LocationHilton Falls: A Canadian Dry Stone Heritage Site
Hilton Falls: A Canadian Dry Stone Heritage Site
Nestled within the peaceful surroundings of Hilton Falls Conservation Area is a hidden gem; One of Canada’s historic Dry Stone sites. The site is that of an old Sawmill built by George Park around 1856. It is situated at the location of an even older sawmill; built in 1835 by Edward Hilton. After an initial visit to the site, I contacted various people finally being put in touch with Mr. Andreae who is an Industrial Archaeologist. He had an archaeological report commissioned by the Hilton Falls Conservation Area specifically on the site. The report confirms all my previous assumptions on the Dry Stone construction.
The Dam remnants once ran across the entire waterway. As you can see from the photographs, it provides an excellent example of Dry Stone construction with a beautiful section still standing. Page 24 of the report states: “The dam was constructed of dry stone walls on the up-and-downstream sides. The core consisted of loose stone and fill, not bound with cement.” Unless a further study is undertaken, we will not be able to be sure that the “loose fill” was not actually proper hearting or not. Given the indication of quality on the outside, I would suspect that the core was more typical of a standard Dry Stone wall.
The canal is of particular interest since the report indicates it “the west wall of the canal appears to be excavated from bedrock.” This would have provided a further stone source for the builders. Below you will see pictures of the east wall which is also Dry Stone. Page 25 of the report indicates: “The remains of a low, dry stone wall extend along the portion of the canal.”
Investigating the mill pond, I found several areas I was not able to discern as Dry Stone without considerably disturbing the area; which I did not want to do. Thankfully, page 25 of the report indicated: “The west wall of this area consisted of a stone retaining wall.” Considering all the other dry stone work, I believe it is safe to conclude that this was also of similar construction.
The wheel house and pit area were of great interest given the nice surviving arch. They found during their investigation that the wall was two or three courses higher in the 1960s from when the research was done in 1991. They found a foundation area on the east side which was rebuilt to a height of three feet; so this area is relatively new.
However, the wheel pit provides a most stunning dry stone arch. “The remains of the wheel pit consist of an immense wall about four feet thick that was keyed directly into the cliff face. The face stones were roughly dressed and the wall was constructed without mortar.” It appears that someone has for good or ill used cement along the top of the wall above the arch. Mr. Andreae was able to confirm it was not a recommendation they made and hopefully this will not affect the remains. Given the ability to freely explore the site, it is likely this was done to stone the stones from being dislodged.
Remains of the mill building itself give yet another beautifully moss covered example of our craft. Within the report I found another intriguing note and confirmation of my original assertion on a dry stone foundation.
“A low dry stone wall foundation, about two feet thick, defines three sides of a structure that was 30 feet wide and 50 feet long. … Dry wall foundations are in keeping with other sawmills.”
That last sentence was just lovely to read. Based on that and further research, we should all be keeping our eyes out for old mills from the 1856 time frame as they may have further examples of dry stone wall construction.
The last feature of the site is one I did not know about or see. According to the report, “A section of stone wall was noted along several hundred feet of the trail.” I am anxious to return in the spring or late winter to find this and examine its construction.
All-in-all, this site is remarkable for its diversity in its use of dry stone construction. It should be a must visit for any in the area who wish to see just how durable and beautiful dry stone is.
A special thanks to Mr. Andreae who kindly scanned and sent me a copy of the report as well to the numerous people who finally put me in touch with him.