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|The Township of
Houghton lies in the south west corner of Norfolk. It is triangular in
shape, its northern portion forming an acute point running up between the
Townships of Walsingham and Middleton on the east, and the Township of
Bayham on the west. The base of the triangle lies upon the shore of Lake
Erie, but presents no natural harbor throughout its entire extent.
The township is watered by several fine streams, of which Clear Creek and the Hemlock Creek are the most important. The soil is a sandy loam, except in the south-east portion, where a clay loam found. The pine and hemlock which abounded in early times have been mostly removed by the lumbermen, but a large growth of beech and maple still exists., and in some parts in its primeval beauty.
Probably there is nothing more astonishing to one visiting this part of the country for the first time that the Sand Hills. These are immense conical mounds of pure sand, standing upon the very edge of the preciptous cliffs which border the lake. They are two in number. The smaller lies to the south of Houghton Centre, the larger is situated about a mile to the east, at the southern limit of Mr. John Alton's farm. Both Hills appear to have been formed by the action of the south-westerly gales upon the loose blow sand of the banks. These winds prevail here, and are often of great violence, having an uninterrupted sweep down the lake of 150 miles. It is strange, however, that similar formations are not found at other points along the lakes.
The large Sand Hill, that on Mr. Alton's lot is 195 feet high (measuring from the water level). It is 990 feet long and 300 feet wide. The ascent is difficult, owing to the looseness and dryness of the sand, and as the traveller toils up the steep incline at an angle apparently about 60° from the horizontal, but really less, and finds himself struggling among the tops of giant trees protruding from the sandy flood which has almost completely engulfed them, he is reminded of the deluge of Deucalion and the verses of Horace:
Proteus pecus egit altos
The summit presents a circular plateau with a crater. This crater was formerly very deep and wide, and looked like the top of an immense funnel. At the bottom there was a circular plat about 80 feet in diameter. Some of the old settlers remember the time when base ball was played in this natural amphitheatre. "Fielders" were not required, the ball touching the sides of the crater rolling swiftly back to the feet of the players. At present the summit is crowned by the Observatory of the United States Lake Survey. This structure is framed of heavy timber, so as to form a huge tripod about 70 feet high, and is visible for miles over the surrounding country. On top is a tent to protect the observers from the sun and wind. The costly theodolities and heliometres which are placed here command a view across the lake extending north into Pennsylvania, where a similar station upon the high lands flashes the sunlight from a mirror at definite intervals over the lake horizon. Another station has been built upon the highest part of Long Point, and by unwearied diligence and the most careful measurement the observers expect finally to complete the triangulation of the lake, and provide reliable charts for the sailor. The observer last year was Mr. A. R. Flint, assisted by Mr. Chas. Clark. These gentlemen spent many weeks endeaving to obtain satisfactory data. The work has just been successfully completed by Mr. Geo. Y. Wisner.
Those who enjoy the grand and beautiful in nature would appreciate with the keenest pleasure the prospect from the Sand Hills. There is no other part of Norfolk which affords so fine a view of the lake. Those who have lived near the lake or ocean, and have grown fond of its ever-changing face and varying voice could here drink in all that is gorgeous or grand in sunset or storm.
When the township was new another peculiar natural feature was what was known as the "Plains" -- a circular area devoid of trees and perfectly level, situated on the land now owned by D. C. Brady, Esq. Similar plateaux existed in other parts of Norfolk, at Round Plains for instance, between Townsend and Windham.
The early settlers of Houghton had to put up with the usual difficulties of bush life, but they were ingenious in availing themselves of the natural advantages of their position. Houghton was not settled until after the more eastern parts of the country, and it was necessary for the settlers to take their grist to a mill which stood at Cross & Fisher's Landing, between Normandale and Port Ryerse. It was the custom to hew out a canoe from a log, somewhat in Robinson Crusoe style, but nearer the water. Several days would be taken up in paddling this bark down the lake and back again. In the absence of what flour "hulled" corn was used. There was an abundance of venison, pork, wild turkeys, and occasionally bear's meat.
Notwithstanding their trials and lack of what is now called comfort, the early settlers were healthy and happy. Fever and ague were unknown, and doctors were scarce. Rev. Egerton Ryerson has been known to prescribe for some of his flock, when visiting this region in a pastoral capacity.
Houghton was originally
appropriated by the government for school purposes. When the Clergy
Reserves were secularized Houghton received $5,996 and devoted it to
From page 57 of the Mika re-print of
1877 Illustrated Historical Atlas of Norfolk County