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Melancthon

History

Town site photo

The former convenience store, demolished in 2007

©Copyright: Jeri Danyleyko

When James Beachell, a native of Yorkshire, England, first set foot in Melancthon around 1848, he landed in almost complete wilderness. There were no railways and what passed for roads were crude trails that were barely useable. Undaunted, Beachell, an engineer by profession, who had worked as a railway contractor in France, opened a tavern and hotel about two kilometres south of the future Melancthon town site. The "Beachell Hotel" grew to become a popular stopping place for many years. In 1851, he opened the Melancthon post office and later built a sawmill in nearby Flesherton.

Beachell was popular, hardworking and respected. He went on to become the first reeve of the Township of Melancthon and first warden of Grey County. Over time his businesses prospered and he became quite wealthy. Unfortunately, he was not quite as meticulous with his personal affairs and when he passed away in 1867, without leaving a will, everything was lost in the courts.

Many of Melancthon's early settlers arrived at around the same time as James Beachell. They included people like the Darraghs, Mitchells, McCues and McManamans. One exception was William Silk, who was said to have arrived in the area around 1837. Silk worked on and off at Horning's Mills but also had excellent carpentry skills and built the first wooden wagon in the township.

Another early settler who left his mark on early Melancthon was Michael Shoaff. Shoaff, who was a direct descendant of Laura Secord, grew up in the Darlington area. He came into some property while still in his early 20s, but apparently decided that farming wasn't for him. After hearing glowing reports about the Beachell Hotel, he headed directly up there and met with Beachell and a number of other residents. Shoaff liked what he saw and moved both himself and his wife's family, the Fergusons, into the area. In the early 1850s, he built a hotel and tavern, just south of Beachell's hotel, called the Wheat Sheaf Inn. Shortly after that, George Young opened the area's first blacksmith shop nearby to the hotel. Another hotel, operated by Francis O'Boyle, and colloquially known as the "Fenian Hotel," was located on Lot 280, north of the Melancthon town site.

James Sawden also played a prominent roll in Melancthon's early days. Sawden was a master carpenter who first arrived in Toronto from England around 1850. In 1858, he settled on lot 292 in Melancthon, where he set up a farm and carpentry business. In addition to carpentry and construction, he was also the area's chief funeral director and undertaker.

Seventeen-year old James Brown became postmaster in 1855, a position he held for the next 62 years. The Brown family, who had been storekeepers in their native Ireland, arrived in Canada in 1852. A couple of years later, James Brown Sr. took over the post office from James Beachell and unfortunately died shortly after assuming the office. His young son immediately stepped in and took over.

The job of a postmaster in the 1850s was demanding. Before the arrival of stage and rail, mail was delivered on horseback. Brown's route took him from Melancthon to Dundalk and then onward to Inistioge, Durham's Corner, Flesher's Corners, Markdale, Chatsworth. On his return trip he travelled eastward to Singhampton, then south through Nottawasaga and Mulmur, and then over to Mono Centre and Hall's Corners, finally ending up back at Melancthon. Mail delivery took place weekly, however that was later extended to twice weekly. With youth and energy on his side, James Brown was more than up to the task.

By the mid 1860s, James Brown was wearing several more hats. First he took on the duties of acting as the local business commissioner and conveyancer. In 1869, he was appointed as a commissioner for taking affidavits in Grey County and also became a township councillor. By the early 1870s, he was appointed township clerk and later gained recognition as an authority on municipal law. Brown had more than enough work to keep him busy. By the early 1870s there was talk of a railway and the village was about to grow in leaps and bounds.

An early Orange Lodge, LOL 909, was established at some point before 1858. Meetings were held in John Thompson's house located on Lot 292. Later on, Matthew Darragh donated a piece of property on lot 294 for construction of an Orange Hall. The first hall was a log building, later replaced with a more durable brick structure.

Melancthon's first log schoolhouse, S.S. No. 7, Melancthon, was built around 1856 on property owned by Charles Beamish, right across from the post office. Miss Brunker was the first teacher. It was later replaced with a newer building, also log and later again, with a brick building.

Although Dufferin County was largely a bastion of conservative Protestantism, there was a large group of Irish Catholic settlers who established a Roman Catholic congregation in the early 1850s. Initially services were held in the home of Patrick McCue, who had arrived in Melancthon around 1851. Around 1858, a large log-hewed church, that later became known as St. Patrick's, was moved to Lot 280, owned by Francis O'Boyle. The church was also used as a separate school for a number of years, with Miss Purtil, who later married James McCue, as the teacher. Melancthon's erstwhile carpenter, James Sawden, although not a Roman Catholic, conducted many of the early funeral services. After serving the community well for about 20 years, the old church was replaced in 1879 with a new brick structure.

A Methodist church, better known as the Gravel Road Church, reportedly existed as early as 1863 and possibly as early as 1855. Andrew Darragh, a settler who arrived in the Melancthon area around 1848, donated a half acre of his lot, number 295 NE, for construction of a small log church and cemetery, the same one where James Brown's father was buried in 1855. Early church services were conducted by Peter Addison. Before the church was constructed, services were held in the Darragh home.

In the early 1870s, the log church was replaced by a new structure built of frame and roughcast, with carpentry done by James Sawden and plastering by George Redick of Redickville. Melancthon never had an Anglican church. Early services were held in the Orange Hall and conducted by travelling "saddlebag ministers," until a church was built in Shelburne.

In the late 1860s, Patrick Close, a merchant and speculator from Toronto, purchased several parcels of land along the projected line of the Toronto, Grey & Bruce Railway. He then sent a colleague, J.W. Morey, an American, to find out whether the area held any potential for future development. Morey's report was highly favourable. Anticipating the arrival of a new railway station, he immediately began construction of the "Toronto, Grey & Bruce Railway Hotel" along with a general store, located on lot 291. The large roughcast building was built using local materials and provided work for many of the local carpenters, plasterers and painters such as George and Ezra Merkley, James Sawden, George Redick and George Young. As well as the hotel, there was a stable, shed and new blacksmith shop for George Young.

The town site was known by a number of names throughout this period. These included Melancthon Village and Melancthon Corners. After the railway arrived, it also became known as Melancthon Station. The station appears to have been used mainly for freight.

By the summer of 1870, shipments of goods and liquor began to arrive. In the days before the LCBO, liquor distribution was handled by private operators. Morey set up a wholesale distribution business and began supplying all the taverns in the district with liquor. He even developed a product of his own, "Morey's Bitters" which was widely distributed in hotels and drug stores all over the province.

Despite the hotel's rather uninspiring name, both businesses were an immediate hit. The hotel became known affectionately as "The Bruce" or alternately, "Morey's Hotel," and the store as "Morey's Store." For awhile, the corner was also known as "Morey's Corners." The small cluster of businesses at one set of crossroads had the effect of binding the once scattered settlement together and served as the focal point of a real town site. An increase in trade quickly led to daily mail service for Melancthon. After a couple of years, both businesses were purchased by James Sloan, also from Toronto. He increased the wholesale distribution into the neighbouring townships of Amaranth and Proton. The hotel was also used for council meetings until a new town hall was built in 1874.

Both Morey and Sloan must have done quite well as liquor distributors. During the 1870s and 80s, there was certainly no shortage of taverns and hotels in the Melancthon area. After disposing of the Wheat Sheaf Inn, Michael Shoaff took over the old Beachell Hotel, which he ran for a few years. Around 1872, he moved north and ran Francis O'Boyle's hotel on Lot 280 for about three years. Shoaff, an active member of the Orange Lodge, was regarded as a popular and generous individual, but he does not appear to have been a particularly good businessman. His last business was the Long Swamp tavern, a log building located on Lot 281, which he ran from about 1875 until his death in 1886. Others who ran the O'Boyle Hotel after him included Michael Calleghan, John McGregor and James McGoey. In 1881 McGoey opened the Wayside Inn on Lot 285, which raised the count to four taverns within about a two and a half kilometre stretch.

James Brown vacated the old log post office in 1874. The building was taken over by Walker & Tutill, who opened a second general store selling a wide assortment of goods including hardware, clothing and boots, groceries, wine and liquor, and undertaking supplies, however that venture only appears to have lasted a year.

In 1876 James Sloan retired from the retail and wholesale business to open a saw and shingle mill, leaving Melancthon without a store for several years. The mill was built in the fall of 1877 and machinery installed the following summer. George DeNinny, an American, was the head sawyer. In addition to the mill, Sloan built both a large house for himself and a group of houses for the mill-workers and their families. The mill operated until around 1900.

The blacksmith shop changed hands several times. George Young was followed by James Fuller and then Robert Hanna, who built a new frame shop in 1877. Other blacksmiths included William Hanna, Michael Callaghan and Elijah Simmons.

In 1881, Melancthon became part of the newly formed Dufferin County. In 1882, Robert Bell, an elderly but experienced hotelkeeper, arrived in Melancthon to reopen "The Bruce." After doing some minor renovations and filling the bar with a full stock of liquors, he staged a grand opening. Bell retired a year later and leased the hotel to Felix McManaman for the following year. In 1884 the hotel was taken over by Michael and John Waters who kept the business open until the Scott Act, which prohibited the sale of liquor in hotels, came into effect.

The general store didn't fare much better. It was reopened by J.J. Middleton & Sons from Dundalk in 1883. After doing brisk business during the summer, they sold the store to A.J. Decator from Toronto. After two years, he sold off his remaining stock at cost and returned to Toronto. Archibald Kennedy reopened the store shortly afterwards but it closed again after a few months and Melancthon once again found itself without a store, until the arrival of the Patrons of Industry.

The Patrons of Industry was one of several farm-based movements that took hold during the latter part of the 19th century. These organizations, fraternal in nature, were founded on the premise that farmers could secure better prices and reach wider markets by buying and selling in bulk under one banner. In 1892, James Dick arrived in Melancthon and reopened 'The Bruce' and the old store under the auspices of the Patrons of Industry.

The popularity of the Patrons quickly drew new business to Melancthon, such as O.L. Fewster's hardware store, which operated out of the former hotel bar-room, now closed. A new inn, called the "Melancthon House," which was presumably dry, was built across the road from the old hotel. The Patrons also represented H.L. Breen, who was building an extensive grain and hay operation in Melancthon.

Unfortunately the venture ended almost as quickly as it started. In February 1893, the old "Bruce" building was hit by a massive fire and went up in flames, fuelled in part by large supplies of gunpowder and cola oil in the hardware store. James Dick salvaged what he could and continued doing business in the Town Hall until the following spring, when he moved the operation to Shelburne.

By far the most long-lasting of all Melancthon's business operations was H.L. Breen's granary and hay business. The granary was first started by James McCue, whose family arrived in Melancthon from Ireland in 1851, while James was still a boy. McCue grew up to become an extremely successful farmer and breeder. Later on in life, he was appointed a Justice of the Peace. During the Patrons of Industry days, McCue built a frame granary above the board and batten railway station, which by then was part of the C.P.R. The business was later bought by H.L. Breen, a hay and grain dealer, who merged the business with his own. By 1906 the business had been taken over by the Canada Grain Company of Toronto, who built a large grain elevator near the station. The business appears to have survived until some time in the 1930s.

Following the loss of the Patron's store, S. Sawden opened a small grocery and hardware store in a converted dwelling. A few months later Alex Carlaw opened a second store in the old post office on the Brown property. After increasing the stock, and enlarging the building, he sold the business to R.T. Stone around 1899. The store changed hands several more times. In 1907, it was taken over by William Campbell, who enlarged the building even further, and then in 1913 by Charles O'Neill, who took over the post office in 1919.

James Brown, the postmaster who served Melancthon so dutifully for 62 years, passed away in 1918 at the age of 80. In addition to his other responsibilities as township clerk and as justice of the peace, he also served as a manager and executive of the Dufferin Mutual Fire Insurance Company, founded in 1895. The post office remained open until 1969. The store, which in later years included a gas bar, closed around 2000. The building stood until sometime after the summer of 2007, when it was demolished.

After the end of World War I, Melancthon fell into a steep decline from which it never recovered. Depletion of the surrounding lumber supplies and changes in the agricultural sector were the main contributing factors. Piece by piece, the village slowly began to trickle away until there was virtually nothing left. Of the old town hall, the Orange Lodge, sawmill or the Gravel Road Church - nothing remains. Even the Gravel Road cemetery didn't escape the carnage. After Highway 10 was enlarged, the tombstones were jammed into a cluster alongside the highway, where they remain, largely ignored. Other relics include an abandoned farmhouse of later vintage. The railway line was removed around 1997. All that survives of old Melancthon Village is St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church, located just north of the old town site. Surprisingly, the church remains in use. In 2006, the barren remains of old town site were reclaimed by the provincial government and found new use as the site of a massive government wind farm.