The derelict Orange Hall©Copyright: Jeri Danyleyko
The early 1800s saw a vast influx of new settlers from Ireland and the neighbouring U.S. The Loyalists in particular found a welcoming home in Canada, which at the time was still a British colony. The British provided them with choice parcels of land along the shores of Lake Ontario, where they were able to find lush, fertile farmlands and convenient sources of transportation along the waterways.
Huntingdon Township was first settled around 1815. Many of new arrivals settled in and around the village of Moira alongside the Moira River. A second settlement, that later came to be known as West Huntingdon, started up slightly northwest of Moira. The Ashley family were thought to be the first settlers, but they were quickly joined by others.
Although the residents were widely scattered, and the county was still being surveyed, a school was opened in 1816 on Col. Nesbit Reid's lands, located on lot 2, Concession 4. The goal was laudable, however the building was reportedly ill equipped for teaching. Built of logs, with very small windows, the interior was referred to as drab and depressing. Although the school had a wooden blackboard, desks were one luxury students had to do without. For writing they either used their laps or the back of another pupil. Col. Reid served as chairman of the first school board and Robert McCallum was the first teacher. Since the school was the only official institution in the settlement, it was also used as a community centre and for church services.
By the mid 1830s, residents began to hold township meetings on an annual basis. During those meetings, usually held in someone's home, ratepayers assumed or were appointed to official posts such as, town clerk, commissioner, assessor and pound keeper. Various resolutions were established, such as determining the height of fences and establishing rules for the care and pricing of animals. Officers were appointed to survey roads, carry out assessments, collect taxes and ensure bills were paid. 1836 records indicate that Philip Luke served as Town Clerk, James Haggerty as Town Constable, Robert Reid and Samuel Darling as Commissioners and Henry Ketcheson as Assessor. Haggerty and Luke, along with Simon Ashley and Walter Schryver, were also active in the school board.
Philip Luke, a local tavern owner, had originally settled in the Moira area around 1816 and later on moved to West Huntingdon. Shortly after his arrival, his two-year old child died. Recognizing the need for a community cemetery, Luke donated an acre of land on Concession 3, where Luke's Cemetery was eventually established.
West Huntingdon gained official status as a community after the post office was opened in 1845. Mail delivery took place on horseback between West Huntingdon and Hungerford twice weekly, a trip that took approximately four hours. Although the name of the first postmaster is not recorded, Philip Luke was serving as postmaster in 1853. An Orange Lodge, L.O.L. 300 was established in 1852. Township meetings were now being held in a nearby schoolhouse and councillors were elected by popular vote instead of being appointed. Philip Luke went on to serve as reeve in 1856.
During those early days, the nearest churches were located in Stirling and Belleville. Every two weeks a missionary would arrive from Belleville and hold religious services in either a schoolhouse or nearby barn. A Methodist Episcopal church was eventually opened in 1867.
Further improvements during the 1860s included a new school to replace the primitive log structure that had been in use for almost 50 years. The school board, which at that time consisted of James Gay, John Ashley and Peter Fargey, finally decided on a new stone building that had twice as many seats and offered improved heating and ventilation. The new school, S.S. No. 4, also known as 'Ryan's School', was opened in 1862 with James Haggerty as the first teacher. West Huntingdon was clearly growing and by 1865 included two carpenters, James Osborne and Archibald McTaggart, a chair and bedstead manufacturer, Elisha Sargent, a coal and wood dealer, George Rollins and a butcher, Robert Bennett.
By the early 1870s, West Huntingdon's population had increased to around 50. Although the community was still comprised mainly of farmers, it included a store and a sawmill, operated by George Cummins. Other tradesmen included two blacksmiths, John Ruttan and Hugh Garrett, a carpenter, James Osborn and a turner, Randall Windward. A Wesleyan Methodist church, originally known as Reed's Church, was added around 1875.
West Huntingdon's residents were extremely active in community and public affairs. James Haggerty and John Sills both served as councillors. James Ryan served as both a commissioner and a clerk of the township and divisional court. Philip Luke, in addition to running his tavern, served a couple of stints as postmaster and also served as a commissioner in Queens Bench. In addition to their other postings, both Ryan and Luke served as Justices of Peace.
By the late 1870s, West Huntingdon's residents appear to have grown quite prosperous. Gone were the shanties and lean-tos, replaced by sturdy comfortable brick homes, well adorned with quality furniture. Handsome carriages had replaced the ox carts and fabric and clothing, for the most part, was store bought, rather than home spun. The township's population had grown to over 3,000 inhabitants and a brand new road (later Highway 62) was in the works.
In 1877 the railway arrived, with trains travelling both ways twice daily. The GTR constructed a station on Concession 3, which they named West Huntingdon Station. The station was comprised of a waiting room, ticket office, stockyards and freight shed. In 1878, the Orange Lodge decided to replace their aging structure with a brand new building. The new lodge, located next door to the Wesleyan church, was dedicated in November 1881 amidst great fanfare, with a fundraiser in the form of an oyster dinner.
The Presbyterian congregation, who had been worshipping in a small white church located in a farmer's field near Ivanhoe, decided they were ready for bigger and better things. In 1882 the small white church was demolished and construction began on a far larger and more substantial structure. James Archibald donated the land on Concession 5 and contributed $2,000.towards the construction of St. Andrews's Presbyterian Church. The church was opened in 1883 with Rev. James Gray serving as the first minister.
By the mid 1880s, West Huntingdon had grown to a sizeable hamlet, reportedly boasting a population of around 200 (although this figure seems exaggerated). Arthur Bailey, a merchant, arrived in West Huntingdon from England around 1872. In 1879, he sold his property and building to Mr. and Mrs. Archibald Adams, who set up a new general store and butcher shop. Adams took over as postmaster from James Gay in 1887. By the late 1880s, the little hamlet also boasted a shoemaker, John Justice, a wagonmaker, E.B. Mullett, a blacksmith, a couple of carpenters and a nearby hotel, owned by Thomas Cook. A cheese factory was built by a group of shareholders on land leased from the Haggertys. J.W. Reed had taken over the sawmill and added a grist mill.
In addition to the usual services and amenities, West Huntingdon had plenty to offer in the way of entertainment. Philip Luke's tavern was said to have sold whiskey for 35 cents a gallon. Further north, on Concession 5, there was another tavern known as "The Plug." It was reputed to have contained a dance hall and was said to have done very brisk business, until it was destroyed by fire in the mid 1880s. The Plug was located next to a blacksmith shop and across the road from a store. For those who preferred to spend their time in more sedate pursuits, there were church socials and the new Orange Lodge, where James Gay, J.A.C. Hagerman and blacksmith, F.P. Sherry, all held high-level posts.
West Huntingdon's population began to fall off in the early 1890s. At the beginning of the decade, the population stood at around 150, however by the close of the century the population had dropped to around 95. The decade gave rise to a couple of cheese factories, an industry that remains predominant in the area to this day. Herbert Morton owned one of the factories and James Haggerty owned the other, known as the West Huntingdon Cheese Manufacturing Co. Despite the decline in the population figures, school attendance increased to the point where in 1902 it became necessary to enlarge the school and turn it into a two-room schoolhouse. A fence was added to the school in 1907.
By 1912, Archibald Adams, who was still serving as postmaster, was picking up mailbags daily from the railway station at Stirling. Adams served as postmaster for a full 40 years until his death in 1927. The new postmaster, Frank Ashley, set up a general store in the old Methodist Episcopal Church that was located on his property and later relocated the post office to the same building. Ashley tendered out mail delivery to Elijah Sarles, a local farmer and cheese maker, who began delivering the mail in 1931. Following his death in 1943, delivery was taken over by his son Mac.
Unfortunately by the 1930s West Huntingdon was clearly in decline. Rail traffic had been stopped and the railway station was demolished in 1930. In the early 30s the village boasted a hockey club however by 1939 it was necessary to renovate the school once again, this time cutting it back to one room due to declining attendance.
The Haggerty Cheese factory burned in 1916 but was quickly rebuilt and back in business 30 days later. The cheese factory survived until around 1955 when the farmers moved their cheese making over to larger factories in Ivanhoe, Latta and Belleville.
By the early 1960s, attendance at the school had picked up to the point where it was renovated back into two classrooms but that only lasted for a few short years. The school was closed for good in June 1969, along with many of the other rural schools in Hastings County. During the 1960s, the United Church embarked on a campaign to close many of their rural churches and amalgamate them with congregations in larger centres. The West Huntingdon United Church, although still very popular, was doomed and finally closed in 1967.
Popular letter carrier Mac Sarles, who along with his wife Velma had been delivering mail since 1943, became postmaster in 1959. He relocated the post office to his home on Concession 4. Despite considerable opposition, Canada Post closed the office in 1968 and redirected mail over to Stirling. After the office closed, Mac and Velma were honoured with a surprise retirement party, where they both showered with gifts in recognition of their many years of dedication and service.
By the mid 20th century, small crossroads hamlets, like West Huntingdon, had outlived their usefulness. Situated between the villages of Stirling and Ivanhoe, with the city of Belleville less than an hour's drive away, West Huntingdon had nothing unique to offer.
Today, most of what was once West Huntingdon has reverted back to farmland. The Methodist Episcopal Church, which closed before the 1920s is now used as a private home. The small cemetery located just to the south continues to be well maintained. Both the school and former United Church are also used as dwellings. The Orange Hall, which still had around 15 members in 1983, is now closed. The building sits next to the former United Church, derelict and abandoned. St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, whose congregation voted against merging with the United Church in 1925, closed in 2011. The building has since been sold and will be used as a permanent residence. Luke's Cemetery also remains in use. Nothing remains of the station village.
The Haggerty cheese factory building can still be found on the Haggerty farm, where it remains in a remarkable state of preservation. Tradition survives in Huntingdon Township. The majority of farms in the area are still occupied by descendants of the original settlers who first arrived in Huntingdon Township almost two centuries ago.