Vanbrugh's schoolhouse, now a private home.©Copyright: Jeri Danyleyko
The Opeongo Road, now renamed Highway 64, remains strewn with the tattered remains of failed settlements from the mid 19th century. Vanbrugh was simply one of several casualties, the sad result of poor planning practises by the province during the mid 19th century.
In the late 1970s, the Ontario government commissioned a detailed study on the old Opeongo Road. The report documented numerous heritage structures and unique examples of log construction, considered ripe for preservation. One interesting recommendation that came out of the study was for the road to be turned into a heritage route with detailed markings and plaques along the way. Not surprisingly, this being Ontario, it never happened. Consequently many of these structures eventually collapsed into piles of rubble or disappeared entirely.
Vanbrugh was located along the highway about halfway between Clontarf and Brudenell. It started out as a promising little supply centre and mill site. By the 20th century Vanbrugh, along with other neighbouring communities, such as Esmonde and Newfoundout, had been almost completely abandoned.
Vanbrugh was first settled in 1858. C. F. Holtermann opened the first post office in 1870. It was sometimes hard to define the border between Vanbrugh and Clontarf. According to records, Xavier Plaunt was running a hotel, which also shows up in neighbouring Clontarf. Plaunt, a wealthy and respected Renfrew landowner and hotelkeeper, moved along the Opeongo some time during the 1860s. His hotel, which was likely located between the two communities, was reputed to be the quietest and most comfortable hotel along the road. Plaunt and his wife remained in the area for many years before returning to Renfrew some time in the 1870s.
By the mid 1880s, Vanbrugh was a bustling little town site of about 50 or 60 people. The residents were well served by a variety of amenities. Vanbrugh included both Catholic and Methodist churches and a school. There were two blacksmiths, Himan Haskins and John Potter.
John Mahon operated a general store and post office. A second store, operated by John Gorman, and later John George, was opened around 1885. Albert Kosmack took over postal services and telegraph service was provided by GNW.
By the late 1880s, Henry Lambert and Stewart & Wilson had each opened a sawmill. The Stewart & Wilson operation was later taken over by James Graham. During the early 1890s, Vanbrugh's population jumped to around 110 people. The Stewart & Wilson operation changed hands a number of times and by the early 20th century was owned by Charles Drefke. Both sawmills remained in operation through the early part of the 20th century.
After the sawmills closed, there wasn't much left to sustain Vanbrugh. Fred Kosmack, who had taken over the post office from his father Albert in 1922, shut the doors in 1946. Postal service was transferred to nearby Clontarf. Very little remains of the town site and it's becoming more and more difficult to find.