The Story of the Middleton Crawford Mills of the Belmont Mines

by Allan Stacey,  Chelmsford, ON

In the accumulated history of the Sudbury district there have been many individuals who have touched the area in some small way, but were larger than life in their other endeavors. One of these was Middleton Crawford.

Crawford was born in Blanshard Township, Perth County in 1860 to Irish emigrants. Middleton, named for "his mother's family, was the last of a large family, as census records imply that his mother died at or after his birth, The census records from 1851 and 1861 show growth of the family farm with increasing cropped areas and additional livestock. For some reason, the family moved to Keppel Township, near Wiarton, sometime in the 1870's. Patriarch of the family, Samuel, had been a veterinarian back in Ireland before emigration to Canada West. His son Samuel Jr also took up the trade, while Middleton and his other brothers occupied their time at various endeavors.

In November of 1881 the local newspaper,  the Wiarton "Echo" reported that Middleton Crawford and W.J. Sutton, both of Owen Sound, had taken a lease on the Wiarton Steam Grist and Flouring Mill. This mill was the only one in Wiarton at the time and was operated by steam power, as there were no convenient streams or rivers to power the machinery. By all accounts, the operation was a successful one, with one newspaper item reporting the arrival of 1,000 bushels of feed and seed grain on the schooner Annie Foster.A flour and feed store was opened on Berford Street in Wiarton and Crawford occasionally took out full-page advertisements in the "Echo".

Sometime in early 1882 Crawford became the sole operator of the mill, as Sutton is no longer shown as partner, As 1883 rolled around it appears Middleton was deciding, for some reason, to leave town. It has been said that he had an inventive mind and enjoyed working with machinery. As shall be seen, he may have found Wiarton to be too claustrophobic for such a fertile mind. On May 24th, 1883 the United States Patent Office received an application by Middleton Crawford for a "cockle machine". The purpose of this machine was to remove burrs or unwanted seeds from grain prim to milling.

When next found, Crawford is living in Chicago where he now applies, in October 1884, for a patent on a grain cleaning and scouring machine. In May of 1885 he applies for a patent to cover a boiler-feed regulator and in October of 1886, a patent for a machine to remove lint from cottonseed.  During this time he resides in New York City. The latter patent garners Crawford considerable exposure in newspapers and journals of the day.

By July of 1890 the productive mind of Crawford, now residing in Liverpool, England, has another patent in the works at the U.S. Patent Office. It again involves a mill, but with a new twist. It is a grinding mill, but it is now for mineral ores and involves the accompanying process of amalgamation. In short, amalgamation involves exposing gold to mercury with the resulting amalgam afterwards being distilled to recover the gold. This mill basically consisted of nine 75-pound steel balls rolling in an annular trough. The ore would be introduced to the mill, be ground to the consistency of flour and subsequently be washed through a mercury bath.

Around the same time as Crawford was applying for his patent, other events were taking place that would ultimately involve Middleton. A Peterborough lumber merchant, Henry Strickland, stopped to water his horse on his way to Belleville and as is often the basis for discovery legends, Strickland found gold at this watering place in Belmont Township. The find lingered for a year before Alexander Carscallen, an M.P. from Marmora, and others including Strickland, decided to obtain and develop the location.

Meanwhile two hundred miles to the northwest, in Creighton Township, near Sudbury, James Robertson Gordon was in the initial phases of developing the Creighton Gold Mine for Ottawa interests. Both parties needed a method of recovering the gold from their prospects. The Belmont mine decided to try Crawford's first version of his grinding and amalgamating mill. Gordon's Creighton gold mine installed a second version of the same mill.

Backing up in time, Crawford appears to have been an extremely busy man. Apparently not satisfied with technical criticisms of the first version of his grinding and amalgamating mill, he shortly afterwards registered the patent for a mill to accomplish the same tasks, but with two tapered rollers traveling in an annular ring rather than balls.

In 1892 Crawford was able to sell the patent rights to his gold extracting process to the African and General Exploring Company Ltd. for everywhere except North America.  In October of that year, Crawford took a lease on the Belmont mine and installed his mills to treat the gold ore. The Belmont mine was a difficult prospect, the mineable ore scattered through several vein systems. Several subsequent operators attempted to make it a paying proposition, with indifferent success.

Crawford, meanwhile, involved himself in another venture. Middleton, along with brothers, James Victor Crawford and John Thomas Crawford, as well as George Ames and Egerton Bourinot, Wiarton bankers, incorporated the Crawford Tug Company on January 19, 1893. His involvement in this venture may have been to supply some of the necessary capital, it having been said that he realized $500,000 from the sale of patent rights to the African and General Exploring Company.

The author is indebted to Ms. Andrea Curtis; the great-granddaughter of James Victor Crawford, for providing much appreciated family background information. Ms. Curtis wrote "Into the Blue", the telling, in part, of the 1906 loss on Georgian Bay of the J.H. Jones with all on board, including Captain James Victor Crawford. The wreck was never found.

At the Belmont mine the situation was not so sanguine, independent sources finding that far too much gold was being lost in Crawford's process, resulting in the termination of his lease. At the Creighton mine another disappointment was looming. When the Ontario mining inspector visited the property, Henry Strickland, who appears to have become the agent for Crawford's mills, was at the mine attempting to get the mill in "smooth running order."

The inspector reported: 'The small quantity  of ore treated was very finely milled, but stoppages owing to hot journals were too frequent for economic work."  After an unsuccessful week of trials, the mill was shut down pending the return of Crawford, who was out of the country, enjoying marital bliss with his second wife, possibly in Monte Carlo, where his new found wealth had allowed him a home.

While Strickland was active with sales of the mill to several mines in northwestern Ontario who, at the time, were capitalizing on a "gold rush", Crawford had moved on to Boulder, Colorado. From this base, and from Colorado Springs, he recorded several patents on various methods of gold recovery, as well as introduce his grinding and amalgamation mill to the booming ©gold rush at Cripple Creek. He even went so far as to build his own "sampler", a plant, or mill, to sample and process gold ores from independent gold mines without capital to build their own recovery plants.

Sometime in 1895, Mrs. Crawford returned to England, and it was the intent of Middleton to also return at a later date. However, in September of that year, Middleton received news that his wife had suddenly passed away. Struck with grief, it was reported in the newspapers that he had gone insane, but it is probable he suffered a nervous breakdown. Crawford returned to England where he continued registering patents, most of them regarding the newfangled horseless carriage.

In retrospect, Middleton Crawford's two grinding and amalgamating mills suffered from a flaw far greater than a mechanical one. Most of the ores it treated contained gold in combination with sulphides, causing a condition called "sickening" which rendered the mercury useless. Had all the gold been free, the machines may have been somewhat more efficient, notwithstanding the mechanical issues. ©