Dundas-Ancaster-Dundas Circle

A scenic trip looking at Dundas and Ancaster about two hundred years ago
 

 

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This trip takes you in a circular route from the centre of Dundas, along the Old Ancaster Road to Ancaster, then back again to Dundas by way of Crooks Hollow and Webster's Falls. This could be either a very short trip or very long, depending on the number of stops you make and the time you take at each stop. Part of the route from Ancaster to Crooks Hollow is on an unpaved road but the road is so pretty that you probably will not care. However, do not drive this unpaved road if the weather has been bad because it is steep, narrow, and twisty.

Starting the trip—Dundas

Description of Dundas

 

Start at the Town Hall at 64 Main Street. This building was built in 1849 on a triangle of land on Main Street in the Dundas Mills area of Dundas. A former partner of the Hatts, Manuel Overfield, had a store here in 1804, and in 1848 his sons, Benjamin and Samuel Overfield, offered the land to the town as the site for the new Town Hall.

Dundas Town Hall

From the Town Hall, drive south on Main Street, then turn right onto Governor's Road. On your right as you turn the corner is an old electrical store built of stone. Richard Hatt built the store in about 1805 and the address is actually 2 Hatt Street. It is the oldest building in Dundas.

Richard Hatt's store

Drive along Governor's Road to the next traffic lights and then turn left onto Ogilvie Street. This street turns into the Old Ancaster Road, built by the Hatt brothers in about 1800 in an attempt to drum up business for the Red Mill, their mill on Coldwater Creek midway between Dundas and Ancaster. Most of their business was from the Ancaster area and they thought that by opening the road they could get business from Dundas. The attempt was not very successful because the people in Dundas already had a mill, Peer's mill, and did not need the Red Mill. The Hatts eventually decided that if they could not beat the competition, they would buy it out. So they bought Peer's mill in 1804. Not everything about the attempt went awry though, because the road they built became important and is still used two hundred years later.

Drive along the Old Ancaster Road. At about 188 Old Ancaster Road, the road forks left to descend into the Coldwater Creek Valley. Here the name of the road changes to Old Dundas Road. At  the stop sign at the junction with Lions Club Road, turn left. This bend is called the Devil's Elbow and was the place where the Hatt brothers built their Red Mill.

Continue along the Old Dundas Road. Eventually, on the left side, you will come to the Ancaster Old Mill Restaurant.

Ancaster Old Mill

This is the third successor to the original Wilson mill. All of the others burned down, as seems to be the common thing for mills to do in those days. This mill was built by the Egleston brothers, Hiram and Alonzo, in 1863. For more information, refer to the inn's website at www.ancasteroldmill.com.

Continue until you come to the traffic lights at Wilson Street. The street is named for one of the founders of Ancaster, James Wilson. Directly across is Rousseaux Street, named for another founder, Jean Baptiste Rousseaux, known as St John. The junction of Wilson and Rousseaux Streets is where James Wilson built his mill and started his conglomeration of businesses that eventually developed into the village of Ancaster.

Description of Ancaster

At the traffic light at Wilson Street, turn right. Ancaster is very fortunate to have many old buildings, many located along this stretch of Wilson Street. Refer to the description of Ancaster for more information.

At the next traffic lights, turn right onto Sulphur Springs Road. On the left about 100 metres along the road is the Fieldcote Memorial Park and Museum. The Tudor-style cottage and its surrounding land was donated to Hamilton Region by Mrs. Doris Farmer to be used as a museum. It's well worth a visit.

Continue along the very pleasant road until you come to the stop sign at Lover's Lane. The second owner of The Hermitage, a house just further along the road, was Colonel Otto Ives or Ivesse, an Englishman who had fought with the Greeks in their War of Independence. While in Greece, he fell in love with the daughter of the governor of an Aegean island and eloped with her to Ancaster, bringing her niece as a companion. The Colonel's coachman, William Black, fell in love with the niece when he was teaching her to speak English. He asked the Colonel for permission to marry her but the Colonel refused to consider it. Next morning the Colonel found that William had hanged himself during the night. Tradition says that William was buried where Lover's Lane meets Sulphur Springs Road. Travellers have reported hearing a moaning sound late at night as though William was still calling his lost love. By the way, the junction of Lover's Lane and Sulphur Springs Road was moved over the years so you may not hear poor William's moans at the present junction.

Turn right to continue along Sulphur Springs Road. As you drive up Sulphur Springs Road, all of the property on both sides of the road was formerly part of Hermitage Park owned by George Leith. Just before you reach Mineral Springs Road, the property on the right belonged to the Phillipo family, who also owned the house at 396 Wilson Street in Ancaster Village. The road makes a sharp turn left. On the right at that turn is the entrance to The Hermitage. The entrance is signposted but is not easy to see. If possible, take some time to park and walk down to the ruins of this once-splendid house.

Hermitage Ruins

Continue driving up Sulphur Springs Road. This section of the road is unpaved but twisty, and very scenic at any time of year. The road dips to a bridge across the first creek with a parking area on the right on the far side of the bridge. On the left side of the road, across the road from the parking area, is a fountain from which the sulphur spring still pours. If you park and get out of the car, you can smell the sulphur from the spring.

At the T-junction at the end of Sulphur Springs Road, turn left onto Governor's Road, then turn right onto Weir's Lane, named for the Weir family that once owned the property on both sides of the lane.

At the next T-junction, turn right onto Highway 8. On the right, at 193 Highway 8, is the Old Weir House, hiding under the name of Stonegate Animal Hospital. The land here was granted to the former sergeant in Butler's Rangers, David Van Every, and his wife Sarah, daughter of Michael Showers, who was one of the first group of ex-Rangers to cross over to the west side of the Niagara River in 1782. The first house here was probably a log house and may have been covered in stone and enlarged into this house between 1830 and 1835. In 1867, it was bought by John Weir Sr. (of Weir's Lane) and was known as the Old Weir House to distinguish it from John Jr.'s house on the opposite side of the road.

Old Weir House, 193 Highway 8 (seen from the rear)

The oldest part of the house is the southwestern section (the right-hand section seen from the rear of the house. This appears to have been built as a single-storey cottage. When the southeastern section was added, the existing cottage was raised, a walkout basement added, and a central gable added to the roofline. The former front door was not in the centre of the house and now looks odd below the gable. The present front of the building is the newest part of the house.

The oldest section of the Old Weir House

Turn left onto Crooks Hollow Road. Drive along until you reach the ruins of the Darnley Mill on the left side of the road at the bridge in Crooks Hollow. If you have time, park and walk around the ruins. You may have to park further along the road at the Crooks Hollow Conservation Area.

Old Darnley Mill

Built by James Crooks just after the War of 1812, the Darnley Mill was the beginning of an industrial empire. In a few years, Crooks Hollow had a distillery, linseed oil mill, cooperage, tannery, woollen mill, clothing factory, foundry, agricultural implement factory, and general store. There is a good map of Crooks Hollow in the Crooks Hollow Conservation Area.

Continue along Crooks Hollow Road past Cramer Road. The first house on the left, at 769 Crooks Hollow Road, is the old Jonathan Morden House. You will probably have to drive past the house to see it. The original house was built about 1800 by Ann Morden's nephew near his mill on Spencer Creek. This is not the original house; this house was built about 1813 by Jonathan's son James (called Big Jim) for Jonathan. The house is basically a stone cottage with a second storey added later.

Old Jonathan Morden House

If you would like a short walk along Spencer Creek, park in the conservation area a little further along Crooks Hollow Road and follow directions posted on a sign near the parking area. The walk includes a marker at the site of Jonathan Morden's mill built in 1798.

Continue along Crooks Hollow Road to Greensville. This is a tiny village with a couple of stores and a garage. Drive through Greensville. In 1807, John Green built a small grist mill with a single run of stones. By tyhe time he sold the business in 1820, he had increased its capacity to two runs of stones and had added a distillery. By 1860, the distillery had become the largest in Ontario but it closed in 1902.

At the stop sign, drive across the intersection onto Harvest Road.

At the second street on the right, signposted Webster's Falls, make a sharp right turn onto Short Street. Drive down Short Street and turn left at the bottom onto Fallsview Road. Drive until you reach the parking lot for the Spencer's Gorge Wilderness Area. Park and walk up the steps of the parking area, then walk up the grassy hill to the top. On the right, down the hill, is a low wall. Walk down to the wall and look over it at Webster's Falls. It doesn't have quite the spectacle of Niagara Falls but it is still impressive especially after a wet spring. If you have the time, take a walk around the path to the right. It takes you to the creek, where you can cross over a bridge to the site of of Joseph Webster's Ashbourne Mill.

Webster's Falls

Return to the parking lot and drive back along Fairview Road to the old house on the right at the corner of Short Street and Fallsview Road. This was William Bullock's house, built in 1850. Notice the number and variety of gables. Across the road from Bullock's house is a gateway leading to a bridge over Spencer's Creek. You will be going to the other side of that bridge in a few minutes.

Bullock House

Turn right onto Short Street. On your left is an antiques store. The store was once an outbuilding for William Bullock's mill and the front part dates from between 1850 and 1867. If you park and go inside, you can see some of the flooring from 1867, when the building was rebuilt after a fire. Don't attempt to park in the parking lot for the antiques store unless you intend to visit the store.

Drive back along Short Street and turn left onto Harvest Road. At the stop sign, turn left onto Brock Road. Drive south toward the next stop sign. Just before you get to the stop sign, turn left into the Greensville Optimist Community Park. As you drive into the park, you will see the remains of an old dam on the right. Park in the parking area and walk toward the dam. A marker describes the dam as the remains of the old Bullock Mill.

Old Bullock Mill

If you walk further along the footpath, you will come to an old house built by Jacob Cochenour after 1820 as a residence, small hotel, and store. Cochenour was an Indian trader who came to this area in 1795 from Pennsylvania. He bought this property in 1817. To the left is the bridge across Spencer's Creek. Cross over the bridge. Cochenour built the first bridge over the creek here in 1797. In the summer, Spencer's Creek sparkles as it runs down to Webster's Falls. At the far end of the bridge is Fairview Road and the old Bullock house.

Old Cochenour House, 78 Highway 8

Return to the car and rejoin Brock Road. Turn left onto Webster's Falls Road. The house at 6 Webster's Falls Road is called Springdale. In 1819 Joseph Webster, a retired Army officer, bought 78 acres from Richard Hatt's estate. There was a house here which had been built about ten years earlier by Hector McKay but neither Joseph nor his "son" Joseph Jr. ever lived here. Three years later Webster bought the remaining 122 acres of the lot but, before 1830, he had returned to England, leaving the property in the hands of Joseph Jr. The younger Joseph was actually his grandson but was described as his son for legal reasons. In 1832, young Joseph married Maria Green of Greensville, daughter of the founder, John Green. Even then, he never lived in the old house, preferring the house on his farm, Springdale, at the foot of the hill in Dundas where the Dundas Valley Golf Club is now. With help from his father-in-law, he built the Ashbourne Mill, the foundations of which can still be seen in the park through the gates at the end of the street. In 1848, he extended King Street north to Bullock's Corners. Using the leftover stone from that project, he built this house. The foundations of the original 1809 house are said to be under the gardener's shed. (Thanks to Don Webster, whose grandfather was born here.)

Springdale, 6 Webster's Falls Road

Return to Highway 8 and turn left. On the left, at 28 Highway 8, is Springhill, built sometime between 1816 and 1823. Dr. James Hamilton, a Scot from Lanark, emigrated to Canada in 1816 as a ship's surgeon. He must have carried a letter of introduction because, when Richard Hatt died in 1819, Hamilton was chosen to be an executor of the estate. In 1823, he married Hatt's daughter Ann and moved into this house, which was then a 1˝-storey house with a wraparound verandah. Hamilton is infamous as one of the tar-and-feathers gang who attacked George Rolph (see the description of Dundas and George Rolph's house). The house has suffered many changes including the addition of the cut-stone section and the tower.

Springhill, 28 Highway 8

Continue along Highway 8, which becomes King Street as it drops steeply into Dundas. King Street was first built by William Hare and named, naturally, Hare Street, but, when King George III died in 1820, the name was changed to honour the late king.

After you pass under the railway bridge, turn left onto Bond Street and then turn right onto Park Street. This street has a pleasant mixture of old and newer houses. On the left side past Princess Street is the Dundas Historical Museum.

At Sydenham Street, turn left, drive two streets, and then turn right onto Victoria Street. This street has another pleasant mix of old and newer houses.

At Cross Street, turn left and drive to the Dundas Driving Park. This unique circular park was designed to allow horses to exercise. Drive around the park and imagine the gentry driving their horses around the park in the days of Queen Victoria.

When you come out of the park, return down Cross Street.

As you drive down Cross Street, you can admire some of the old houses. For more information, see the description of Dundas.

Merchant's Exchange Hotel

Continue along Cross Street until it becomes Main Street and then return to the Town Hall. Just before you reach the Town Hall is a red building on the far left (southeast) corner of the intersection with York Street. This was once the Merchant's Exchange Hotel and was built by the men who donated the land for the Town Hall, Benjamin and Samuel Overfield. So the trip has come full circle and you are historically and physically back where you started.