Van Wyck's Cemetery©Copyright: Jeri Danyleyko
By 1843, Sydenham Township had been fully surveyed and large new tracts of land were opened for settlement and farming. The area quickly became dotted with small farming settlements and communities as farmers grouped together to build and share much needed services. One small community, known as both "The Mountain" and "Mountain," was one of the many early farming settlements that sprouted up along the northern portion of the township.
Mountain was first settled in the 1840s and 50s. The population was comprised of settlers from Ireland, Scotland and other parts of Canada. An Orange Lodge, known Campbell Cliff Lodge operated for a brief period until it was moved to nearby Balaclava in 1858. Although the settlement had no official name, and was not a full-fledged community as such, by 1855 the residents had built a log cabin and formed a school called "The Mountain." The cabin burned down and was quickly replaced with another one. Since the population at the time was predominantly Roman Catholic, shortly thereafter the school was designated as a Separate School. The school functioned for an unknown period of time. By 1864 it was recorded as having been closed and the building vacated.
By the late 1860s, after demographics had shifted somewhat, the residents once again got together to form a school, this time a public school. Known as S.S. No. 7 Sydenham, the school later became known as the Silcote School. Mr. Francis Lipsett, a farmer and immigrant from Ireland, provided a piece of land, located at the corner of his property at Sideroads 30 and 31, Concession 2 for construction of a frame building that could seat 50 to 60 students.
The first meeting was held on January 11, 1871, with Francis Lemon being elected to the office of School Trustee. Initially, all ratepayers sending their children to the school were required to pay a tax, which amounted to one cord of two-foot firewood, within a month. The following year the wood was contracted out and ratepayers sent their taxes directly to the secretary-treasurer. Records from that period show that $352.16 was collected in taxes with the schools expenses totalling at $356.09, a deficit that would be laughable by today's standards. John Hiltz was the first teacher.
In 1876, the school was outfitted with desks, at a total cost of $64. The land where the school stood was eventually purchased from Robert Lipsett (Francis Lipsett's son) in 1883 for $41, which included the cost of surveying. The old frame building was sold to John Lipsett in 1896 and replaced with a more substantial brick one.
By the late 1870s, the community had grown to approximately 40 ratepayers. Residents were now ready to form their own church. Once again the Lipsett family came to the rescue when Robert Lipsett donated a piece of land from his farm on Lot 30, Concession 3. The original Shiloh Methodist Church (later the Silcote United Church) was a frame structure with Dutch siding, built in 1877. An open shed for horses was added shortly afterwards. Rev. Isaac Baker was the first minister. Early members included Henry Bye, James Holdiway, Veart Vanwyck, James Cleave and Francis Lipsett, along with his sons Robert and John.
Joseph Ramsay opened a blacksmith shop in 1890 on Lot 29, Concession 3 in an area that later became known as Silcote Corner. Sadly for Joseph, his young wife and child died in childbirth. Joseph never remarried but kept his blacksmith shop open until his death in 1931. For a time he also operated a general store. Other than John Ramsay's blacksmith shop and general store, there is no information on any other type of trade in the settlement. The villagers were likely able to meet most of their needs in nearby Balaclava and Johnson or by bartering amongst themselves.
By the early 1900s Silcote had developed into a small but well-established rural community. Mail for "Mountain" residents was delivered to the closest post office in Johnson. Every Friday, the teacher would send one student to pick up the mail. The teacher would then redistribute it to the pupils, who would carry it home. By 1898 the residents had had enough and eagerly petitioned for their own post office under the name of "Mountain." They got the post office but not the name. Instead they were granted "Silcote" and the community finally took on official status. Service arrived in February 1899, with John Ramsay acting as the first postmaster.
In 1897, the church congregation decided to give the church a facelift by replacing the Dutch wooden siding with grey fieldstone. Other changes included a choir, formed by Kate Breckenridge, a teacher at the Silcote School. Unfortunately the choir didn't last long. Not all the choir members belonged to the church and following objections from some of the other church members, the choir was disbanded. The church didn't remain without music for very long. In 1900 members organized a drive to purchase an organ.
In 1875, a rural organization calling itself "The Grangers" had built a hall on the corner of Lot 29, Concession 2, which became known as the Grange Hall. The group was an early type of "networking" organization that enabled rural farmers to meet socially and set up co-operative buying and selling ventures. The building was later moved to Lot 30. After the group disbanded, other groups such as the Patrons of Industry and Royal Templars of Temperance made use of the building. It was also used for church services during the Shiloh Church renovation. The hall was demolished in 1907.
In 1912 Silcote took another step forward with the formation of the Silcote Telephone Company, built with materials purchased from the Northern Electric Company of Toronto (later Nortel). The initial system consisted of two circuits and was privately owned by the shareholders, who actually helped install the line that began at the central Bell Canada exchange in Owen Sound. Shareholders each owned their own wall unit and paid an annual service fee of $5. Six years later a third circuit was added. Duncan Stewart was instilled as the first company president and linesmen included Everett Johnson, Ernest Vanwyck and Joseph Hood. The Silcote Telephone Company lasted until 1956, when it was sold to Bell Canada who updated the system, adding dial telephones in 1959 and direct long-distance dialing in 1965.
Other changes included the establishment of rural mail delivery from the Silcote post office in 1914. Reginald Johnson was the first courier, being paid an annual salary of $273.00 with an additional $1 per each box. The route covered approximately 14 kilometres. It lasted until 1921 when a new rural mail service, known as R.R. 1, Balaclava was established. The post office was officially closed on January 14, 1922.
Competitive sports activities started when Samuel Vanwyck set up a rifle range on his farm in 1912. The 31st regiment in Owen Sound provided both military rifles and ammunition. Practice was held once a week with the losers providing supper for the winners. World War I put an end to the controlled shootouts. A soccer team was formed around 1914 purely for the purpose of evening entertainment. The team was re-established in 1930 and eventually went on to success by winning the championship in the Sydenham Soccer League in 1943. Fourteen years later, in 1957, the team had its proudest moment when it defeated the city of Barrie to win the Carling Trophy.
Vanwyck's Cemetery was located on Lot 8, Concession C between the old and new settlements of nearby Balaclava. The cemetery was named after Mr. and Mrs. Hiram Vanwyck, who donated the land to the Shiloh Methodist church. The earliest headstone dates from 1867 and was probably moved from another location.
The cemetery fell into a state of neglect following Mr. Vanwyck's death. In 1933, a committee formed by the Balaclava Women's Institute organized a "Bee" to level and clean up the grounds. Bees continued to be held every few years to cut the grass and straighten the headstones. The cemetery remains in use to this day.
During the 1920s, the Silcote United Church was slowly upgraded and modernized. In 1927, Mr. and Mrs. Victor Bye donated a new handmade pulpit that originally came from the Woodford Presbyterian Church. Generous donations from Rachel and John Lipsett included new cedar shingles for the church and horse shed. In 1937, they replaced the old horse shed with a new drive shed and donated electric lighting.
Although the old organ was replaced with an electric organ in 1955 and an oil furnace installed in 1964, by the 1940s, it was more than apparent that the congregation was dwindling. From 1948 onwards, the church did not have a regular minister and instead was served by students and assorted lay ministers. The church lasted until 1969, when it was demolished.
In 1897 the Silcote School had boasted about 50 pupils. By 1938, that number had declined to 18. In June 1945, the school was officially closed and the remaining students transferred to the nearby Balaclava school. Following the school's closure, the Balaclava Women's Institute took over the building and converted it into a community hall for use by the institute and other groups within the area. The building was redecorated, equipped with tables, chairs and a piano. Electricity was installed in 1951. The building continued to be used for many years right into the 1960s.
Many of the former students at the Silcote School went on to professional careers such as teaching, nursing and the ministry. However one individual stands out as being highly unique.
William Bell arrived from Scotland in 1873 or 1874 and settled at Lot 30, Concession 2. His son Thomas, a young man in his early thirties, followed suit in 1882. Thomas was musically inclined and before arriving in Canada, took instruction in the fine art of violin making, a skill he passed on to his third eldest son Peter.
After settling in Silcote for a few months, Thomas and his family relocated to Texas. After six years, the family returned to Silcote, where Peter along with his brothers and sisters were raised.
Peter began making violins in 1910 as a hobby. Although he was a barn framer, carpenter and later building contractor by trade, his passion was making violins. As an adult, he settled in Calgary, where he was able to sell his violins from between $80.00 to $800.00. He also did repair work for many classical artists on the side. Peter went on to win many awards for his violins and continued with his work until he was in his late 80s.
By the 1930s Silcote was already in a state of serious decline. The little village had never been more than a small farming community and farming held little attraction or allure for the younger generation. With no other employment prospects available in the area, people began to gravitate to larger centres. By the close of the 1960s, Silcote had breathed its last. Today the area has reverted back to farmland, and other than a few original farmhouses, nothing else remains.