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Historic Babcock Mill – An important part of Loyalist Township’s rich history

August 2023

All across the county, in small towns and the corners of bigger ones, many former mills still stand, and many of them have been restored and re-purposed into new commercial and residential buildings.

The early settlers of North America built mills in their towns, usually beside rivers that would provide power by use of a water wheel, to grind wheat into flour, as these were the days before electrically-powered modern machinery.

The historic Babcock Mill, located on the banks of the Millhaven Creek in the village of Odessa, is an important part of Loyalist Township’s rich history. The stone mill was built in 1856 on land deeded by the British Government to Joshua Booth in 1803.

The mill was originally the mill was meant to be a grist mill, but it was never outfitted as such due to the arrival of the Grand Trunk Railway line that same year. The railway made it possible to transport cheaper flour to the village from larger mills in Toronto and Montreal, thus making it unprofitable for the Babcock Mill to produce their own. Instead, the mill was used as a woolen mill and later, used for a variety of purposes including just storage.

In 1907, John Babcock acquired the mill, giving its name of Babcock Mill. Babcock went about installing line shafts, pulleys, belts, and basket making equipment. The Babcock Mill became the only water-powered mill used to make baskets and the baskets that John Babcock designed were known as “Better Baskets by Babcock,” with two patents granted for his baskets, one in 1915 and another in 1919.

In 1926, the mill was re-designed and the hydro generated was used to power both the mill and a generator. At that time, the mill provided enough hydro for the entire village of Odessa.

Babcock Mill was bought by Loyalist Township in 1977 and was restored and opened as a museum to the public in 1985, although Don Babcock continued making baskets at the mill until 1993.

Aside from hosting school tours a few times a year, the mill was officially closed to the public in 1992, only re-opening in 2023.

From a historical perspective, the mill represents the technological evolution of power, from water by waterwheels and water turbines, to steam power and electrical power.

The picturesque property surrounding the mill is the perfect location for an afternoon picnic or a walk along the new nature trail.

Sources: Babcock Mill – Loyalist Township, Babcock Mill, Odessa – Ontario, Canada (lahistoricalsociety.ca), The Babcock Mill, Odessa – Naturally Lennox & Addington (naturallyla.ca).

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/historic-babcock-mill-an-important-part-of-loyalist-townships-rich-history/

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