The pioneer cemetery©Copyright: Jeri Danyleyko
When Howick Township was officially created in 1847, the government lost no time in making vast tracts of land in the 'Queen's Bush Territory' available for settlement. With more land at their disposal than they knew what to do with, and eager to attract new immigrants, the government embarked on the usual process of luring European immigrants with offers of cheap land and rich bountiful harvests.
The government laid out specific requirements to the new settlers stating they had to clear the land, erect a dwelling and have a specific amount of acreage under cultivation within a certain time frame. In 1854, the government put the lands up for sale and initially offered them to the settlers who had complied with the requirements. Unfortunately a number of settlers were careless and did not respond within the government's deadline. They were later shocked and enraged to find the government had sold the land from under them. One of those lucky purchasers was William Spence who had arrived from Ireland in 1854.
Immediately upon his arrival, Spence bought up a 500-acre parcel of land and created a small village along the Maitland River, which he called Spenceton (also known as Spencetown). The settlement consisted of two streets, predictably named Mill Street and Main Street. With the opening of Charles Ferrand's dam and grist/flour mill on Lot 31, Concession 4 in 1860, other businesses moved in and Spenceton began to grow. James Carson opened a general store and added a post office in 1864. A Wesleyan Methodist Church (later Newbridge United Church) was opened in 1865. After the post office was opened, Spenceton's name was changed to Newbridge, so it wouldn't be confused with another postal outlet that had a similar name.
By the 1870s Newbridge was booming. In 1871 it boasted a population of 130. The village included two hotels, run by Norton Flemming and William Lapord, a harnessmaker, Charles Arnold, along with the usual blacksmith, shoemaker and carpenter. Rev. William Hurlbert, a Baptist minister also lived in town along with a physician, one Dr. Harvey. James Carson ran the post office from his busy store as well as taking on additional carpentry duties. Mail was delivered three times a week. Robert Elliott worked as the miller at the Ferrand grist and saw mills. By the late 1870s, a Methodist church and Orange Hall had been added.
During the 1880s, Newbridge remained a constant hum of activity. By the middle of the decade, the population had grown to about 180. The clackety clack of stagecoach wheels signalled the arrival of daily mail being delivered to Malcolm Cavanagh's store. Telegraph services were provided by GNW. Blacksmiths included Thomas Baird, George Duncan, John Glenn and Adam Rinn. Newbridge bragged a tailor, Alexander McKay, and two shoemakers, William Chapman and James Douglass. There were two carpenters, Matthew Botham and William Spence, a wagonmaker, Elijah Thomas and a stonemason, William Nicolaus.
The mills changed hands more than once during this period. The Farrand mills were taken over by Charles Parker, who added a sawmill to the busy enterprise. Thomas Leo was also operating a sawmill, as was Menno Shoemaker, who added brick manufacturing. Later sawmill owners included Solomon Strome, James Wright and John W, Spence, who acquired the old Farrand mills from Charles Parker in 1889. By the end of the decade one of the hotels had disappeared and the other had changed hands several times, first to John Edgar, then D.D. Cox and later, Robert McMinn.
By the mid 1890s, Newbridge was still fluorishing, with a population of about 200. There were a couple of new businesses such as Chapman & Holland, a tannery and glove manufacturer, and the Fordwich Cheese Manufacturing Company. Robert McMinn expanded his operation, adding a livery to his hotel. Mrs. Jane Johnston took over the post office and general store and the two stonemasons, John and William Nicolaus, were also working as contractors. However there were ominous signs that the good times would soon be coming to an end.
As with many other mill towns, the railways, which had brought so much promise to many, bypassed Newbridge and it slowly languished in the backwoods. Without transportation the mills gradually began to shut down. By the end of the 19th century, a number of businesses had closed and tradespeople began leaving for greener pastures. The flour mill continued to operate into the early part of the twentieth century, however by the end of the first decade, the hamlet's population had dropped to about 100.
In 1925, Newbridge was hit by a devastating fire, which destroyed the mills and many of the town's businesses. After that, the remains of Newbridge began to trickle away - piece-by-piece.
Newbridge continues to support a small rural population. A few of the older buildings have been renovated and a few newer homes added. The church lasted until 1970 and is now used as a private dwelling. The schoolhouse sits on a nearby farm where it is used for storage. The small red brick Orange Hall still stands.
Although some remains of the mills can be found, the banks of the Maitland River which brought so much prosperity to the mill owners one hundred and fifty years ago, now lie weedy and overgrown. The remaining area has reverted to farmland.
Additional details The Power of the Maitland by John Hazlitt and Ted Turner.