The remains of Robertsville©Copyright: Jeri Danyleyko
The arrival of the railway in the mid 19th century led to a huge boom in eastern Ontario's mining industry. With cheap and quick transportation now readily available, mining in remote and previously inaccessible areas had finally become economical.
In 1871, the Kingston and Pembroke Railway (later CPR) was incorporated to build a line from Kingston to Pembroke in anticipation of tapping into newly discovered iron deposits to the north. The plan was to obtain a fair share of the natural resources in order to boost Kingston's fledgling economy. By 1872, surveying had been done and construction of the railway began.
By 1880, the line had reached Mississippi Station and by 1886 had pushed northward to its "new" terminus at Renfrew. The KPR railway, known by many as the "kick and push" was ready to tackle the rugged hills, where the mining and lumber companies were busy wrestling out the newly discovered iron and timber resources. The mining companies lost no time in opening up the new iron deposits, and a few small mining communities quickly sprouted up along the line. Robertsville, located about 10 kilometres south of the Wilbur iron mine, was one of them.
The early history of this mine is a little sketchy. Two ore bodies were discovered prior to 1880. The iron deposits were situated in Palmerston Township, on lots 3 and 4 along Concession 9. The Mississippi Mine was the largest deposit stretching 700 ft long and 50 feet wide. The Mary Mine was a secondary deposit situated 900 feet to the northwest. As the railway inched closer to the site, further explorations were conducted. Samples were taken and good quality ore was found on the property, assaying around 60 per cent iron content.
About 1880, a spur was extended from the main line. The Mississippi Mining Company had nearly completed the mine by the following year. In 1882 the operation officially started and approximately 13,743 tons of ore had been shipped to the American markets. The Mississippi Mine (also known as the Robertsville Mine) contained such high quality iron that it was the preferred choice for the production of Bessemer steel. The deposit was thought to be so rich that, according to R. McPherson, the local Crown Land Agent, it was "inexhaustible."
As the mine was exploited to depth, the ore quality increased as well. Most of the ore was either mined from open cuts or pits ranging from 50 to 100 feet in depth, and from the main production shaft and pit that bottomed out at the 200 foot level.
During the iron boom, the company laid out a town site to house the workforce and their families. It was designed to support 28 duplex homes, a boarding house and store. Following inspection, another provincial official was surprised with the pace of development at the Mississippi Mine and wrote this in his report "...the working of the last-named mine, situated in Palmerston Township, caused a flourishing village to spring up of nearly 300 inhabitants, where three years before there was rocky wilderness." Things were looking very bright indeed for Robertsville.
The estimate of 300 residents seems somewhat optimistic and likely included both transients and temporary workers. However during its heyday, Robertsville actually did boast a population of about 200. The village included a general store, run by J.W. Douglas, a shoemaker, J. Lewis, a couple of wood dealers, T. Hughes and J. Lake, as well as a carpenter and blacksmith. There was a public school, express agent and telegraph service provided by GNW. Mail was delivered daily.
In 1883, a depression in the American iron market altered the situation drastically. That same year, the United States imposed additional restrictions and duties on Canadian imported ore, thus crippling what had become a burgeoning industry in Ontario. With a domestic market that was already over-saturated, there was nowhere else to "profitably" sell the iron ore and the mine was closed in 1885. In its brief lifetime it had produced a little over 30,000 tons off superior quality ore. That same year the village emptied its store and the post office closed for good.
Mining eventually resumed at the site, but not on the same scale as before. In 1900-01 the Poe Mining Company extracted 6,062 tons of ore. The same firm attempted to work the mine again in 1918-19, but this time only removed 415 tons of ore.
Nothing remains of the original town site save for the Robertsville Cemetery that still sees occasional use. The area now contains a number of newer homes and supports a rural population.