The restored grist mill©Copyright: Jeri Danyleyko
Bedford Mills sounds like something out of a Frank Capra movie (wasn't it Bedford Falls in It's a Wonderful Life?). Bedford Mills was simply another tiny mill town that much like the others in the surrounding area, only it was prettier.
English born Benjamin Tett arrived in Canada in 1820 at the tender age of 22. He settled in Perth for a few years before relocating to Newboro around 1827. Benjamin Tett was first and foremost a businessman and knew an opportunity when he saw one. After construction on the Rideau Canal began in 1829, Tett anticipated a huge increase in the demand for lumber and began purchasing large blocks of land at the foot of Buttermilk Falls. He leased a portion of his land to the Chaffey brothers, who constructed a sawmill around 1832. Eventually Tett purchased the mill from the Chaffeys and began setting up shop as a mill owner. Although there are no official records of such, a couple of sources point to a post office being established as early as 1835.
As the mill prospered, a small company town site began to spring up around the mills. A grist mill was added around the 1840s. The small village included a store and boarding house, owned by Tett, along with a few homes. As was the practise of the day, workers maintained accounts at the Tett store and purchases were debited from their earnings. The milling business proved to be a big success - so much so that in 1848 the mill was replaced with a much larger one.
After Benjamin Tett Sr. passed away in 1878, the operations were taken over by his sons. By that time Bedford Mills was a busy little place boasting a population of about 80. In addition to the Tett saw, flour and shingle mills, the village included a second flour mill, operated by W.H. McBroom, shingle manufacturing, by Edward Turner and a cheese factory. Robert Barker was the millwright. The village offered very little in the way of commercial services, other than the Tett store, restaurant and boarding house, however there was a school. Additional employment was also available at the nearby mica mines.
The mills remained busy during the 1890s. Records show James Bell was operating a boarding house and a creamery had been established in addition to the cheese factory. St. Stephens Anglican Church was built in 1907. There was also an Orange Hall. However by the early 20th century, Bedford Mills was clearly on the decline. Canal shipping, which had looked so promising in the 1820's, just couldn't compete with the railways, which, incidentally, had completely ignored the little village. With the forests depleted, the mines running dry and the soil inadequate for farming, the village gradually began to shut down. The mills continued to operate until 1916. The post office lasted as late as 1940.
Bedford Mills remained popular as a vacation spot and regularly bounced back to life during the summer months. During the 1950s, the power house was used as a general store, run by a popular woman known as "Ruby." Since then it has been renovated and is now used as a private dwelling. The grist mill has also been renovated and now serves as a work shop. A few people continue to live in the area, some year-round and others during the summer. St. Stephens Anglican Church still stands and has been beautifully preserved.