Historic Grist Mill, Westwood, Ontario

Westwood, what can I say about this small & quaint little village…plenty actually. The historical grist mill here has a very interesting past but with very little recorded history. The old mill here has been lovingly restored by its owners Terry and Katherine and its location in Asphodel-Norwood Township at 266 Centre Line on the Ouse River is perfect. I almost missed the chance to do this post. In my recent post on Fowlds Mill in Hastings (Fowlds Mill, Hastings, Ontario, August/2017) I mistakenly mentioned that Westwood was a former name of nearby Keene and thus I didn’t realize it still existed. Thanks to one of our readers who corrected this error and informed me that Westwood does exist and is an attractive and active village today. On a recent hike on the Lang/Hastings trail the Bushwhacker and the Wife met a couple, Reg & Lynne and after talking realized that they lived nearby at Hastings in the former Fowlds Mill. Realizing the Ranger’s dream of touring this old mill, they somehow arranged a personal visit to do so.

On a recent 2oldguyswalking Wednesday tour and with a few hours to fill before our appointment at Fowlds we decided to find Westwood for some pictures of its grist mill for this post. At Fowlds, we had a great tour of the mill property, I was amazed the whole building was not a residence. The basement and first floor were filled with antique mill machinery and related equipment. At one point the very knowledgeable Reg. informed me of the relationship between Fowlds and the Westwood mill. Henry Fowlds Sr. had for many years owned and operated the Westwood mill on his arrival to Canada. This was before he moved to Hastings where he is remembered for the development of that town. Coincidence that we had just left Westwood a few hours ago to learn this new information? This offered a very special incentive to complete this post.

Westwood is a small village located in the central Asphodel Township, Peterborough County, about seven miles distance to both Norwood and Keene. Asphodel Township was opened in 1821 and named after the Greek word for ‘lily’, its first land owner was Zackeus Burnham who patented over one thousand acres of land in 1821. Westwood was located about three miles from the future Grand Junction Railroad Station (later the Midland Division of the G.T.R.) at Birdsall the nearest railroad point and the proposed Quebec & Ontario Railway that would pass two miles north of Westwood, with a station to be located in Lonergan about six miles away. In its early days the village consisted of about two dozen houses, a good store and the mansions of several resident families. One of which was that of Rev. W.H. Farrar, B. H., Trinity College, Dublin.

Westwood at one time had four churches, and at one Rev. Andrews preached in the Presbyterian’s white brick church, and the Rev. Short for the Methodists in a red brick structure. The township school, No.1 at one time had an attendance of some forty pupils and the Town Hall was a small, red brick structure built in 1883. Some residents listed in an early census record were: Breckenridge, John, farmer and saw mill proprietor; Brown, Thomas, wagon maker; Cameron, Thomas, miller; Christie, Thomas, tailor; Farrar, Rev; Griffin, Samuel, general merchant; Humphry, Joab, farmer; McCanus, J, teacher; Mc Donald, Thomas, farmer; O’Grady, Jeremiah, shoemaker; Powell, Mrs., saw and gristmill proprietor; Reid, Thomas, shoemaker; Sargent, Edward, blacksmith; Sharp, William, blacksmith; Short, Rev. and Weald, Michael, hotel keeper.

Some-time after the above census, records indicate that John Powell, the postmaster and township clerk also owned two gristmills and a saw mill and Thomas Pearsall owned a cheese factory. Two hotels were kept by Chas. McDonald and John Doherty and a distillery south of village, owned by John Beckett. Henry Fowlds Sr. arrived in New York State from Scotland in 1821, later moved to Upper Canada in 1834 and eventually settled in Asphodel Township at Westwood in 1836. Here in Westwood Fowlds hired the locals to clear the land for new settlers and entered the lumbering trade by building a saw mill on the Ouse River. It was here that Fowlds became associated with some very influential characters like Zackeus Burnham, Richard Birdsall, a surveyor of the region and Dr. John Gilchrist a local physician, politician and a local mill owner (Keene) and developer. After building several homes, a general store and a grist mill he erected a post office which for some years was in charge of Rev. Farrar and was served by a mail stage with Peterborough and Norwood.

A prominent citizen of Westwood, William Roxburgh entered business with the Ewing brothers when they bought out the business that was formerly conducted by the Meikles. David Meikles, wife Elizabeth (Steel), children Mary, Eliza and James had come to the country from Glasgow, Scotland in 1854 because of David’s health. The business at Westwood was offered to them by Henry Fowlds who had eloped from Scotland with Jean Steel, Mrs. Meikles sister and settled in the country earlier. After the store was taken over by Ewing & Roxburgh, Mrs. Meikles and her daughter began a small dress shop next door.   Ewing & Roxburgh did not prosper in business, being unacquainted with the conditions of a new land and having to do a large credit business, they got some worthless accounts and they soon after closed.

By 1851, Henry Martin Fowlds moved a short distance south to where the Trent River narrows at the east end of Rice Lake to what was known as the Crook’s Rapids settlement and purchased a large tract of land from James Crook. Crook’s Rapids was named after James Crooks who had acquired land here and erected a primitive mill, likely only to secure the valuable mill rights with plans to build a larger mill later on.   As a member of the Legislature and later the Legislature Council, his business interests at home (Dundas) and the death of his son, he was moved to sell his properties at Crook’s Rapids. Henry Fowlds purchased these properties, including most of the village whom he soon after named Hastings, after a childhood friend, Lady Hastings.

Westwood today is home to the family operated Neilson Lumber Mill, which was established in the village in 1954, serving the area with a portable mill until 1978 when a permanent mill was put in place on the property. Canada Building Materials (Cbm) now operates the Westwood Pit near the village producing aggregate materials.

Regards, Ranger

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