Herron’s Mills – Ghost Town

Herron’s Mills

These days, Herron’s Mills is a ghost town, but it was once a thriving community, built along the Clyde River in the Lanark Highlands, Lanark County. You can visit the area by traveling on Highway 511.

(from the Lanark Township tour)

The hamlet was originally called Gillies Mills, named for founder, John Gillies, who arrived from Greenock, Scotland in 1821, aboard the ship, ‘David of London’, with his parents, James, and Helen, and four siblings. John was an enterprising young man and by 1861 he and his wife, Mary, built a lovely home, and he established a saw mill along the banks of the Clyde River. Local legends say John Gillies traveled from Brockville, back to his home with a 90 pound saw on his back.

John Gillies, 1870

John Gillies’ house

Within a few years much of the area pine trees had been cut and Gillies was bringing in logs from other areas to his mill. He decided that it would be easier to purchase an existing mill in Carleton Place, and so he put the mill and his house up for sale.

Logs in the Clyde River

Name Changed to Herron’s Mills

Gillies sold his mill in 1871 to James and John Herron who purchased the surrounding 104 acres of land as well as the mill. They re-named the mill – J & J Herron Company and the area became known as Herron’s Mills. One of the things the Herron brothers added to the operation was a stone bake-house. This was used to bake un-hulled oats or un-shelled peas. These were ground and used in oatmeal and pea ‘brose’, a popular dish at that time, brought by the settlers from Scotland.

Peas Brose, or Peas Porridge was often made in large batches and kept on the stove, as a quick and hearty meal for the mill hands coming home for lunch, or for the little ones arriving after their day at school. It was common to add a bit of water to the mixture to keep it in a paste consistency, as it would often harden from sitting on the stove top. There was a nursery rhyme at the time, its origins unknown, but thought to have become popular in the days when the pot of peas porridge was a daily sight in the settler’s kitchens:

“Pease porridge hot
Pease porridge cold
Pease porridge in the pot
Nine days old

Some like it hot
Some like it cold
Some like it in the pot
Nine days old”

Peas Porridge

Peas Brose

(Peas Porridge)


 2 ½ cups green dried split peas, soaked overnight

 3 Tablespoons butter

 Salt and pepper to taste


 Soak the peas for 8-12 hours in a large bowl of water

 Drain and rinse the soaked peas. Then add to a saucepan of water

 Cover and bring to a boil

 Simmer for one hour (may be longer) until the peas are tender

 Strain the peas and add the butter, salt and pepper

 Serve with ham or bacon if desired (the traditional style)

A Busy Village

Herron’s Mills thrived, and barns and stables were built as homes for the workers. A school was constructed, and teachers were given board with local families as part of their compensation.

James Herron opened a post office in 1891, located in their home. The Herron Mills post office was in operation until 1915.

In the busiest days of the community, Herron’s Mill was producing over 8000 feet of lumber per day.

The brothers John and James Herron dissolved their partnership in 1919, and in 1920, James passed away.


Herron Family Home, (was Gillies’ home), photo: 1915, L to R – John Ackland, James Herron,

his wife, Janet (Malloch) Herron, their daughter, Mary Herron, and Robert Ackland

Ghost Town

After James’ death, ownership of the mill was passed down to his son, Alexander.

When Alexander passed away in 1946, his sister Mary ran the mill for five more years.

By 1951 the mill was closed, the workers moved away, and the small community of Herron’s Mills was destined to become a ghost town.

There are few signs remaining of this once thriving village, other than some abandoned structures, and the old damn which can be seen from the road.

On a Sunday drive past this pioneer community we might imagine those busy bustling days, the sounds of the mill, the children playing, and the mothers stirring their peas porridge pot, on an old wood stove.

Arlene Stafford-Wilson

Member, Association of Professional Genealogists

Member, Lanark County Genealogical Society

Author of 10 books: “Lanark County Christmas”, “Lanark County Comfort”, “Lanark County Collection”, “Lanark County Calling”, “Lanark County Classics”, “Lanark County Connections”, “Lanark County Calendar”, “Lanark County Chronicle”, “Lanark County Kid”, & “Recipes & Recollections”

available at local stores or email: lanarkcountybooks@gmail.com


One comment on “Herron’s Mills – Ghost Town

  1. Norm Chaplin says:

    Arlene, if you are inerested I will give you some info on Chapin Dairy, photos of the winter delivery horse drawn sleigh, and the originater of the business, and more. Norm Chaplin Tibs old neighbour

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s