A small plaque commemmorating the Jamestown store©Copyright: Jeri Danyleyko
Stage travel during the mid 19th century was nothing short of horrible. The roads - if you could call them that - were little more than rutted dirt trails, difficult even for horses. Stages at best could only manage a few kilometres per day. Small stopping places with inns and taverns were eventually established along the roads. They offered welcome respite for the injured and weary travellers.
Jamestown, in Huron County, began as a small stopping place. The first business to open was an inn and tavern opened by Thomas Moorehouse along the Seaforth-Wroxeter road, sometime in the middle of the century. Although the roadhouse burned in 1864, Jamestown was firmly established as a small stopping place and crossroads hamlet.
Jamestown was reportedly named after James Aitcheson, a reporter for the Huron Expositor. Its name was well suited. Jamestown had a lot of James's. Early residents included James Lynn, James Strachan, James Simpson, James Forrest and James Moses. James Lynn, a blacksmith, opened a post office in 1875.
By 1875 Jamestown had grown to include three hotels, a general store, shoe shop and a harness-maker, Mr. Mills, who also owned a meeting hall. One of the hotels was owned by Thomas McEwan who operated the business until 1913. Town Council meetings took place in Brown's Hotel, typical of the times before a proper township hall was established.
Jamestown was situated along the boundary lines of Morris and Grey Townships. According to one map (compiled in 1982 for Grey Township and Its People), the shoe shop, inn, store and wagon and harness shop were located on the Grey side with the tavern, post office blacksmith and hall located on the Morris side.
An early dam and saw mill, built by Allan McQueen in 1872 along the Maitland River on the Grey side, lasted less than two years. It has been speculated that ice and high water led to its demise. Following its closure, farmers would pile their logs along the west side of the bridge each winter in the hope that high water and the current would carry them downstream to Bluevale.
The Jamestown residents were so desperate to attract a saw mill that in 1875 they began offering free land to anyone who would be willing to open one in the area. The ploy worked and in 1877 a mill was finally built on the site. It's not known how long the mill thrived but it is mentioned in an 1882 news item.
With a population hovering at around 50, Jamestown was not considered large enough to support a church. Instead the Mills' meeting hall was used for bi-weekly services conducted by travelling ministers from Brussels and Ainleyville. A small frame school, S.S.#4, Morris was opened on the Lot 26, Concession 6 in 1876.
In 1882, the village was shaken by a fire that destroyed the blacksmith and wagon shops. Shortly after that, a number of people began leaving the village. The blacksmith business was taken over by George Eckmier. In 1883 the township initiated a program of road maintenance that included leveling and graveling the deeply rutted trails. Initially statute labour was used. This involved property owners doing the actual work or choosing instead to pay taxes. The community was changing as improved roads made the route to larger villages more convenient.
The original general store was opened by C.B. Armstrong who sold the business to Edward Snell in 1872. Snell ran into financial trouble and was forced to go out of business in 1893. Later owners included R.A. Johnston until 1900, followed by Walter Innes from Brussels who operated it until 1905. Following his departure, the business was purchased by the McDonald Brothers, Duncan and Will. Under their ownership the business thrived. Duncan was the shop-keeper and Will peddled the goods travelling from farmhouse to farmhouse in his wagon. They sold everything from red herrings in a barrel, ginger snaps, to boots, shoes and harnesses. Over time, the store developed a revered reputation in the community's history.
Another building that became an integral part of Jamestown's history was Victoria Hall. The building was a small former congregational church (10.6 X 7.6 metres), purchased from a nearby community in 1901. After being moved and rebuilt on a new foundation, it was quickly put into service as a church, the Union Sabbath School, for town meetings and other community events. The building became so important that after it burned in 1910, the residents couldn't contemplate being without it. In 1911, a new cement building complete with basement, was erected by B. Jenkins from Wingham at a cost of $1.000. An insurance settlement of $550 helped defray some of the expenses.
Changes in transportation sealed the fate of small stopping centres like Jamestown. In 1913, the stage between Brussels and Wroxeter was cancelled. Also the post office closed and was replaced by rural mail delivery, eliminating the need to travel to Jamestown. Cancellation of the stage and the movement towards temperance finished the hotel. After 35 years living in Jamestown, Thomas McEwan threw in the towel, put his hotel property up for auction and moved to Brussels. The hotel was torn down the following year.
Over the next few decades, Jamestown slowly trickled away piece-by-piece. After 22 years, Duncan McDonald left the store and moved to Brussels. It was taken over by the McKercher family who installed a gas pump and continued operating the store until 1971. In 1929 the horse shed, which had escaped the 1910 fire at Victoria Hall, was finally demolished. Victoria Hall continued to thrive throughout World War II when it was used for community dances and volunteer efforts during war. After the war, it gradually fell into a state of major disrepair. It was finally sold for tax arrears in 1968 and demolished. The store was torn down in 1998.
Today there are few reminders left of Jamestown. All the original buildings have been replaced with modern structures. A small plaque marking the location of the former general store is the sole reminder that Jamestown ever existed.
Additional details The Power of the Maitland by John Hazlitt and Ted Turner.