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The Hotel Buckhorn
By Alex McPherson, Chatham Daily News, November 26, 1932


I have lived all my seventy-one years in this community, about which many strange and interesting stories are interwoven in the history of Cedar Springs. Our attractive village is located on the Kingís Highway No. 3, the centre of a fine orchard district, and reached from Chatham by the straight Raleigh-Harwich town line; but those stories go back to the days when it bore the unpretentious name of Buckhorn which will still be remembered by some of the older residents of Kent.

Located on the ridge at one of the higher points in Kent, our village today is noted for its neat, attractive homes, its places of business being garages, service stations, and general stores of the type which are to be found in any small community.

Several decades ago, however, it was known as Buckhorn, a popular place on the Talbot Road, for its post office, and the two hotels which gave shelter to travellers, and provided a place of sociability for men who were not averse to strong drink.

I will now relate some of these stories to you which I personally know to be true.

I am the son of Hugh McPherson, who was a dry goods salesman in Glasgow, Scotland, before he came to Canada in 1854 to try his luck. He spent his first winter on the Sixteenth Concession, and then opened a general store in the village. It was in this store that the first post office was established.

While much of Kent County, at that time, was bushlands, quite a lot of ground had been cleared in the vicinity of the ridge. It was natural that the pioneers would settle on the high ground, and near the Talbot road which was an important link on the peninsula, for over it travelled the stage coaches and mail couriers, on horse back, who rode over it twice a week, the nearest community on the west being Kingsville.

Until a second hotel was built the village had no name, "Buckhorn" being given the new hostelry. Prior to that time the only hotel was the Erie House on the corner of the crossroads.

The naming of the hotel resulted from an amusing incident. When the structure was finished, a pole was raised for the purpose of supporting a sign. On this pole some men nailed a sprig of buckhorn, and from that time the hostelry was called Buckhorn and from which the village subsequently named its post office.

Years afterwards, Judge Robert S. Woods of Chatham, when he erected a summer home on the lake side, started the agitation which eventually resulted in the village being known by the more dignified name of Cedar Springs. Henry Smith (Smyth) of Chatham was M. P. at the time, and he succeeded in his application to the government for the name of the post office and village to be changed. That was in the 1880s.

The road to Chatham at the time was little more than a trail. There was a good road leading to the lake, where there was a big dock for the use of schooners which hauled away lumber and cord wood cleared from the land. Two hotels also flourished at that busy point, and were known as the White Pigeons.

I recall the amusing incident of the Fenian spy. I was about six years old at the time and I remember the details as clearly as if it had occurred yesterday.

After the Civil War, the people became aroused on account of Fenians coming to Canada. Reports reached Buckhorn that some of the Fenians had landed at Point Pelee and various places along the lake shore. Everybody in the district was excited. The citizens formed a guard to protect themselves and their property.

One night a man brought word to the people gathered at the hotels that a party of Fenians was landing on the lake shore. There was great excitement. They went out with their guns prepared for battle, but nothing serious happened. They found a stranger, however, whom they believed to be a spy, and he was escorted to the hotel. There was no proper place to imprison anybody, so this man was locked up in a box stall. The men went back to their drinking in the hotel. In some way, the stranger managed to pen the lock, and I happened to be there when he made a successful break for liberty. There was a hunt but the stranger got away.

The amusing part of this incident was that the so-called spy was only a common tramp, and the report of the landing of Fenians was entirely without foundation. It was subsequently learned that the heaving of the ground due to the frost had caused a pile of logs on the shore of the lake to collapse. Some of these rested on end, so that in the dark of the night they appeared to take human forms to the man who first saw them, and who hurried to the hotel to give an alarm about the landing of Fenians.

The destruction by fire of the Hotel Buckhorn was an incident which is vividly impressed on my memory. I can quite clearly remember the big blaze although incidents before and after the fire were related to me later in life.

I can remember getting out of my bed and watching the blaze. I was only scantily clad, when my folks saw me, they hustled me back into the room. Leading up to the fire, it appears that quite a lot of rivalry had developed between the two hotels located at Buckhorn. The Buckhorn, however, became noted for reveries. One night some of the high spirits staged a raid on the place and helped themselves to free drinks. It was a few nights after that the hotel was set on fire. This was in 1863. There was a big scandal about it, and some of the parties decided to leave the district. Others were prosecuted and fined.

Speaking of those days, little money exchanged hands. Business was done in trade. Talk about rock bottom prices, conditions now (the Great Depression) are nothing to what they used to be. I can tell you of how my father took a big chance on disposing of a large supply of eggs in Buffalo. He shipped his supply on the urgings of Captain Taylor, owner of an old schooner, but on arrival at Buffalo, he found it was impossible to sell them. Captain Taylor could not pay his harbour dues, and the boat had to leave surreptitiously and my father being compelled to leave his eggs on the dock.

The days of the "open vote" are still fresh in my mind. No man could be on the fence at that time, for a voterís views were known to everybody within earshot. Under the system an elector stood before a returning officer and announced to him how he wished his vote recorded. Incidentally, the system was one which was open to many abuses, and I recall stories of "bought voters" being taken to the polls in wagon loads. I have been a staunch Liberal in politics since my youth and I attribute my allegiance to that party from hero-worship I had for W. S. Stripp, who was the opponent of Rufus Stephenson.

That was the hottest election Kent County ever had. Stephenson was the winner with a majority of seventy-three votes. Everybody loved Mr. Stripp. I remember one political meeting in Blenheim when I was just a boy. I wanted to go to that meeting, but I was put to bed. I dressed and stole out of the house through a window and went to it. I was only twelve years old at the time. I wonder how many boys of today would be as eager to attend political meetings?


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