By Dianne Cornish
James “Alex” Clark lives in California but his roots are firmly planted in Greensville, where his great-great-grandfather and namesake, James A. Clark founded the Clark Blanket Mill on the banks of Spencer Creek in (circa) 1866.
Last month, the San Francisco man visited Bullock’s Corners and took a nostalgic tour of the area, accompanied by Dundas resident, John Henley, owner of The Old Stone Gallery on Short Road, which once served as the dye house for the former Clark woolen mill. The meeting of the two men was a short but amiable one as they walked the grounds on both sides of the creek, imagining what it must have been like to live in the area about 150 years ago during the heyday of its industrial development.
For the American visitor, the tour was particularly poignant. “It was real special to see part of the foundation (of the old mill) still there,” he said as he talked about walking through the Greensville Optimist Park at Bullock’s Corners where a plaque is erected about the mill and its historical significance to the area. “To go up there and touch part of it made it all worthwhile,” he said of his visit to the site.
According to a heritage paper unearthed by Henley, the blanket mill that stood on the property for over 70 years, from 1867 to 1938, was three storeys high and was made of “coursed rubble stone with a unique sand and iron mortar…with the interior partitions also of stone construction.” It was built in 1867 by brothers, William Jr. and Joseph Bullock, to replace the woolen mill that had been established there the year before by James Clark and his brothers, Andrew and William. The original building was a large grist and sawmill erected by William Bullock Sr. in 1850, but destroyed by fire in 1867. It had been converted to a blanket mill by the Clark brothers and their business partner, Matthew Langley, after they leased the property and water rights from Bullock in 1866.
Across the creek lies the Old Stone Gallery, the only building left of the original Crooks Hollow industrial buildings that once housed all types of mills between Christie Lake and Webster’s Falls.
Clark, who has not visited the area since he was a boy when his dad brought the family for a visit in 1976, said seeing the foundation reminded him of the thriving industry that once existed there. “I had been looking forward, for a very long time, to coming back to the area,” he said.
A tour of the Old Stone Gallery with Henley was another highlight of his visit. Now home to Everwood Wellnesss Retreat, a spa that offers massage therapy, reflexology and holistic therapy, the building features large windows on its middle and upper floors that once used to be doors. Also clearly visible are the big beams, which have been cut back but once protruded from the building with pulley wheels on them so that blankets could be hauled up to the middle and upper floors.
A severe spring flood in 1938 wiped out the main mill and the dam in 1938, but the dye house was on higher ground and survived.
It was an Internet search made by Clark a couple of years ago, while he was researching his family history, which led to his meeting with Henley. Clark discovered that a piece of the old family mill, the dye house, is still standing and that its owner is Henley. When Clark’s work as a project controls administrator with a construction company recently resulted in a visit to the area, the two men met for the first time.
“I’m absolutely pleased with what I found out,” Clark said of his tour of the area, which included a visit to Webster’s Falls and Grove Cemetery in Dundas, where three of his forebears–his great-great-great grandfather, his great-great grandfather and great grandfather–rest. The family roots in Greensville go back 218 years.
Clark plans a return visit within the next couple of months. As for the family name and its inextricable ties with Canada, it lives on in his 10-year-old son, James Francis Nolan Clark, who like most boys in Canada has a love for hockey and plays as a goalie on a Californian team.