The Land Where the Village Now Stands Was in 1791 Owned by Governor Simcoe, The First
Governor Of Upper Canada – The After Sales and Settlement –
Many Mills Erected Because of The Fine Water Power – The Village’s Fine Prospects
The death of John A. Shibley, J.P., one of the pioneers of the now lively and flourishing village of Yarker, calls to mind some interesting facts and incidents in connection with the early settlement and growth of what has now become the most important manufacturing centre of Addington county. The facts were largely obtained from Mr. Shibley himself at several occasions during past years.
Governor Simcoe, the first governor of the province of Upper Canada, who came to this country in 1791, obtained a tract of land of one thousand acres where the village of Yarker now stands. The tract extended for a short distance above the present site of the village and on both sides of the Napanee river to some distance below. There were five lots in all of 200 acres each. This was long known as the “Simcoe Tract,” and later on as “Simcoe Falls,” which name it bore for years, until it was finally changed to Yarker, when it became necessary to give a more distinguishing name to the post office.
Until years after Gov. Simcoe’s return to England and his death in that country, no sales were made in the Simcoe tract. It was known to possess one of the best water powers on the whole river and there were quite prosperous settlements above it at Colebrooke, where a mill had been for years in operation and at Clarke’s Mills (now Camden East), below where there were also mills. The tract was heavily timbered and the land somewhat rough and stony, and there was not even a wagon road through the section on either side of the river for years. To reach Colebrooke from Clarke’s Mills it was necessary to travel round by Switzer’s and Wilton, a distance three times as great as the straight road or railway line now between the two places. It is said that soon after the opening of the burial ground in connection with the present Anglican church at Camden East, a woman of one of the leading families died just above Yarker and it was resolved to have the burial at the church. The friends and neighbors found it necessary to carry the coffin on their shoulders over four miles through the woods for lack of any wagon road. That was within the recollection of many still living; and this through one of the best settled sections of the province of Ontario to-day, so rapid is our growth in this country.
After the death of Gov. Simcoe, about 18--, it was publicly announced that the legal representative of his estate in Toronto would sell the tract on reasonable terms. The late Sidney Warner, Wilton, had then become an energetic and prosperous business man. He went to Toronto by stage, then a rough and tedious journey of two days, - and made purchase of the whole tract. His son, Harvey Warner, Napanee, has now the original deed in his possessions. It sets forth that on the first day of July, 18-0, the deed was executed, conveying from “Henry Addington Simcoe, formerly of Wolford lodge, county of Devon in England, now that part of Great Britain called Wales, to Sidney Warner, of Ernesttown, county of Lennox and Addington, Midland district, lots No. 39, 40, 41, 42 and 43 in the first concession of Camden, one thousand acres, more or less for the sum of £759 currency ($3,000)” The deed was signed for H.A. Simcoe by his attorney, W. Allen, Toronto – the late Hon. William Allen – and witnessed by James Henderson and James Cockburn. The last named gentleman is the ex M.P. for Centre Toronto. There is on the back a registrar certificate by Isaac Fraser, registrar of Lennox and Addington, at his office in Millhaven on February 19th, 18-- at ten o’clock. The papers of that office are now in the co-registry at Napanee.
After Sales and Settlements
The late George Miller, whose wife was a sister of Mr. Shibley, purchased two lots on the west side of the river from Mr. Warner; the others were sold to various parties. Mr. Miller, for many years a very enterprising business man, built a flour mill soon after his land purchase, the first of its kind in that place. This was burned in the spring of 1846 and Mr. Shibley, then in business with him, entered into a partnership and they built a much larger flour mill and woolen mill in connection. Mr. Shibley then became a permanent resident of the place and remained there until his death, a few days ago. In 1848 he opened a store which he kept for forty years, retiring from business about nine years ago. George Miller afterwards sold his property and moved elsewhere. He died in Napanee a few years ago. The mills were again burned, the flour mill being rebuilt by Mr. McVean, who afterwards moved to Dresden. He in turn sold out to Mr. Benjamin and in about 1872 it was purchased by George McDonald. It is now owned by Mr. Banyard and is one of the best known mills of its class in the county. Perhaps the first mill erected in the place was a saw mill erected about 1836 by the late Jesse Shibley, who died at Sharbot Lake last year. It stood near where the Connolly foundry now stands, south of the river. There was no other building in the locality then.
In about 1846 Garrett and Anthony Miller, two brothers, established a tannery near where the wheel factories now stand, which they ran successfully for some time. Mr. Connelly came to the village from Sydenham about 1845 and established the first foundry and agricultural implement shop. He was a man of much energy and industry and succeeded in building up a large business, which is now conducted by his sons, and is the largest establishment of its class in that section of country. For years the want of good roads, or of any means of transportation, was a serious hindrance to the extension of business there. Now Yarker has become the most important station on the Bay of Quinte railway system and the junction of the main line with the Harrowsmith, Sydenham and Kingston branch. The Benjamin manufacturing company has one of the largest establishments for the manufacture of patent carriage wheels in the country. The wool company has also a large and long-established factory of a similar class. The Yarker fine carriage wheels are being to-day shipped in large quantities to nearly every section of Ontario. There are few better water-powers between the Gananoque and Trent rivers; the railway transportation facilities are excellent, the location is central and convenient, and everything indicates that Yarker may yet become one of the most important and flourishing manufacturing towns in Central Ontario.
Some Early Houses
The pioneers of the Yarker built their houses substantially and well. There is plenty of good building stone near by and it has been used to good advantage. The oldest house in the place is a substantial stone dwelling erected about ---- years ago by John Miller. It stands next the hotel and is now occupied by George McDonald. The next oldest is the stone residence just back of the Anglican church, now occupied by Stanley Shelden. It was built by George Miller and occupied by him for years until he left the place. Both the houses are in an excellent state of preservation today. Anthony Miller built the fine and commodious residence owned by E.W. Benjamin, which has since been added to and improved a good deal. It is one of the finest residences in the township. The large residence of the late Mr. Shibley was erected fifty years ago and was always occupied by him until the time of his death. Mr. West, Mr. Benjamin, jr., Mr. Connolly, Mr. Vanluven and others all have very neat and tasty dwellings. Yarker is now noted for its comfortable homes and its neat and substantial appearance.
Just about where the village stands was for years a splendid place for sportsmen. The fishing in the river was good. The forest was heavy and there were such rocks and glens as made it a fine resort for deer and other game. Henry Ansley, now nearly an octogenarian – the oldest man there – well remembers some excellent sport he enjoyed about there in his younger days. Deer were fine and plentiful and so were bears and wolves. He has shot some fine animals of that class in and below the place where the thickest of the town now stands. The first sawmill he remembers was built by David Vader. It was afterwards sold to David Scott. In 1865, the Booth, Philip and John of Odessa, built a woolen mill. This they sold to George Scott, now of Richmond in 1873. Mr. Ewan purchased it of Mr. Scott and it was burned down in December, 1890. The water power was sold to E.W. Benjamin and the woollen factory was not re-erected. Mr. Vader moved to Salmon River, where he built a sawmill, then to Prince Edward county and later on to Michigan, where some members of his family now reside.
Half a mile or so below Yarker is “Woodmucket”, where there is also an excellent water power and where a large chair and shingle factory has been in successful operation for years, conducted by Mr. Babcock. John R. Scott, Napanee has recently purchased the property from Peter Vanluven and intends to erect a new dam and make other important improvement. Mr. Scott has not become the owner of Woodmucket, Camden Mills and Hooper Mills water powers, three of the important ones along the river and has thus obtained control of the water for about eight miles along the river, giving a very important reservoir for hydraulic purposes. At the latter place he has just been putting in machinery to develop electric power with which to supply incandescent light and electric power for machinery purposes for Thompson’s paper mills, Newburgh, Napanee Mills and Napanee, a distance in all of eight or nine miles. There are now along the Napanee river, from Yarker downwards, a number of fine manufacturing establishments, flour mills, shingle and sawmills, paper mills, Portland cement works and others of a similar class. The chances are that the whole stretch of water power for a dozen miles or so will yet become among the important manufacturing hives of industry of the province of Ontario.
THOMAS W. CASEY