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Suspicious fire destroys Everton mill

Suspicious fire destroys Everton mill

by Jaime Myslik

EVERTON - A suspicious early morning fire completely destroyed the historic Hortop Mill in Everton on Jan. 19.

“It’s a real kind of loss,” said David Townsend, Rockwood Conservation Area superintendent.

The Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA) owns the mill, which last fall was chosen as one of five heritage sites featured on commemorative postage stamps produced by Guelph-Eramosa Township.

“People loved it,” Townsend said. “It was a real piece of history for this area.”

The original fire call came in at about 3:30am and when firefighters arrived at the mill, located on Evert Street just south of the Eramosa River, it was fully-engulfed with flames.

“Upon our arrival, the structure had collapsed and there were no exposures, so we took a defensive position,” deputy fire chief Jim Petrik wrote in an email the day of the fire.

On Jan. 23 he said the Ontario Office of the Fire Marshall has said the cause of the fire is undetermined. However, the Wellington County OPP is still investigating and the fire is being treated as suspicious.

Community impact

Everton resident and Guelph-Eramosa heritage committee member Gordon Carothers said the community will miss the mill.

“It’s a landmark, it’s a part of the history ... the village grew up because of the saw mill and then the flour mill and it was a hub of activity,” he said.

Carothers added that in recent years community members “worried that if that mill ever went up (in flames), it would take the village with it.” He said he thought the surrounding forest was spared due to  last week’s wet conditions.

Firsthand account

For Everton resident Bob Jestin, 72, the mill was a special place. He has lived in the village his entire life and worked at the mill in 1958 and 1959, beginning when he was 14 years old.

“I just worked there after school and on Saturdays to start with,” he said. He helped bag flour, rolled oats and animal feed.

Jestin said he used to fish by the mill as a kid and one day Henry Hortop, the mill’s owner, said he needed extra help, so Jestin volunteered.

Mill history

Rufus Everts, one of the founders of Everton, built the mill in 1846 but he didn’t know how to run a flour or grist mill.

“He was hoping to attract a miller to the town because that would help the prosperity of the village,” Carothers explained.

The mill stood empty until 1851, when brothers Simon and William Plewes installed the necessary equipment and arranged to operate a flour and grist mill in Everts’ building.

When the agreement ended, Everts sold the mill to the Hortops, who also operated mills in Eden Mills and Rockwood. Henry Hortop owned the mill until 1967, Carothers said, when it shut down production and was sold to the GRCA.

“One of the amazing things about a flour mill - flour in the dust form is explosive, just because it’s a very fine powder, it’s got carbon in it and a certain amount of hydrogen and if you have enough surface area for the oxygen it only takes a spark and the whole mill can blow up,” Carothers said.

“So mills were made out of wood and most of them burned. This was one of the last of the wooden mills in Ontario.”

The building

Though Jestin worked at the mill for just two years, he continued to help out when needed and had memories of what the mill looked like on the inside.

The wooden barn-like structure was four storeys high. The first floor held most of the machinery. The flour mill would produce three 100-pound bags of flour an hour, which were shipped to Toronto, Guelph and Hespeler.

“It mainly was the flour that would keep the business going but ... they did a lot of feed for the cattle too, for farmers,” Jestin said.

“Everything was local. They bought the grain, barley and oats from the local farmers and they also bought most of the wheat that way too.”

The second and third floors stored the wheat, barley and oats in various bins and the fourth floor was mainly for storage.

Along with the machinery, the first floor also housed two water wheels and, up until the time it closed, the Hortop Mill was run by waterpower.

“The flume is still there,” Jestin said. “That’s where all the water was funneled to the mill ... and that would start up the machinery.”

It was so loud, “You’d have to holler at each other, you know, if you were talking ... close by,” he said.

Jestin said when he was young he used to help patch leaks in the flume because it was cement and he was able to get in and easily do the patching.

After the GRCA purchased the mill and it was no longer in use, Jestin said kids would often have small fires in the cement basement.

“It’s one of [those] times that you’d think they’d burn the mill down but they didn’t,” he said.

Fire

Though the Jan. 19 fire may have been fast burning, no injuries were reported.

Four stations responded to the blaze: Rockwood, Puslinch, Guelph, and Hillsburgh.

“We needed the water supply so they brought tankers and shuttled water,” Rockwood platoon chief Robert Crosbie said at the scene.

The structure was not in use and it had no electricity, but the GRCA performed weekly checks and secured the area, Townsend said.

The mill contained many of the wooden pulleys and gears that would have been used to help run the mill with waterpower.

“The only thing that really remains is the old grind stone ... out front of it, but everything else burned,” Townsend said.

“There’s nothing to save, so we’ll be looking at site clean up now.”

Anyone with information can contact the OPP at 1-888-310-1122. To remain anonymous, call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

January 27, 2017

 
 

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