Abandonded garage (now demolished) and dwelling.©Copyright: Jeri Danyleyko
It's hard to believe that at one time Brudenell was the largest and most prosperous community on the old Opeongo Road. The village was first settled in the 1850s and named after Crimean war hero, James Thomas Brudenell. Originally known as 'Brudenell Corners' and alternately as 'Payette Corners', after Madame Payette's busy hotel, the 'corners' was dropped when Charles Hirsh opened the first post office in 1859.
Brudenell was a rough, tough outpost catering to the many lumberjacks heading up the rocky hills to the pineries every winter. By the late 1860s, Brudenell boasted three hotels, all of which had taverns. Although this seemed rather excessive considering Brudenell only had about 200 residents, the actual transient and stopover population was said to be much higher.
Brudenell's three hotels included the Brudenell Inn, owned by James Grace, the British Hotel, owned by Desiree Payette and a third unnamed hotel, run by James Whelan. In addition to the busy taverns with their adjoining flophouses, additional entertainment was available at the Brudenell racetrack. Storekeepers included Patrick Keilly, John Reynolds and John Moran, the latter two both having served as postmasters during the 1860s. There were also several blacksmiths, carpenters, shoemakers, a school and a Roman Catholic church. Stagecoaches destined to nearby Eganville, Rockingham and Combermere, rattled through the village daily.
Brudenell's rather unsavoury reputation took a turn for the worse in the early 1870s, following the arrival of the Costello family from Ireland. 'Black Jim' Costello, as he became known, purchased one of the general stores and took over the post office while his brother Mike set up a blacksmith shop.
Black Jim ran the general store and post office from 1871 until his death in 1902. It seems he was well regarded by the lumbermen. He set up a form of credit that allowed families to purchase supplies from his store. The accounts would then be settled in the spring when the lumbermen returned from the camps.
During the mid 1880s, Mike Costello expanded his reach into the hospitality business with the establishment of Costello's Hotel. Almost immediately the hotel became known as a locale where gambling and other sins of a far worse nature were rumoured to be taking place. It was during this period that Brudenell picked up the somewhat dubious reputation as the most notorious 'sin-bucket' along the Opeongo. The hotel burned in 1886 but was quickly rebuilt. In the meantime Madame Payette, who was widowed at the age of 33, quietly stifled some of her competition by purchasing John Whelan's old hotel from John Devine for $2000.00, a very tidy sum back in those days. Devine got out of the hotel business and switched over to road building.
Brudenell's demise came with the arrival of J.R. Booth's railway in 1893. The railway traversed through Algonquin Park, where most of Booth's lumbering activities were taking place, completely by-passing Brudenell. Over time most of the businesses gradually shut down. The Costello and Payette hotels lasted until the early part of the 20th century. The Keilly general store, which had been operated by Hanorah Keilly since at least the mid 1880s following her husband's death, was still in business in 1910. However by that time Brudenell's population had dropped from a high of around 300 in 1886 to about 150.
Today the Catholic Church still functions and a tiny handful of people continue to call Brudenell home. The schoolhouse, located halfway between Brudenell and Foymount is now privately owned. The old Costello hotel, weathered and sinister looking, was used as a private dwelling for many years. It has been up for sale for quite some time. A few other buildings including one of the stores can be found along the highway.