For several years since its inception in 1989, Heritage Elizabethtown, in the beginning known by its formal title as "Local Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee", has employed summertime help subsidized through grants from Federal and/or Provincial sources to carry out its objectives. In 1994, for instance, Ms. Karen Klout produced, with the help of local historians,
Greenbush and Addison Villages: A Look at the History and Homes. In 1995, Heritage Elizabethtown employed Michael Brown of Prescott, an undergraduate student in English and History at Trent University, to work on a similar project involving the "Perth Road," known in recent years as Highway #29.
Part of that road--the section from the northern border of the township
almost to its intersection with Highway #42-- has been substantially covered in the Greenbush-Addison publication, and will not, therefore, be duplicated here.
When reading this account,
bear in mind that “township” here and elsewhere refers to the former Township of Elizabethtown, and not to the recently amalgamated Township of Elizabethtown-Kitley,
which now stretches almost to Smiths Falls. Note, too, when finding references to “recent”, “present” and the like, that the original publication date was 1995
The old Perth trail ran from Brockville, up what is now Schofield Hill, thence by Tincap and on to Unionville. Many of the exact details of the southern-most part of the road are left to speculation, as only small portions like that beside the Howard Cemetery survive. At Unionville the road forked, one branch (now the Highway #42) headed west to Athens, Delta, Phillipsville, Forfar, Crosby, Newboro and on to Perth. The other section (now Highway #29) branched off to the north-east, through Toledo, hence north to Rideau Ferry and north-west to Perth. In the beginning, these roads were faint Indian trails, blazes on trees to indicate the surveyors’ 40 foot road allowance, all set in land heavily treed.
The outcome of the American Revolution surprised Britain, the Colonies and Canada. The latter had no particular plans for settlement, content as it was to enjoy the profits of the fur-trade. Refugees began flooding in and policies had to be created and implemented. Most of the Empire Loyalists arrived with little else than the clothes on their back and whatever they could carry. Those who arrived in Lower Canada often found themselves in holding camps outside Montreal until the various mechanical problems of settlement could be solved by the government. Others came with wagons up through the State of New York and arrived directly in our area, in which case they would have crossed the St. Lawrence when the ice was thick enough to carry them.
In 1784, there were 182 settlers in Elizabethtown; by 1812, there were 2200. In folktale and myth, our heroes and heroines are handsome, dealing with the fates in a courageous way. In reality, trudging through the narrow paths carrying the few government issued tools, blankets and seed perhaps did not lead one towards beauty, and the fates had to be dealt with through hard work, faith and hope. A broad-axe is a very small tool when you stand looking up to a tree that is four feet in diameter and seems to touch the sky itself. It took between two weeks and a month to clear an acre.
If in today's world a country tried to settle its land in this manner, Amnesty International would probably indict it as cruel and inhumane and bring it to the attention of the media. However, to the Empire Loyalists and those British, Irish and Scottish settlers who were to follow, the ownership of land and the opportunities to offer their children and grandchildren a freedom such as they had not know was worth the effort.
Their first winter was spent battling the cold and trying to survive until the next morning. It meant constant hunting and living mostly on game. Travel, if and when done, was through the bush-trails and only in case of emergency, and then only to your nearest neighbour or family. As the clearing allowed, forage crops were grown and some stock brought in. Then the limbs of the trees on the trails were trimmed off to allow a man on horseback to get through without risking beheading.
With winter wheat and potash as cash crops, the need for transportation necessitated the widening and intersecting of the trails. The British custom of appointing Path-Masters had been transferred to the provinces by 1800. Each area would then have an overseer to organize the road system. Under existing rules, each land owner was to provide two to thirteen days of free labour for road building and maintenance. Normally the appointee was a local man of substance; the owner of the largest inn, mill or general store. Often his position cast him between the devil and the deep blue sea, since the men he must coerce into work were his customers and friends. Sometimes he chose to offer a little inducement in the form of free whiskey. The appointee was occasionally a bad choice, caring little whether the roads outside his immediate vicinity were done. This, along with the hodge-podge of Crown and Clergy Reserves, led to an uneven development of the roads.
The manner of construction, after removal of trees and as many stumps as possible, varied with the terrain. Sometimes it was possible to almost leave it as it was, but in the case of swamp, brush and underwood had to be thrown over the section. On top of this were placed trunks of trees about 14 to 20 ft long, each of the same circumference wherever possible. Earth and sod were then thrown over that, to be compacted by horses, oxen and wagons. What records exist describe riding over these sections in springless vehicles as simulating the sensation of joint and muscle separating. The first wagons often used sliced logs of the same size as wheels. With the advent of saw mills, plank roads made of heavy sawn planks were used in certain areas and provided a good surface. Until drainage ditches were in place, water in spring and fall turned the roads in a quagmire of mud, often making travel impossible.
Travel by stagecoach was no better, for in the poor seasons the coach could go no more than one or two miles an hour and gave its occupants a thorough shaking up in the process. Passengers had to dismount in some places in order to give the horse a lighter load to pull.
There were at one time between Farmersville (Athens) and Brockville as many as thirteen inns. Some were large and clean, offering good food and sleeping accommodations. The one mentioned by one Rev. Bell in about 1813 was of the other sort. He had been visiting with Rev. Smart in Brockville and had obtained a lift with a member of the congregation to about eleven miles north on the Perth Road. He over-nighted with the farmer and set out the following morning before dawn for Perth. Shortly, he came upon an Inn, and decided to stop for breakfast. It was a small log building, huddling close to the earth and displayed a dirty interior. The landlady sat with some farmhands at the only table, and at hearing his request, bade him to get outside and wait for her to finish eating. After a delay of some time, some spoiled mutton chops and fried bread were literally dropped in his lap as he sat at a crude bench in the outdoors. The rest of his trip was through heavy woods, navigating along blazed trails until he arrived at Rideau Ferry, and then on to Perth.
Small settlements had begun to emerge: places such as Tincap and Spring Valley (formerly Niblock's Corners) where tradesmen and merchants settled. The choice was based on location. The local people could gather and travellers on the road stop; schools would be built and churches erected. To a people who had cleared acres with their hands, were building homes and barns, had learned to make do, make over, and cooperate with their neighbours, no dream was too impossible.
The hamlets grew, the farms expanded, and the road went meandering up the way. However, there was one hitch: during the middle of the 1800s, it was decided by the 'powers that be' to "Macadamise" the road and change its name to "Victoria Road:' Neither change was successful, the former coming to a halt after five miles and ten years due to the cost, and the name simply never caught on, remaining known to all as the Perth Road.
It was one of the first regular stage coach routes in the province, second only to the Kingston-Montreal run. The road also probably competed with Sharpes Lane, just to the east, as a smuggler's road. Smuggling was practiced by respectable people who were often the pillars of their communities. There were certain elements of the newly forming Canadian character that did not always countenance bureaucracy.
Within the memory of many citizens, Brockvillians and rural residents alike, the present day Highway 29's southern terminus was at the intersection of King and Perth Street, where Brockville's oldest remaining residence still stands, with the Brockville Civic Auditorium nearby. "Twenty-nine" represents the year in which the rural pavement was first laid down on this historic route. Some persons will still remember when Brockville ended at 281 Perth Street and Elizabethtown began with the "Flatiron." The flatiron, so named for its triangular shape, represented the wedge of land bounded by Perth Road, extending from Perth Street, the
Second Concession Road, now Parkedale Avenue, and the southerly extension of what later became known as Windsor Drive. The building of Highway 401 eliminated the Windsor Drive - Perth Street connection in the 1950s and the rerouting of Highway 29, to join with William Street downtown, via the newly cut Stewart Boulevard, eliminated the flatiron.
Since the purpose of Heritage Elizabethtown's research has been directed to catalogue the older homes, perhaps it is worthwhile recalling some of the. homes in. the border region between the second and third concessions that may have disappeared into the growth of Brockville. Near the second concession, now Parkedale Avenue, was the brick Kilborn home, where Luna Pizzeria now stands. To the east of the intersection stood two long burned-out stone shells, approximately where the Thousand Islands Secondary School sits. To the west, on either side of the road (called the Chemical Road, since it once led to an iron pyrites mine) was the old Billings home, now headquarters for Highland Golf Course, with the Mott home somewhat opposite. The Brick School remains as a part of a dwelling house.
A series of low ridges marks the highway's progress all the way to the third concession and beyond. Opposite the Kilborn House, where The Good Shepherd Lutheran Church now stands, were the homes occupied at various times by McCraes, Shoreys, Christies and others. Back again next door to the Kilborn House, a frame house still stands which was the home of the keepers of the Rifle Range, among whom are remembered the Millers. The last vestige of the Rifle Range, now occupied by streets and residences originally called the Loyalist Subdivision, are abutments that can still be seen near Kensington Pkwy. Next on the east side came the farm building. of the residences across the highway. These were the homes of the Vandusens, Bellamys, Covilles and Halls; this site is now occupied principally by Rockway Pontiac. The next house was the Everts, later Baldwin House, demolished recently for the Beaver Lumber Complex.
On the same rise of ground on the north side of the highway was the James Acheson house, a frame dwelling burned many years ago. Continuing north beyond the Animal Hospital was the Dalton Home, burned only a few years ago. Opposite across Victoria Road from Windsor School were the Banks’s home and farm buildings, long since gone. On the same side of the highway, past the Perrin Car dealership, stood the just recently demolished stone home occupied for many years by members of the Glazier family, on property now owned by the adjoining Highway Pentecostal Church.
We’ve now reached the Centennial Road, the third concession of Elizabethtown, which still known in its southern extremities as the Howard Road (after a pioneer family). The buildings astride this intersection formerly constituted the community of Beach's Corners. On the north side of the intersection, just within the city limits, is the home of Mr. & Mrs. Nelson Worden, who have lived there for many years. The one-time Beach property was a rough cast house on the north-west corner of the intersection, demolished as a victim of the widening of Highway #29. The last resident was the late Marcus Hudson. Also at that intersection were other Beach houses, in one of which lived the late Milford Bradford and family.
Halfway to Tincap, the fourth concession intersection, stood the Langstaff-Wetherell-Ballantyne house, also a victim of road widening. It was replaced, somewhat set back, by the present home of Mrs. Muriel Ballantyne. To reach this point, we have come through Blair's Woods, a one-time beautiful grove of hard maple trees, badly decimated by a windstorm in the early 1930's. There, on the north side, during the 1950s, a log house was erected by a member of the Ballantyne family. It later formed the nucleus of Sunnyview Restaurant, operated by Betty Ballantyne and later by Mae Bown. It was later stuccoed and is now a private residence.
Today, Highway 29 carries enormous trucks as well as tradesmen's vans, private pickups, cars and motorcycles, and surely no smuggled goods. Nor does it any longer carry the circus, with its elephants winding their way through the countryside amidst the swirl of children, laughing and running alongside the great beasts. If any horses are to be seen, they are calmly clipping grass in a fenced pasture, not heaving and straining over rocks and stumps. No oxen emerge from the concession roads, no great wagons drawn by six heavy horses. No sleighs with passengers bundled under fur robes and plumes of frosty breath blowing through horses' noses, bells jingling to warn of their coming. Another day, and another way of living.
It should at this time be pointed out that in addition to dealing with
the houses along the route of the Old Perth Road, this account looks at many of the homes along some of the old feeder roads nearby, which might otherwise be missed at a later date in subsequent research and books. These are being handled in the most logical way apparent to us.
Introduction written by Edgar Clow and Dorothy Gordon and edited by Michael Brown