Every week, I share an excerpt from my Great Aunt’s book, As the Story is Told: A History of Morpeth and Community, which was printed in 1986. Note, this is a historical text and I don’t necessarily agree with all of the authour’s views or turns of phrase. This week’s chapter is about Morpeth’s Shipping Dock.
Shipping at Morpeth Dock
Following the decline of Antrim, shipping facilities were established at the foot of the hill, a mile or so south of Morpeth. Hill’s Dock, as it was then known, was located on a shallow bend of the lake front sufficient to afford some protection from the winds.
It was Erastus Hill who established the original Hill’s Landing as a service to the pioneer farmers of the district. Erastus, who had been born in New York State in 1808 , moved to Morpeth in 1838. He and his wife Lucy, with their family, had previously lived in Ancaster near Hamilton.
At first, loading a boat was a slow and tedious job. When the sailing vessel arrived it anchored off shore. The farmers of the district were notified and hauled their grain by oxen to the landing where it was loaded on a scow and paddled out to the boat. This went on until 1854 when the pioneer Hill built his dock with spiles and heavy timbers and with dredging operations permitted vessels to come in for loading. To further facilitate loading, a four-storey warehouse was erected from the beach to the top of the cliff, up a distance of about sixty feet. By this means farmers drove their waggons onto a tramway and dumped their loads into large bins feeding down to carts on the dock level, which were wheeled along the dock to the boat. The average vessel in those days had a capacity of from ten to fifteen thousand bushels. The storage capacity of the elevator was about thirty-five thousand bushels.
Huge shipments of oak and walnut timbers and lumber, grain from fertile fields along the Talbot Road and surrounding area, wool and hides formed the major part of the cargoes that were shipped from this busy port. During the United States Civil War years, exports from the port amounted to more than $60,000 per year, a sizeable figure in those days.
Hiram Hill was the son of Erastus and Lucy and it was his job, in aiding his father, to weigh in the grain from the farmer and to weigh it out again for the boat. In 1885, when his father died, he took over the management of the business. Austin Hill, a brother to Erastus, also worked in the business and is listed as a farmer and a grain dealer.
At the top of the hill, a short distance from the warehouse, a large red brick house was built, which commanded a wide view of the lake. With an upper glassed gallery it is easy to visualize a member of the Hill family keeping careful watch for the approach of a sail that would mean additional business for the family warehouse. It is believed this house was built about 1862.
The passage of the Canada Southern Railroad through Ridgetown in 1872 radically changed the destinies of both Morpeth and Morpeth Dock. The shipping began to decline with farmers taking their produce north to the railroads instead of south to Lake Erie ports.
In 1885 the Dominion Government built a new dock here. It was just prior to an election when the government gave out contracts for harbours of refuge along the lake and Morpeth came in for one. It was built by making cribs from heavy timbers and boats brought in loads of huge stones, which were dumped into the floating cribs and thus sank to the bottom. Old Hill’s Dock was on spiles and thus allowed the free movement of sand but the solid new dock attracted deposits of sand and shipping lanes were soon filled. This new dock was never really used a great deal for shipping.
The year after the erection of the new government dock, Mr. Hill tore down the old dock and made use of the timbers to erect a cross dock from the elevator to the new dock. However, business continued to drop off and Mr. Hill sold his warehouse to Patterson and O’Keefe, who shipped chiefly beans to the United States ports. It is reported, that after a few years, they went broke and in 1900 the warehouse was removed. Today Morpeth Dock, as a busy shipping centre, is only another part of Morpeth’s history that is no more.
After the Hills discontinued their shipping business, they devoted their time to farming. Hiram and his family resided on the homestead spending the rest of their days there. His wife was the former Amelia Liebner, daughter of Augustus Liebner, a cabinet-maker and undertaker in Morpeth. Hiram and Amelia had three children – Melbourne, Clarence and Vera. Melbourne and Clarence continued the farming business. Vera trained for a nurse and followed a nursing career to Detroit. She later returned to the farm and took care of the home for many years. Since they had no direct descendants , after their death the Hill homestead was sold and is now owned by W. Thompson.
The story is told about a pioneer farmer who was on his way to Hill’s Dock to deliver a load of barrel staves:
One of the chief winter occupations for the early pioneers was the making of barrel staves. These staves were shipped from the Morpeth dock in a rough condition to be finished for manufacture into barrels when they reached their destination.
On this particular day it was quite cold and when the driver arrived in Morpeth, on his way to Morpeth Dock, he decided to go into one of the several hotels to get warm. At that time, a drink could be traded for two barrel staves. After a few drinks he started to treat his friends. This continued until his whole load was used up. The next day all he had to show for his winter’s work was just a big headache.