Morningstar Mill is a fully restored nineteenth-century gristmill, and the only operating water powered mill in the Niagara Peninsula. It has been restored to working order by a dedicated nonprofit group called the Friends of the Morningstar Mill. It is the only water powered operating mill in the Niagara Peninsula and was one of the first milling operations in Canada to be powered by a water-powered turbine instead of a traditional waterwheel. The Miller's House is also fully restored, with a 1920s cottage garden, and a nearby Blacksmith's Shop recreated to circa 1905.
Morningstar Mill was built in 1872 by Robert Chappell of Thorold. It draws its power from the waters of Beaverdams Creek, a tributary of Twelve Mile Creek. Unlike the grist mill previously built on the site by John DeCew, it was powered by a turbine rather than a water wheel. No sooner was it built, however, than its water supply was threatened by the establishment of the St. Catharines Waterworks. A safe public water supply was a major issue in the mid-1900s. Urban well water was often unfit for drinking, and water was often scarce for firefighting, resulting in devastating fires.
In 1857 St. Catharines was authorized to create a Waterworks anywhere within ten miles of its boundaries, and the site chosen was on Beaverdams Creek south of Mountain Mills. To create the Waterworks, Beaverdams Creek was dammed in two locations just above DeCew Falls in the late 1870s to form two reservoirs, and the new municipal water supply was piped down the escarpment to St. Catharines To forestall damage claims for loss of water supply, the St. Catharines Waterworks Commission purchased the mill from Robert Chappell in 1878 and leased it to a series of different operators. In 1883, it was sold again to local merchant Wilson Morningstar, who who in turn leased it to Charles Knoll. However, around 1892 the interior of the Mill was destroyed by fire and Wilson and his brother Wallace rebuilt it.
Wilson Morningstar began operating the mill himself, and continued to run it until his death in 1933. Shortly after, the water-powered turbine seized and work at the mill was abandoned. In 1941 Wilson`s widow Emma sold the property to Ontario Hydro. In 1962, the City of St. Catharines again became involved, leasing the property from Ontario Hydro and opening Mountain Mills Museum in 1962. The City subsequently purchased the mill site in 1989. The Friends of Morningstar Mill began the restoration of the gristmill in 1992 using the original machines and stones except for the turbine shed, which had collapsed and fallen into the gorge. They have operated it as a water-powered gristmill since then.
In their book Exploring Niagara, Hans and Allyson Tammemagi write, "DeCew Falls cascades into a bowl-shaped amphitheatre just behind the mill. In days gone by, this was a popular spot to visit. T here was a large spiral staircase leading into the gorge from 1890 to 1910." They suggest that this is "a good starting point for hikes. It is also a good staging area for bicycle tours south-ward into the Short Hills Provincial Park, St. Johns and Effingham." The attractive double cascade of DeCew Falls on the sheer edge of the Escarpment is worth a careful visit on its own.
Today, the Friends of Morningstar Mill sell T-shirts, flour of many types, and bran and corn meal that they have ground and bagged at the mill. The stone ground flour has the entire kernel of the wheat, including the wheat germ which is often lost in modern processing. What a treat to tell your friends that the fresh hot bread you just served them is made from wheat milled just as it was in 1872!
Volunteer Blacksmith John Bott said, "The kinds of grain we have at any moment are dependant on sales. We grind grains during open houses and when we are in need. We almost always have whole wheat which is the most popular flour. But people should give us a call on Tuesdays or Thursdays from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm so they can make sure we have what they want before they drive out to the mill. The mill pond needs to be lowered during the winter so we can not run that time of year." Grinding typically begins in May each year, or possibly earlier if the weather is good.
During the school year tours are conducted for schoolchildren who are studying pioneer living and simple machines. The mill runs for these classes and there is usually a blacksmith on hand to demonstrate the making of square nails.
There are several Open House weekends shown on the Friend's website under the "Events - Dates - Hours" tab, when visitors can actually see the mill running and watch the blacksmiths at their work.