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Whitfield

History

Town site photo

Christ Church and the pioneer cemetery

©Copyright: Jeri Danyleyko

Whitfield was one of the earliest settlements in Mulmur Township. It got its start around 1825, after the British government drew up regulations for the first land grants in Mulmur Township in 1824. The names of early settlers, who arrived in the area before 1830, include Lloyd, Graham, Holmes and Whitley. Officially, Whitfield was settled around 1832.

The origins of Whitfield's name are uncertain. The most likely source points to the Whitleys, who established a large settlement, known as the Whitley Settlement before 1830. Another source points to Eames Whitby, an early settler, who served as the township's first magistrate. For a time the community was reportedly known as Whitbyfield, then as Beechnut Corners, and reportedly as Campbell's Corners after the Campbells, who were said to be the first settlers. Whether true or not, by the time Robert Campbell opened the first post office in 1854, the village was known as Whitfield.

Whitfield's first Orange Lodge, LOL No. 366 was opened in 1857. The building was a small low hall, located on Lot 8, Concession 1. By the late 1860s Whitfield's population was estimated to be somewhere between 100 and 150. Early residents included William Noble, who owned a general store, hotel and tavern on Lot 7 and P.S. Leighton, a tailor. Thomas Dorsey, a wagon maker who arrived around 1871, later opened a small log general store. By 1872 the village included two carpenters, James and William Archer, a cabinetmaker, John Bailey, a shoemaker, Thomas White and a blacksmith, Thomas Mews.

One of Whitfield's most longstanding and well-known residents was Parsons D. Henry. Henry, who was born in the United States, was raised and educated near Prescott. After completing his education, he developed an adventurous streak and decided to head west and take up bush farming. He settled on a farm in Whitfield during the 1850s and by 1859 was serving as postmaster, a post he held until 1900. Henry also held a teaching certificate and taught in Whitfield's second school for a number of years.

Whitfield's first school, S.S. No. 4, was a small log building located on Lot 8, Centre Rd. It was opened around 1868 with John Lighton as the first teacher. In 1870 the log school was replaced with a frame structure located on lot 10. The school was also used as an Orange Lodge until 1885 after the original hall burnt down.

The year 1874 saw the construction of a new Anglican church, Christ Church. Following a three-month money raising campaign by the first minister Reverend Toque, enough money had been raised to purchase all the necessary materials. Much of the construction was completed by members of the congregation. The steeple was built in Orangeville and transported to Whitfield by local resident Robert Clark who used his team of horses. Once completed, the handsome brick church opened its doors completely debt free. The Whitfield Methodist Church was added later.

During the 1880s Whitfield was humming with activity. The village included saw and shingle mills, operated by James Ferguson, a sawmill and quarry, owned by Thomas Raburn and a lime kiln, run by Charles Raburn. Cornelius Fox opened a second blacksmith shop and Parsons Henry, a second store. Henry was a busy man. In addition to running the general store and serving as postmaster, he was also a successful conveyancer and commissioner as well as an insurance and loan agent. In 1885 he donated a portion of his farmland for the construction of a new Orange Lodge. Other residents during the 80s included John Bailey, a blacksmith and wagon maker and George Laking, a carpenter and cabinetmaker.

Whitfield remained busy during the 1890s. George Boyle took over the lime kiln and Cornelius Fox's blacksmith shop. Former storeowner Thomas Dorsey took over the saw and shingle mill. John Sherman opened a brick and tile manufacturing business. However Whitfield saw little growth overall and the population began to stagnate at around 100.

Like similar hamlets, Whitfield began to slow down at the beginning of the 20th century. Long time resident Parsons Henry left Whitfield in 1900, moving to nearby Melancthon Village, where he died in 1908. Thomas Mews, who first settled in Whitfield around 1871, took over the post office, which he ran until his death in 1909. On a brighter note, the frame school was replaced in 1907 with a new brick building, built at a cost of $1,030. The new school was state of the art for the times and included a basement and furnace. The post office was replaced with rural mail delivery in 1914.

Whitfield can still be found on most maps, however little remains of the original village. The Methodist church was closed following the United Church union in 1925. It was later used as a town hall and then for storage until it was demolished around 2005. A few tombstones still remain in the Methodist cemetery which has recently been cleaned up following years of neglect. The schoolhouse has been converted to a private residence. Christ Church was recently restored and still continues to hold regular services during the summer. The small pioneer cemetery beside the church includes a monument dedicated to the original Whitfield pioneers. The remainder of the area has reverted to farmland.