The schoolhouse©Copyright: Susan Foater
Lewisham's first settlers began arriving in 1874. Lured by promises of rich, fertile, farmland, available for free once certain conditions had been met, one can only imagine the dismay the newcomers must have felt upon arriving at this remote, disgusting, mosquito infested swamp. Fortunately for the settlers, all was not lost. Amidst the rocks and bogs they discovered one tiny portion of arable land, where they set up bush farms and established a small community.
Initially the tiny settlement appeared to thrive. The first school, S. S. #3, was opened in 1879. The school was a small log structure, located on Lot 10, Concession 4, built by John Fox at a cost of $85.00. John G. Taylor served as the first schoolteacher. The village also included an Anglican church and a sawmill.
John G. Taylor was one of Lewisham's more prominent residents. In addition to serving as the first schoolteacher, Taylor also owned the general store. In 1884 he added a post office which he named Lewisham, after his hometown in England. The mid 1880s proved to be Lewisham's greatest boom period. The villagers were kept busy shipping hay, shingle bolts, produce and lumber. A Methodist church had been added. The population jumped to 150 and stages were running twice weekly to Cooper's Falls.
The confusion surrounding Lewisham's schools was a simmering bone of contention for many years. It began in 1886 when, for some reason S.S. No. 3 was split into two school sections. A new log schoolhouse, S.S. No 7, was built just south of Lewisham. In 1895, despite the objection of many ratepayers, Ryde Council decided to reunite the two school sections. To complicate matters further, the original log schoolhouse, S.S. No. 3 had burned down and in 1898 was replaced with a frame structure, located on Lot 5, Concession 5. Although residents attempted a number of times to have the school sections broken up again, it never happened. The merging of the two school sections required the teachers to teach half a year in one school and half in the other. Some of the teachers refused to go along with this, leading to even more difficulties. In 1908 it was finally decided to close the older of the two schools, the former S.S. #7. The little log building was eventually sold.
By the time Lewisham's second school was closed, its best days were long over and there was barely justification for one, let alone two schools. After hitting a peak of 150 residents during the mid 1880s, Lewisham's population began to plummet downwards and had declined to about 50 by the early 20th century. Farming was marginal at best and the lumber supply was becoming depleted.
W. J. Tryon ran the post office from 1888 to 1890, followed by William Lowe and John Fox. Given the desolate location and dwindling population, the business was anything but a thriving success. The last owners were the Taverners, who gave up and closed up shop in 1927. The school struggled on until 1949.
By the end of the Second World War, bush farming held little attraction or appeal for anyone and Lewisham's few remaining residents departed. With the community now virtually deserted, the roads fell into disuse and deteriorated. Looking at Lewisham now, it's difficult to understand how it even managed to last 80 years. The area remains seasonally popular with hunters and one can find hunt camps all along the way.