The Town Derived Its Name From Them
The First Mill Was Put up by the British Government
Charges in an Historic Book
The Property Passing Into the Hands of the Cartwrights
Best in the Province in Early Days
A Toronto correspondent has written us enquiring when the first mills were established at Napanee and at other points along the Bay of Quinte. We have not the facts yet in regard to some of them and would be glad of such information as readers may have in their possession. The history of the first mills in this section of the country ought to be well known to all intelligent young people here. At present we will confine ourselves to such a sketch of the flour mills at Napanee as we can present from the facts at our disposal. It is popularly supposed that our town derived its name from the fact of a flour mill being established here at such an early date. Napanee, or "Appanea", is said to be an Indian word signifying flour or flour mills.
The first flour mill was established here by the British government and was commenced as early as 1786, or the second year after the U.E. Loyalists first settled along the bay and the banks of our river. These pioneers soon began to clear away the wilderness enough to raise some grain - wheat and corn - for their own bread, but they had no way of converting it into meal or flour except grinding it ins small hand pepper mills which some of them had in their possession, or in the ends of stumps which were hollowed out, with a bit of wood for a pestle. The government, anxious to aid the first settlers, first had a mill built at Kingston mills, just near where the Grand Trunk railway crosses the Rideau canal, a few miles east of Kingston. This was done about 1782 or 1783 and soon after its completion by Robert Clark, the millwright, he was instructed to erect one at Napanee falls also. This was the first flour mill erected in Upper Canada, west of Kingston. This was in the year 1785. Robert Clark was grandfather of Peregrene Clark, of Ernesttown, a few miles east of Millhaven, and our friend S.D. Clark, J.P., Odessa, of Mrs. S. Warner, Napanee, and of numbers of the Clark family now residing in various parts of this country. He kept a day book, or diary at that time, which is still preserved and in possession of Peregrene Clark, and furnishes some interesting information about the early history of this place. There are several entries commencing with November 8th, 1785. It seems he built both a saw mill and grist mill here. On the 23rd of March, 1785, there are charges in the historic old book as follows:
"For raising the saw mill, two gallons and three pints of rum 17s. 6d." - $3.50. On the 20th of April another stage seems to have been reached in connection with that pioneer saw mill and one quart of rum was again charged, at two shillings. On the 25th of May, 1786, the first important stage in connection with the grist mill was reached and there was a charge of "four gallons and one quart of rum, for raising the grist mill." A day later the rum appears to have all gone and there is a charge of "To one quart of rum for the people at work in the water at the dam." Then on the 20th of July, the government was again charged with "three pints of rum for raising the fenderpost", and a week later another pint was used. In December of the same year there is a charge of fifteen shillings for making bolt cloth and about the same time three pounds is charged for clearing an acre and three quarters of land, at seven dollars per acre.
These items fix clearly the date of the erection and progress of the first mills and give also an idea of the customs of those early times. At first, we believe, a man was placed in charge of the mill and had instructions to grind every man's grist toll free. The settlers came long distances with bags of grain on their backs, or on horse back, or in some cases up the river in their log canoes and in the winter with hand-sleighs taking home their small quantities of flour with them for their families or friends.
About 1792 the mill and the land on both sides of the river, which included the water power of course, became the property of the Hon. Robert Cartwright, grandfather of Sir Richard, and the property has been in possession of the Cartwright family ever since. Mr. Cartwright at that time was one of the leading merchants of Kingston and one of the best known business men in Upper Canada. A little later he was appointed first magistrate, or judge, of the Midland district and was a member of the council of the first parliament in Upper Canada, which assembled at Newark, now Niagara, in 1792. In 1795, he appears to have built the second mill, and John Grange, then a young Scotch millwright living at Utica, N.Y., was engaged to come here and superintend its erection. That mill stood where the Herring foundry now stands and the main street passed just in front of it; the canal was not built till many years later. After the mill had been completed John Grange bought a farm and settled just north of Napanee, where the old Grange homestead now is. He married Nancy McKim of Ernesttown, and the result of that union is the numerous families now here and scattered elsewhere throughout the country. In 1817 the celebrated English writer and agitator, Robert Gourlay, made an extensive tour of the province and he wrote at that time that the Napanee mill was the best in the province.
In the years 1844 and 1845, the present mill and canal were built by the trustees of the Cartwright estate. The Hon. Robert was then dead, his two sons, Rev. Richard and John Solomon, had followed him to the grave and their children, Richard John, James, and John R. - now all living - were yet in their infancy. When the "big mill", as it was then popularly called, was first erected it was the largest structure of the kind in Upper Canada, - seven stories in height and so well and substantially built that it stands firm and sound today. It was intended, too, to be the most extensive flouring mill in Upper Canada. There were to be nine runs of stone with all the most improved modern machinery attached. But just then came evil days to the flour milling interests of this province. The English corn laws were repealed and immediately flour fell largely in value, all protections having been removed. The weevil soon followed and for years scarcely any fall wheat was raised in this county. Indeed it has never been noted as a wheat growing section since, though before it was considered the very best in all Canada.
We have not space at our disposal now to give more than a mere list of those who have had charge of the big mill since it commenced operations here over fifty years ago. It was first rented by Christopher Miller, who was to put in the machinery and lease it for a number of years. He failed in business, however, and left it on the hands of his brother, the late Cephas Miller of Newburgh, and the late Hon. John Stevenson of Napanee. They carried it on for years and then it was managed by the late James Bartles, Andrew Diamond, Mr. Wheeler, of Oswego, and the Downey brothers. None of these men were practical millers and they were under serious disadvantage on that account and the machinery became old and much out of date.
Ten years ago, in 1888, John R. Dafoe took it in charge and has been running it successfully ever since.