masthead image

Petworth

History

Town site photo

Remains of a structure

©Copyright: Jeri Danyleyko

Things are quiet in Petworth now, very quiet. Not like in the 1870s, when a group of vigilante farmers from nearby Verona, upset about their flooded fields and ruined crops, crept down late one night and blew up Petworth's dam.

Petworth started out in the 1840s as a lumber town after Stephenson and Lott, a lumbering company with extensive lumbering rights in the area, opened a sawmill. Stephenson and Lott later expanded their efforts into the woollen trade establishing a woollen mill, a carding mill and eventually a grist mill. In 1861, their lumbering rights were taken over by the Rathbun Lumber Company.

The year 1861 was also the year Edward Carscallen opened the community's first post office. By 1871 the village boasted a population of 200 and included a hotel, run by John Babcock, two grocery stores owned by Sylvester Brow and John Garrison and two blacksmith shops run by Elias Peters and Ira Smith. The hotel was kept busy, quenching the alcoholic thirst of the many loggers who arrived every spring.

Things had quieted down somewhat by the 1880s and Petworth's population stabilized at around 100. A Methodist church and school were opened around 1882. Ira Smith, the blacksmith, was the first teacher. He was followed by Marilla Hegadorne, Isaac Benn, Bridget Bush and Charles Darling. After a brief closure, James Vannest, a local carpenter re-established the post office. It was moved to James Wallace's store in 1883. In 1888 the Napanee Stream Co. opened a flour mill.

Petworth remained a busy place throughout the 1890s. Along with the flour mill, the village included a blacksmith shop operated by John Franklin Peters and a cheese factory owned by Frank Gerow. However by 1905, Petworth had suffered a complete reversal of fortunes. Sixty years of steady logging had pretty much depleted the surrounding woods and the new railway took a turn eastward bypassing the tiny village. Petworth never recovered.

Petworth is not completely deserted. A few older residents continue to live there along with a handful of newer residents who enjoy the peace and tranquility of rural living. The stone walls of the old Stephenson and Lott mill are still standing, along with the blacksmith shop, a barn, several original houses and the one room schoolhouse that was closed in the 1960s. Newer houses stand amidst the ruins. Other original buildings are still in use as sheds, storage buildings and the like. For now the residents of Petworth refuse to give up their former ghosts and visitors can still get a sense of a mid 19th Ontario century mill town, as it once was.