By Celia Hunter
From the outside it would seem that the Millbrook & Cavan Historical Society has been pretty quiet, if not dormant, over the past two years, but on the inside, the commitment to our mandate has meant we’ve been busy. The wealth of genealogy records and expertise, along with the family histories that we preserve in our archives, have enabled us to respond to numerous inquiries that come in from all over the country and beyond. The second printing of our Heritage Millbrook Self-Guided Walking Tour booklet has sparked interest in both our rich architecture and in the stories that go with the properties. We are often asked about the history of some of the houses as new owners move in, and these are hard to chase down because most of the information being sought is oral history. So, if you are a longtime resident of the area, what we would love to have from you are your stories!
One such story relates to a house on Prince Street in Millbrook, built in 1885 by David Chambers and designated as being of architectural significance in accordance with the Heritage Act. As part of the research to create an educational display panel next to Needler’s Mill, describing the workings of the mill, the name of Henry Attwooll comes into focus. Mr. Attwooll came to Canada from England early in the 1900s with his wife Mary Ann, daughters May and Ada, and his nephew Doug Sheppard. Both Henry Attwooll and Doug Sheppard were millers by trade, and came to the Millbrook area to work. Henry purchased Needler’s Mill in 1917, and Doug Sheppard became a full partner in the business in 1922. Henry and his family lived in the house on Prince Street, overlooking the millpond. Henry worked a full eight-hour day at the mill six days a week until about a year before he died at age 90, in 1959. In the nearly 50 years that Henry served as a miller here in Millbrook, Needler’s Mill flourished as a producer of fine quality flour and cracked wheat porridge, with the adjacent saw mill providing lumber for the area.
The story of the house on Prince Street doesn’t end with the illustrious career of Henry Attwooll and his family. In or about 1967, Jim and Elsie McMaster purchased the Attwooll house. Their son, Ashton McMaster, recalls that the municipal water system had not yet been installed, and the water for homeowners on Anne and Prince Streets was piped under the pond from an artesian well up on Medd’s Mountain. “It was fantastic water, “ Ashton adds, “summer and winter.”
Ashton also recalls the vitality of the downtown where his parents ran the Stedman’s store, next door to Lyle Nattress’ barbershop, from the early 1950s until 1979. “My Dad always had wonderful salespeople in his store,” Ashton recalls, “and some with a sense of humour that just wouldn’t quit.”
Memories sparked by one house on a quiet street. Appreciation for these stories and for opening a new chapter in the history of place gives hope to many of the heritage properties in this township as new owners pour time, energy and considerable resources into restoring them. Thankfully, they recognize the value of keeping the stories going. These memories also inspire the Historical Society to start planning an event for early fall, inviting the keepers of our local stories to come and tell a few tales of days gone by so that we can add new chapters to them. Stay tuned! We’ll see you in the fall.