One of the nicest drives in the region has to be the scenic cruise along Highway 2 that parallels the mighty St. Lawrence River between Gananoque and Prescott. The meandering old highway follows the shores of the St. Lawrence and along with panoramic views you are also treated to a ride through time. For thousands of years the St. Lawrence has been an important waterway and during the early days of European exploration and settlement it was a crucial area for industry, trade, and strategic military importance. While driving along this highway of history one day I spotted an unusual stone tower at the side of the road near the river. Resembling a lookout tower from some old abandoned medieval castle, I noted its position and snapped a few pics for future research. Upon further investigation it seems this was no medieval lookout tower but rather the ruins of what could be the oldest standing windmill in Ontario.
The first windmill in Upper Canada was a cylindrical tower of stone built in the 1790s near Prince Edward County on the shores of Lake Ontario to pump water from the lake to a Loyalist homestead, but nothing remains of this structure after it was abandoned and demolished in 1877. There’s the old stone windmill that is a National Historic Site near Prescott that was constructed in 1832 and was later converted into a lighthouse after it served as a fort during a failed rebellion attack from the United States. This stone tower has been restored and cared for by Parks Canada which lies about 20 minutes east of our forgotten tower of wind.
Originally built in 1827 by George Longley who arrived in the town of Maitland a year earlier, this structure predates the Prescott mill by 5 years and towers 80 feet to the top with a base circumference of 34 feet. A wooden cap was added to the tower with wooden sails that measured almost 100ft long from tip to tip. These were made of cloth spread over a lattice that could be adjusted to regulate the speed and rate of rotation. A wooden balcony at the 30ft high mark surrounded the tower, of which you can still see the remains of iron brackets from where it was attached.
I’m not sure if this windmill was to mill wheat or to pump water up from the river like the one near Prince Edward County. It seems Mr.Longley only operated the windmill for about ten years when rotation of its massive sails were ceased and it was converted into a grain silo. A steam powered mill was built alongside it to grind flour and oats. Longley died in 1842 and soon the whole place closed down in 1854. Sitting vacant until 1863, the new owners of the property decided it would be a great place to build a distillery, of which they did, and the Halladay Family made over 275,000 gallons of whisky a year. It was shut down for some “irregularities” in 1865.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the old windmill still remained, and almost a hundred years after it was built, the new property owner, Peter Webster took an interest in saving the stone tower and repaired it for Canada’s Centennial. In 1936 Webster and his partner formed “Maitland Charts” that produced rolled nautical charts and sonar paper for the Royal Navy. In 1973, the chart company business literally went off the charts and the company moved to a bigger space leaving the tower to stand alone where it still stands today.
The current owners of the tower seem to have taken a keen interest in keeping it standing as best they can, maintaining this forgotten sentinel of the St. Lawrence. If this really is Ontario’s oldest standing windmill sitting at he side of the road it might be worth the 45minute drive from Ottawa to take a look at the old tower of power, a lost relic from a time when wind and sail ruled the land and sea.
“Maitland: A Very Neat Village Indeed” by Stephen Otto, Richard Dumbrille, 1985
Wikipedia “List Of Windmills in Canada”