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Essonville

History

Christ Church

Christ Church, built in 1888

©Copyright: Jeri Danyleyko

Essonville began as a small farming settlement in Monmouth Township. First settled around 1875, the little community was named for Daniel Esson, an early settler and Essonville's first postmaster.

Unlike the majority of the early pioneer communities, many of Essonville's settlers were Ontario-born. They included William Somerville from Newmarket, Mathias Rowbotham from Grey County, John James Noble from Cartwright Township, Alex McCrea from Maynooth and Fred Bradley from Paris.

In the early days Daniel Esson walked once a week to Haliburton to pick up and deliver the mail. The trip took two days - one day each way. By 1884 the situation had improved immensely. Esson set up the post office in his store and mail was brought in weekly by stage. The little hamlet also included a hotel, originally owned by John Creighton.

By the mid 1880s, Essonville's population had grown to around 150. In 1885 the post office and store were taken over by a pair of brothers, Absalom and Foster Gibson. Foster operated the store, while Absalom ran the stagecoach and sold various commodities such as flour, salt and coal oil. By 1888 the hotel was owned by John Roscoe who later added a livery.

Like many early settlements, Essonville was not without its tragedies. In 1885 the Atwell family lost five of their nine children to diphtheria. Over a period of five heartbreaking days, one child was buried each night at midnight when it was believed there was less danger of the infection spreading. Later on a marker inscribed with the "Atwell 5" was placed in the Essonville Anglican Cemetery. One of the surviving Atwell children lived to the age of 94.

Institutions played an important role in most 19th century rural communities. In 1881 a small frame schoolhouse was opened. The attractive little building was painted red with white trim and had large windows on each side. It was adorned with two porches and a bell tower. Inside were two rows of desks and maps on the wall. The first teacher, Annie Moon, boarded with the John James Noble family. Attendance ranged from 30 to 45.

Although records show there was a Methodist church in the area, the pride and joy of Essonville was the Anglican Church, built in 1888. Christ Church, the first church to be built in Monmouth Township, was a wooden frame country church with stained glass windows, a small bell tower on top and a cemetery on the church grounds.

In addition to the church, Essonville contained both a manse and a separate log building, located east of the church, where Sunday school classes were held. The Sunday school building was shared with the Orange Lodge, LOL 1114, until 1909 when the lodge moved to Wilberforce. Howard Maguire, who took over as postmaster in 1894, and also served as reeve in 1906-07, was Grand Master of the LOL. He rarely missed a meeting. The post office was taken over by his son, following his death in 1918.

Essonville's residents were active in both their community and in township politics. Although Essonville was always a small place, over the years it managed to produce three reeves including the aforementioned Howard Maguire, Gerald Finley, who served from 1941 to 47 and James McCrea, Essonville's last postmaster, who served from 1956 to 60.

Essonville never grew beyond a farming hamlet. Commercial activities were very limited. By the early 20th century most of the men earned their living by farming or working in the logging camps. The school remained open until 1965 and the post office until 1966.

Although the church is now closed, it has been designated as a historic site by the township and remains well maintained. One memorial service is held annually. The Anglican cemetery is no longer in use however the large Essonville Pioneer Cemetery, situated across the road from the church, continues to expand. Other than the church, cemetery and a few residences, nothing else remains of the little hamlet.