The Cheeseville schoolhouseSource: Split Rail Country
Cheeseville, despite its rural folksy name, was a small but thriving industrial farm community during the late 1800s. At its height it boasted a cheese factory, saw and grist mills, and a brick factory.
The community had its beginnings as a group of farms settled mainly by Irish immigrants. A small hamlet sprang to life around 1884 after Thomas Elliot opened a steam powered cheese factory on his farm. The farmers desperately needed a nearby outlet where their excess milk could be reprocessed and the factory was an instant success.
The cheese factory was a seasonal operation only. From June to late October, milk was picked up from the surrounding farms by horse and wagon and delivered to the factory.
Boxes that were used for packaging were produced by the Armstrong Mills in nearby Markdale. Early directors included John and Thomas Boland from Vandeleur, John Hutchinson, H.D, Irwin and James Wright. In 1902 the factory was converted into a creamery for butter manufacturing.
Buoyed by the success of the factory, James Lackey purchased two acres of land from Thomas Elliot in 1892, where he built a dwelling and added a sawmill. Around the same time, Elliot expanded the augmented his cheese factory business by adding a grist mill. It was Lackey's daughter Margaret who suggested the name "Cheeseville" because of the popular factory.
Despite being enshrined in the community's name, the cheese factory was actually predated by a much larger industry, the Bowler Brick Yard.
The brick yard was started in 1868 by William Bowler. At the beginning brick production was very slow however by 1869 Bowler had produced enough brick to build a house in nearby Markdale. Demand for his product picked up quickly and by 1881, volumes were so high that Bowler added a Martain Brick Machine, which had the capability of moulding 20,000 bricks per day. Until 1915, when the brick yard closed, almost every brick house in Markdale and the surrounding area was built with brick that came from the Bowler yard. Bowler bricks were used as far north as Chatsworth and as far south as Dundalk.
Road maintenance in Cheeseville came under the heading of "Statutory Labour." A road master determined the amount of work to be done and each farmer was assigned their share. During the winter the roads were closed and transportation was limited to sleighs and cutters.
Perhaps it was for the above reason that Cheeseville's residents decided they needed a school of their own. Parents were likely uneasy about their children travelling to school in Cherry Grove under road conditions that were probably quite treacherous during the winter. Planning began in December 1897. By the following September a new school, USS 14, Artemesia and Euphrasia, was opened with Miss Hawkins as the first teacher.
The attractive new brick schoolhouse was built on the southeast corner of Lot 101. It measured 8.5 x 9.7 metres and included 16 desks, plus a desk for the teacher. The total cost for both the construction and furnishings was $799. The schoolhouse saw a number of improvements over the years. These included a library in 1907, a wind-break in 1939, new desk and piano in 1944, hydro and toilets in 1946. The school was used until 1965 when it was closed due to centralization of the school system.
Cheeseville never had a post office or church. The hamlet was located right next to Markdale which offered all the basic services one could possibly need. There was a small dry goods store on the Benson farm for a while, and later a butcher and slaughtering business. Social activities included dances, card games and sports. The community produced one prominent local politician, John Davis, who served as councillor, deputy-reeve, and later as reeve for 22 years.
Today Cheeseville has returned to its roots as a farming area. Other than the farms and a number of century homes, all that remains is a proud sign and the handsome schoolhouse, now a private home.