Millbridge and Millbridge Station
The old store©Copyright: Jeri Danyleyko
Mill Bridge was an important Hastings Road settlement that in its heyday was regarded as the chief community in Tudor Township. Originally named "The Jordan" because of its proximity to Jordan Creek, it was first settled in the mid 1850s, just prior to the formation of Tudor and Cashel townships in 1859.
The settler who gave Mill Bridge its new name was one Captain Ralph Norman, a veteran of the Crimean War. Norman, who always dressed in full military regalia, set up a trading station, reportedly run in pure military fashion. Doubtless his wife approved. Mrs. Norman, who helped run the shop, was also a Crimean veteran, having served as a nurse under the famed Florence Nightingale. Norman went on to establish a mill alongside the water that eventually became known as "the mill by the bridge." The name stuck and Mill Bridge got a new name. Although the village's name was eventually shortened to Millbridge, this change was never made official. Other early settlers included the McEwens, Wards, Morans and Clarks.
The Mill Bridge School, opened in 1859, was the first school in Tudor Township. After the first school building and then the second were destroyed by fire, classes were moved to the town hall. A local shopkeeper, John Bull, opened the village's first post office in 1860. Bull operated the post office on and off until 1866 when it was moved Ralph Norman's store, where it remained until his death in 1911.
By 1871, the population of Millbridge had grown to around 100. Although the majority of residents listed their occupation as farming, Millbridge had grown into a busy community that boasted two stores, a hotel, an inn, and a boarding house, the latter operated by Mrs. Charlotte Potter. George Bigelow was the village blacksmith and John Armstrong, the local carpenter. William Harper served as township clerk.
By the mid 1880s, Millbridge was booming. The Millbridge annual fair was one of the county's big events, offering competitions, exhibits and prizes for all who participated. There were log cutting and horse "drawing" contests for the men and exhibits for the ladies that included weaving, knitting and baking. The population had grown to about 125 and the village counted three general stores and two blacksmiths. At the beginning of the 1880s Millbridge had one hotel, operated by Daniel McKinnon. By 1886, that number had jumped to three. According to writer Gerald Boyce, Potter's Hotel, which first opened around 1884, was nicknamed Cupid's Hotel because "all the girls hired to work at the hotel were quickly snapped up the by young swains." Potter's Hotel lasted until the early twentieth century. Steven Golding opened a third hotel around 1886.
The arrival of the Central Ontario Railway (COR) in 1883 led to the establishment of a small satellite village a few kilometres east of Millbridge, near the site of the popular Hogan's Hotel. The hotel, which predated the railways, was built by Dennis Hogan in the 1860s. Today it easily remains the most visible reminder of the days when trains regularly stopped at Millbridge Station and the railway reigned supreme. In addition to the station, the settlement contained a store and a few cabins. In 1900 Hogan opened a post office and for a while the community was known as Hogan's PO or simply Hogan.
Unlike many early pioneer settlements, there was a notable scarcity of churches in Tudor Township. Services were generally held in other public buildings or in someone's home. At first Roman Catholic services were held in Martin Murphy's home at Murphys Corners. Later on they were moved to Hogan's Hotel. An Anglican church was erected in Millbridge around 1888.
Millbridge continued to thrive during the latter part of the 19th century. In 1895 the village still contained three stores, owned by Wiliam Lamb, Frank Lummiss and Captain Norman along with the Golding and Potter hotels. William Chard and Charles Donaldson opened a cheese factory, one of ten that were operating in the area at the time. A new schoolhouse was built in 1904 and telephones had arrived by 1910.
Millbridge lay at the entrance of the Hastings Colonization Road, which was built from 1854-58. The road was poorly constructed and badly maintained. By the mid 1920s, an Ontario land surveyor painfully referred to the "mute evidence of empty, dilapidated and abandoned houses and barns, orchards, wells, old broken down stone and wooden fences, root cellars ..." Doubtless the lack of business led to Millbridge's subsequent decline.
The Hogan post office was closed in 1908 following Dennis Hogan's death. Ella Hogan reopened the post office in 1925 and continued to operate it until 1940. Hogan's Hotel is now used as a private residence however the owners have retained the unusual hand-painted Victorian signs.
The COR was eventually taken over by the Canadian Northern Railway which ended up in the hands of Canadian National (CN). Portions of the former rail-bed have been converted to a recreational trail. The Millbridge post office remained open until 1969, a time when Canada Post consolidated and closed many post offices due to cost-cutting measures. Many of the original buildings in Millbridge, including the church, hotel, and general store still stand and are now used as private residences.