6 kms north of Oshawa is the village of Columbus. Just west of Columbus on a branch of the Oshawa Creek on the SE corner of Thornton Rd. and Columbus Rd. operated the largest mill in the entire area. Here, in 1835, the impressive, 4-storey woollen mills of Mathewson and Ratcliffe were operated by a crew of 50, which was much larger than the other mills that dotted the landscape.
The men were brought in from northern England to work the mill. They resided in a boarding home and small cottages. In 1850 the company was sold to the Empire Mills Company. The area grew into a village that had: a church, a store, a school, wooden sidewalks, and by 1883, an electrical lighting system powered by the mill dam. Perhaps the first of its kind in the district.
When a major railway was built well west near Markham the company moved. The old mill struggled under new ownership until 1890 when a flood washed out the dam. It was never rebuilt and the village died. A few old area century homes survive, and only 2 cemeteries from the area survive: the Dryden Baptist Cemetery and St. Paul's Anglican Cemetery.
The photos below show the 1878 Beers Map of the village at Lot 16 Concession 6-7 in the former Township of East Whitby just west of Columbus. The 1878 Belden Map of Whitby also shows the village. The photo below was taken in 1883 which shows the Empire Woollen Mills. One mile west of the four corners of Columbus stood St. Paul's Anglican Church which was burned to the ground in 1922. Near the church stood the woollen mills and a number of houses. Another church just west serviced the village as well called Dryden Baptist Church. It was named after James Dryden. He owned the property across the road.
A famous American was born here. Walt Mason: 1862 - 1939, a naturalized American (orignally Canadian). He was a newspaper writer and humorist, often called "Poet Laureate of American Democracy". Mason was married in 1893 to Ella Foss, of Wooster, Ohio. His father, a dyer, died in an accident at the Empire Mill when he fell down a shaft line. Walt was just 4 yrs of age at the time. He also worked in the same mill when he was older. His home still stands in a new location just west. You can see it in a photo below. It is now owned by Fred Nesbitt.
10 other mills operated in the area- one just upstream from Empire Mills (run by John Bickle and H. Hill), one just west by Dryden Cemetery, two in Brooklin, one at Winchester Golf Course (on the old H. Bickle farm), one in Chubtown, two just north of Chubtown at Goodman's Mills (another ghost town), and two just west of Raglan.
Check the photos below for more details about Empire Mills. It appears as though the river was rediverted after the mill was gone. Its impossible to imagine anything of significance could have existed here these days, as its all cedar trees and odd alignments. Nothing matches up with the old map and with the photo. However, we went back and did find a foundation indent by the river, cement foundation remains on rocks, canals with a metal strappings, the dam, the dam control, bricks, animal skeletons, a large bolt, used burning coal and possible remains of a light from the electricity days. Check Trish's pics for details.
* A PROFESSIONAL ARCHAEOLOGICAL DIG SHOULD BE CONDUCTED HERE!!!! Calling all universities!!!!