What Happened to the Millertown Mill?
Perhaps the Most striking landmark in the town of Millertown is the large iron wheel situated on the beach of Red Indian Lake. It is one of the few remnants of what was once one of the largest industrial complexes in Newfoundland. It is also a reminder of why the community was established in the first place.
Millertown is one of the first ten or so inland communities in Newfoundland. It was established in 1900 when Scottish lumberman Lewis Miller built two huge sawmills here to exploit that stands of white pine that surrounded Red Indian Lake. To make a long story (which will be covered in the future) short: The mill proved unprofitable and unsustainable due to the quality and quantity of pine being inferior to initial investigations.
So Miller sold out to Newfoundland Timber Estates and Timber Estates sold out to the Harmsworth’s and their newly formed Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company. The Harmsworth’s acquired both the mill and the timber limits around Red Indian Lake and began the process of building their massive pulp and paper plant at Grand Falls. To build the mill and associated town site huge quantities of lumber were needed. So the AND Co simply dismantled most of the equipment at the Millertown sawmill and moved it up to Grand Falls. Unfortunately the first sawmill at Grand Falls burned down during mill construction and was quickly replaced by another, it is unknown if they used the same machinery, but there is a good chance that some of it survived the fire in good condition and was used.
At least one of the huge barn shaped buildings that had constituted the Millertown mill was taken over by the Exploits Valley Royal stores. Such a large building may seem overkill for a store in a town whose population numbered between 2 and 300 people, but you must also consider the fact that even in the early days of pulpwood logging around 3000 loggers went through Millertown on their way into the camps. On their way they needed to be kitted out with clothes, blankets and tobacco and on the way out they no doubt bought something to bring home to their families in the outport. The Royal Stores also played a role in supplying some of the necessities to those same logging camps and supplying the camp “vans.”
Today no trace of the mill remains to the best of my knowledge besides the iron wheel. Most of the area in which the sawmill was located is now under water. In 1927 the present dam was built on the Exploits River at Red Indian Lake, raising the water level of the lake considerably and necessitating the moving of the entire town of Millertown to higher ground.
The site of the Grand Falls sawmill has long since been obliterated it was located somewhere near the river in the area behind Riverview Chev-Olds which was used as log storage. If memory serves me correctly the second sawmill at Grand Falls may have burned down as well-which was a very common occurrence considering the condition and flammability of early sawmill operations in Newfoundland.
It is interesting to note that some of the studies done into the mill in Grand Falls-Windsor in later years noted that it was at a little bit of a disadvantage as it was not an integrated lumber and paper mill like some that exist on the mainland. Little did they know that for a number of years the mill was the site of a paper mill and a fairly large lumber mill that turned out thousands of board feet mainly for domestic consumption as the town of Grand Falls grew.
Now with the impending demolition of the mill at Grand Falls upon us they might find some of the machinery that was installed in Millertown in 1900-01 and brought to Grand Falls in 1905.
I took that picture of the iron wheel when I worked with the Red Indian Lake Heritage Society.
Millertown has a great history and it’s good to see that all is not forgotten.