It’s been a fine grind for decades at the restored Morningstar factory in St. Catharines

They’ve been grinding for 30 years at the Morningstar plant — and the City of St. Catharines officially recognizes the dedicated volunteers who keep the wheels turning while preserving and celebrating local history.

The Friends of Morningstar Mill are celebrating their 30th anniversary. A delegation of officials met the group on Saturday at the historic site to thank its members for their efforts.

“We can’t thank the Friends of Morningstar Mill enough,” said city historical services supervisor Kathleen Powell. “They work tirelessly to preserve our local history and share it with the community, giving us unique insight into our community’s past that might otherwise go unnoticed.”

The community group was organized in 1992 after approaching city council with a plan to restore and operate the Decew Falls plant.

“We’re all passionate about history, and I can’t say enough about how great the Friends are as a group of people,” said Hank Braun, a member of the Friends of Morningstar Mill for 19 years. “We couldn’t do what we do without the support received from the community, local businesses and the city.

Richard Chappel built the facility in 1872 and it was originally known as Mountain Mills because it included a gristmill, sawmill and cider press and other related buildings, historian Dennis wrote. Gannon in his column Yesterday and Today.

Wilson Morningstar purchased it in 1883. A fire in 1892 destroyed the wooden interior and flour mill machinery, leaving only the stone walls of the building standing, but Morningstar rebuilt it. He operated the mill for 50 years until his death in 1933. In 1941 his heirs sold the property to Ontario Hydro and the property was eventually acquired by the city.

Since restoring the mill and several other buildings on the site, the community group has worked to keep it operational and open from May to October for free tours and demonstrations of the flour-making process. The group also participates in the management of the collections and is present twice a week for off-season maintenance and restoration work.

In 2019 alone, the group spent more than 3,900 volunteer hours and visited about 15,000 people, according to a city press release. This year, the site opens to the public on Saturday, May 21.