The general store©Copyright: Jeri Danyleyko
During the latter part of the nineteenth century, railways were king-makers. Access to a nearby railway could make or break a town. The arrival of a railway guaranteed an influx of new industries and businesses and most communities would beg, borrow and steal just to be able to attract one. Hawtrey was in the unique and enviable position of having two railways, one at each end of town.
Hawtrey's boom days started in 1870 when the Canada Southern Railway built a station at the south end of the town site. They were followed a few years later by the Port Dover and Lake Huron Railway, who built a station at the north end of town. Businesses grew up around each set of tracks and in time Hawtrey effectively split into two separate villages.
The Port Dover and Lake Huron Railway was never a money maker. Poorly planned and managed, it was dogged by allegations of financial mismanagement and fraud. By 1881 it had fallen into the hands of the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR).
George Southwick was one of the early driving forces behind Hawtrey. In 1868 he opened a store and post office at the north end of the village. His store, which was conveniently located near the new Grand Trunk railway station, sold groceries, dry goods, boots and shoes. After the railway arrived, George became a local agent for just about everything going. He issued railway and marriage licences, operated the post office and acted as the local American Express agent. Just to top things up a little, he built an hotel close to the railway station.
George wasn't the only entrepreneur in town. There was another hotel, owned by James Randall and a tavern, run by Henry Southwick. Most rural people had to wear several hats back in those days. American-born Dr. George Carder, who was the local town physician, also farmed and served as Justice of the Peace.
By the time the twentieth century rolled around, Hawtrey had a sawmill, hotel and a couple of blacksmiths clustered around the American station. The Grand Trunk station was surrounded by Southwick's hotel and store, a gospel hall and town hall. A string of houses lined the roadway between the two stations. The school was located on a side street, just around the corner from Southwick's store. In the meantime, the Canada Southern Railway signed a 999 year lease with the Michigan Central Railway. Things couldn't have looked better.
Hawtrey's fall came with the closure of the railways. CN, which was formed by the government in 1923 to take over the bankrupt GTR, was hard hit by falling revenues during the depression. In the mid 1930s they decided to shut down the line. The Michigan Central line pulled out in 1929 after their lease was sold to New York Central. Without the railways, businesses began to leave. Ironically the Canada Southern Railway fell into the hands of CN and CP in the mid 1980s. Unfortunately by then it was too late for Hawtrey. George Southwick's store, Hawtrey's last remaining business, closed for good in 1970.
There is very little remaining from Hawtrey's early days. The schoolhouse stood until a few years ago. The store still stands but has been converted to a private dwelling. The old Grand Trunk station was demolished a number of years ago however there is an unconfirmed report that the CSR station was moved to a nearby farm. Hawtrey continues to support a small rural and farming population and newer buildings are mixed in with the old.