five other bridges and damaged two more. In 1954, heeding warnings that Hurricane Hazel was imminent, the mill pond was quickly drained. This likely saved the mill dam, the bridge and many buildings along the valley. The current bridge was erected in 1973.
A bit of humor from J.T. Coleman’s book “Early Settlement of Bowmanville and Vicinity” (1875) tells a strange but supposedly true case of a practical joke.
Two hunters met just outside of town. The one says “I’ll bet my liquor, you cannot make that horse standing in that field look up or even wince by shooting at him from here. Done, said the other man, give me the gun”. After taking the gun, he aimed and fired. It made a terrific report, the recoil from the gun almost dropping him to the ground. The horse ran a short distance then dropped dead. The first hunter said “you have won the liquor. I will pay for the whiskey, and you will pay for the horse”.