Monday, June 24, 2024

Williamsford- Where Prohibition Never Happened

GCHS Release

“The place was full of bootleggers,” Bob Elliot recalled with a chuckle on March 16, 2011. The Grey County Historical Society was visiting the former Williamsford Hardware Store, where for 38 years Bob and Carol Elliot had stocked everything you wanted or needed in a rural community, including Massey’s implements.


Today the building is the Williamsford Pie Company, and owner Laura Snider, welcomed over sixty members and friends of the GCHS to the 1902 decorative cement-block building where eager ears listened to Elliot share his memories of Hardwaring and living in Williamsford.  He mentioned how much he loved to listen to the stories his customers would tell, but the most interesting stories he couldn’t tell us!


During the afternoon, he passed around old photographs of people, buildings, horses, wagons and of the Elliot family who were so well-known and respected in the community. There was also a photograph of the old Iron King that stood outside the store for many years. “It was the first gas pump invented,” Elliot remarked.


Thomas Johnson Elliot, his grandfather, started the General Store two doors north of the Hardware Store. He printed his own “money” and provided tokens one could trade for goods, and he recalled the bartering system was an acceptable way of doing business in the ‘good old days’. His grandfather received the political appointment for the post office in 1847. The mail came from Toronto for people as far away as Huron County.


His father William John Elliot, who started the Hardware Store was postmaster for 48 years, before Bob and Carol Elliot took over the Hardware Store and had the post office for another 37 years.


Bob’s great-grandfather, Adam Scott Elliot, built the grist mill in the Hamlet of Williamsford back in the 1860’s. It was one of four grist mills he constructed, the others being: McClure’s Mill in Chesley, Hemstock grist mill, Ramage’s grist mill in Strathaven, and his own grist mill.


He built and operated six saw mills and a woolen and linen mill that once stood on the present parking lot of the grist mill, now Great Books. It burned down in 1881. By the 1900s the grist mill was producing its own electricity. Later it was converted to the Monarch Flour Mill, and run by T. J. Elliot and Al Elliot, but in the 1930’s it reverted once again to a feed mill for livestock


Ephraim Krause had the Saw and Planning Mill just down stream from the Elliot grist mill, but it was destroyed by fire in the 1940’s. Only ruins remain. Thomas J. Elliot built the large red brick home just south of the grist mill.


One wonders why the Village wasn’t called Elliottown!  Instead the hamlet got its name from Blacksmith Williams whose old stone building still stands across from what was the Old Stone Inn, built by Robert Gillies. He ran a General Store in 1855 where the Stone Inn once stood. Behind the Inn was a second blacksmith shop. Tom Feltis had a third blacksmith shop on the Sullivan side of the highway, which burned down some years ago.


“The roads were still graveled in my father’s day.” He was asked about the names of some of the black families that once lived in town and he recalled names like, Douglas, Earlls, Woods.  He remembered the tall slender, Annie Bowie, walking along County Road 24, between Holland Centre and Williamsford, carrying a sack and using a walking stick.


He spoke about how hard people worked and told about a man who bartered for a 300 gallon barrel of grist, and was told that if he could carry it he could have it. He not only lifted it, he carried it on his back all around the Grist Mill. “Men were men in those days,” Bob reminisced.


“It wasn’t unusual to see men fista-cuffing on the front lawns.”


Back then men could put up a building in a few days where today it takes weeks. He reminisced about the old Community Centre that stood on Garafraxa Road two doors south of his grandfather’s big red brick house that was later owned by Camon Elliot. “It boasted the finest hardwood floors around.” People loved to get together and dance the night away. “We even had Santa Claus Parades here,” and he recalled a visitor to the village remarking, “I have never seen people dancing to Jingle Bells before!”


An old fashioned Pie Recipe swap added to the day’s interest as people passed around old cookbooks and recipes while Aly Boltman photocopied them.


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