Decew Falls and Wilson Morningstar’s Spiral Staircase

Decew Falls has been a tourist destination for over 150 years. Mary Kelsey, visiting from Michigan on July 16, 1866, writes that Decew Falls was ‘one of the most splendid places [she] had ever seen.’ She and her friends ‘waded where the water was more shallow and still’ and ‘sprang, walked and climbed [bare-footed] until all of a sudden, on rounding a point, the falls burst forth on our enraptured sight.’

To safely access the bottom of the Decew Falls, Wilson Morningstar built a spiral staircase ‘around a huge tree that grew from the floor of the ravine to the ground level above’ in about 1890. In the fall of 1894, a group of tourists from Toronto descended into the gorge after paying a fee to use the staircase. A newspaper article from The Globe on Saturday, September 29, 1894 describes the trip…

‘At Decew Falls…one raps at the door of a little, weather-boarded cottage on the bank. The door opens and a sweet-faced young woman [Emma, Wilson’s wife] comes forth with a key in her hand. “You wish to go down?” she asks…a lock is turned, and you enter and descend and descend into semi-darkness. It is a spiral stairway which you follow, a little sandy and damp, and with lookouts cut at every second turn of the cylinder, through which one gazes with exclamations of wonder and delight.”

Decew Falls remain just as beautiful today as they were in Wilson’s time, however, unfortunately for us today, the staircase which was used until about 1910 no longer exists.

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