harbor of refuge, but today fishing is the only
industry in what was once a thriving lake port.
Morpeth, still a busy community in
the 80s, gradually declined; though in recent years the paving of No. 3
highway and the development of tourist traffic has brought some revival.
The newer community of Ridgetown, on
the Canada Southern railway, sprang up to take Morpeth’s place as a
trading centre. The high ground on which it is situated and from which it
takes its name was still a wilderness when in 1823 an Englishman named
William Marsh made the first clearing on Lot 9, Concession 10, Howard.
James Watson same next; then Edmund Mitton and Thomas Scane, with their
families. Ehenezer Colby, from New York State, came a little later. Their
farms represent the larger part of what is today the town of Ridgetown.
A word as to these pioneers. William
Marsh, familarly known as "Daddy" Marsh, owned the first hand mill, which
was in constant use by the settlers and is still in existence. James
Watson, a little Kentishman, walked all the way from Ridgetown to
Philadelphia when making his first trip home to England after locating.
Walking, indeed, seems to have been a common stunt; for Edmund Mitton, an
old country weaver, is said to have walked nearly the whole way from New
York to Colonel Talbot’s place with his wife and family, the wife carrying
an infant in arms. The Mitton family, ten in all, made their first home in
a 14 x 18 log cabin, one storey high.
Mrs. Marsh, wife of "Daddy" Marsh,
walked more than once from Ridgetown to Toronto, a distance of 180 miles,
carrying a load both ways. That such strenuous exercise did not impair her
health is evidenced by the fact that she lived to be 104, and on her 101st
birthday, the last of the pioneers, she was publicly honored by the entire
community, and presented with a medal.
The settlement grew; but as late as
1837 the nearest stores were at Morpeth and Antrim, and for many years
these remained the important trading points of the surrounding country.
The building of the Canada Southern Railway in 1872, however, brought a
rapid development to Ridgetown; on October 16, 1875, it was incorporated
as a village; and thenceforth its growth continued steady.
Though, according to Colonel Talbot,
his famous colonization road had not been extended into Harwich before
1830, a colonization survey farther west was made by Colonel Mahlon
Burwell shortly after the War of 1812, when the first attempts at
permanent settlement were made.
There was a considerable settlement
in the south end of Raleigh by 1817, the names of D’Clute, Toll, Lytle,
Goulet, Pardo, Huffman and Simpson — still well known in the vicinity —
appearing on the Talbot land registers.
In 1817 the beginnings of municipal
government were established in the townships; and the census taken by
William Sterling, a resident of the Thames river front, in 1820, shows 45
heads of families along the Talbot Road in what are now Raleigh, Tilbury
East and Romney. Most of this settlement was in the Ouvry district. A
post—office named Erieus was opened in 1831, if not earlier, by Colonel
James W. Lytle, the storekeeper. This gave place in 1850 to Dealtown ;
while the name of Ouvry first appears in 1876. The first school had
already been established in 1842.
South of the Talbot Road lies the
natural harbor of Rondeau Bay. The first lieutenant governor of Upper
Canada, John Graves Simcoe, had ambitious plans for this natural port:
and, when ordering the establishment of the Chatham townsite on the Thames
in 1795, he also directed Deputy-Surveyor Abram Iredell to survey a "road
of communication" south to Rondeau, with 200-acre lots on each side for
United Empire Loyalist settlers. Simcoe’s instructions also called for a
townsite at Rondeau.
The road appears to have been opened
only as far as the present Blenheim; but the town was surveyed and named
Shrewsbury. The extent of Simcoe’s dream may be realized from the fact
that 600 acres were reserved and at least 400 acres actually plotted. The
plan shows numerous streets, named after the royalty and the military
heroes of the time; a large square for gaol and court house, another for a
market and yet another for a church. Across the bay the present Eau Point
was designated "Ordnance Lands" where fortifications were to be erected to
protect the harbor of Rondeau and the city of Shrewshury. Here were built,
at a later day, some of the ships of Captain Barclay’s squadron, defeated
by Perry at Put-in-Bay.
Conditions changed, however, before
any actual settlement could take place; and in a later era the still
vacant townsite of Shrewsbury was used as a refuge for fugitive slaves
from the United States, some of whose descendants still dwell there.
Another community important in the
early days was the village of Buckhorn which sprang up where the "Gravel
Road" from Chatham crossed the Talbot Road. Traditionally this site had
once been occupied by a village of Neutral Indians. By 1840, a small
village had sprung up along the Talbot Road. A tavern, the "Farmers’
House," kept by Nelson Chapman, displayed a set of buck’s antlers as a
sign; and wayfarers united in christening the village "Buckhorn."
Hugh McPherson was the first
storekeeper and, after 1850, the first postmaster. In 1866 he was
succeeded by W. S. Stripp, then 26 years old, a man of unusual
vision and enterprise, who established the beginnings of various
industries, planted vineyards, and visualized a thriving town and perhaps
a large city.
Unluckily for him, Stripp plunged
into politics as Liberal candidate for parliament in 1872 and 1873, and
though he came close to wresting the constituency from the redoubtable
Rufus Stephenson, politics put a crimp in his business enterprises.
Buckhorn was, however, for many years a busy place, farm products and
cordwood being shipped in large quantities from Buckhorn dock just west of
the present summer resort of Erie Beach; while a heavy traffic was
conducted between the lake and Chatham over a plank toll road through
Charing Cross. In the early 80’s Buckhorn, grown aesthetic, rechristened
itself Cedar Springs.
Iredell’s survey, carried out
subsequent to had blazed the Communication Road from Chatham as far as the
Ridge, though at the time it seems to have gone no farther. The stretch of
the Talbot Road across South Harwich, granted by the government to
absentee landlords, was for a long time withheld from settlement; and as
late as 1833 was known as the "Ten Mile Bush."
About that year, Richard Chute
purchased a block of land from Robertson, Laird of Inshes, and built a log
shanty south of Talbot Street and west of the Communication Road. Other
settlers made clearings, among them John Jackson, who, after some years of
pioneering in Romney, moved to the Ten Mile Bush and became one of the
outstanding figures in the new community. Another leader was Colonel James
W. Lytle, who came from the Ouvry settlement in Raleigh to purchase
Chute’s property, add some of his own, and therefrom plat, in 1840, the
original village of Blenheim.
Settlement was slow till the
completion of the Communication Road through to Lake Erie in 1844; when
the resulting increase in trade and population, and the demand for
mercantile services within easier reach than Chatham, led to the
establishment of stores and small industries. Orrin Gee, founder of the
first brickyard, was also the first postmaster, in 1849.
Till that time the locality was
still known as the Ten Mile Bush. Then it was discovered that Colonel
Lytle’s name of Blenheim already belonged to a post-office in Oxford
county; so the post-office was christened Rond Eau, a name which continued
in use for several decades. Eventually the name of Blenheim was adopted.
It was long before the first
settlement of Blenheim that, in 1828, Colonel Burwell completed the
township surveys begun, years earlier, by Abram Iredell and Patrick McNiff.
An Englishman, William White, one of Talbot’s settlers, was the first
settler on the Middle Road, making the trip through the bush with ox
teams, and cutting a road of his own from the Talbot Road near Blenheim to
his location in Raleigh, a distance of six miles. This was the beginning
of the Middle Road.
Some years later another Englishman
named Cook settled close to the Harwich-Raleigh townline, giving his name
to Cook’s Corners, now Charing Cross.
In course of time the tide of
settlement flowed farther and farther westward, across Raleigh and into
Tilbury East, and the blazed trail of the days of Burwell and White became
one of the most travelled highways in Kent, linking King’s Highways Nos. 3
and 2, and the thriving towns of Blenheim and Tilbury.
The latter, youngest of Kent’s
towns, owed its existence in the first instance to the Canada Southern
railroad, and for many years had a keen commercial rival in the thrifty
Scottish settlement of Valetta, in the early clays the commercial
metropolis of Tilbury East.