Morningstar Mill is a picturesque heritage site located at Decew Falls. The site backs onto the Bruce Trail, and is a popular picnic and photo location for residents and visitors.
Planning a get-together or searching for a location for wedding photos? Rental permits are available for this park for those purposes.
Victoria Day until mid-October
Tuesdays and Thursdays: 9 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Weekends: 10 a.m. - 3 p.m., by chance or appointment
Free admission, but donations are welcome
The Friends of Morningstar Mill operate the site on behalf of the City of
St. Catharines. New volunteers are always welcome.
The Morningstar family was originally from Bavaria, Germany. They emigrated to the American colonies in the mid 1700's and settled in Pennsylvania where the family farmed and ran a factory for fulling cloth. At the outbreak of the American Revolution, the family, being Loyalists, came to Canada and settled at Black Creek. In 1814 they relocated to Gasline, east of Port Colborne.
Wilson Morningstar was born on March 31, 1854, one of ten children of Benjamin and Leah Morningstar. He married Rebecca Elizabeth Troup in 1877 and bought a farm near Welland. His wife died following complications from the birth of their daughter, who also died six months later. Wilson remarried Emma Sutton on Feb. 7, 1882 and, shortly after, bought the mill at DeCew Falls.
There was a log cabin on the site when Wilson Morningstar purchased the mill property from the City of St Catharines in 1883. His wife Emma did not like the cabin, so when he bought the property it was understood that he would build a new house for her. The new house was finally built in 1894 and appears to have been constructed in stages: the centre section first, followed by the north wing and finally the south wing.
Exterior Features: The two-storey house is of simple carpenter gothic revival style, in the Andrew Jackson Downing, Country Cottage tradition. It is finished in wood clapboard and painted white with decorative trim around porch edges, windows and roof lines all painted green. The porches are distinct architectural elements, supported by decorative wood columns and brackets. Bay windows on the ground floor and double-hung windows are located throughout the remainder of the house. The John Howard Society of Niagara renovated the house in the early 2000s.
Interior Features and Operations: In the pantry there was a dumb waiter, constructed with a rope, pulley and iron counterweight, which lowered food to the cellar to keep cool during the summer months. It was likely constructed by Morningstar and was made of walnut. There is a large cistern located under the north wing that was fed by the eavestroughs. A water ram, a type of pump powered by water, was used to fill the cistern from the creek. Drinking water was provided by a well located behind the garage. There was also a spring located about 10 feet down the side of the ravine, not far from the house, which provided "special drinking water."
Morningstar purchased a generator in about 1900 to provide electricity to the house and the mill, and running water was pumped into the house in 1918 or 1919. But it was not until 1929 that drinking water was supplied to the house from the St. Catharines Water Works Commission Water Treatment plant located next door. A small addition was constructed in 1998 at the north end of the house to provide for wheelchair access to the building and a wheelchair-accessible washroom.
When Morningstar died in 1933, his daughter, Norma Robson, her husband, David, and their two children, Lorna and Donald, moved into the house. Donald and Lorna continued to live in the house until Donald's death in 1991. Much of the furniture in the house today was gifted to the City of St. Catharines by Lorna.
The property comprises of 3.6 acres. Across the creek by the sawmill was an orchard of apples, cherries, pears and peaches, and a large vegetable garden. Originally, there were a number of outbuildings on the site. A barn was located onsite with a stable for horses, a place for a buggy and hay wagon, a hay mow, a chicken coop and a pig pen.
At one point, there was a cider mill and a shoddy mill located on the grounds. The shoddy mill produced stuffing for furniture from old clothing and scrap material. Before the fabric was put through the shoddy machine, all buttons had to be removed. One of Lorna Robson's childhood memories are of boxes of buttons throughout the house.
The grist mill and house are original structures to the site, and all other structures are replicas built by the Friends of Morningstar Mill.