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Yonge Mills

History

Town site photo

The church

©Copyright: Jeri Danyleyko

In 1776 the thunder of guns drove huge waves of new immigrants northward to what was left of British North America. Thousands of Americans, who wished to remain loyal to the British crown, fled the newly formed United States in search of lands where they could retain their British nationality. Of the approximately 7,500 people who arrived, many settled in the area that was eventually to become known as Upper Canada and later the province of Ontario. These people became known as United Empire Loyalists, an identity they retain to this very day.

The British government was quick to recognize that those who remained loyal and fought for the British cause would need help with resettlement. Many were starving and destitute upon their arrival. To help them get started, the British devised a system of rewards that included land grants, food, tools and other provisions to carry them through for three years, while they built new homesteads and established new farms. Land grants ranged from 50 to 1,000 acres, depending on the individual's military rank and whether they had served in active combat. One of the three main areas the British chose for settlement lay along the northern shore of the St. Lawrence River, stretching eastward from the village of Kingston.

Yonge Mills was a small Loyalist village that was first settled in the early part of the 19th century. It was located in Leeds County about 50 kilometres east of Kingston close to Jones Creek. Before the advent of decent roadways, water channels, in addition to being primary sources of power, were also the principal and often the only routes of transportation. Nearby Jones Creek was considered ideal in a couple of respects. It offered more than ample waterpower to run several mills and also formed a clear navigable channel that led directly to the St. Lawrence River.

By the mid 19th century, Yonge Mills had grown to become a busy and prosperous community with a population of about 175. It included saw and grist mills, owned by James McElhinney, saw, carding and fulling mills owned by F. Jones, two blacksmiths, N. Baxter and D. Wylie, and two inns, operated by Thomas Marshall and William Armstrong. According to one source Nathan Baxter was running a post office from his store as early as 1851, however later records place him in nearby Lyn in 1856.

All the early mills and businesses had been built around the original waterpower site, however by the 1860s, transportation underwent a radical change. Following the arrival of the Grand Trunk Railway, a second settlement popped up a little less than kilometre north of the original village, just north of the tracks, close to the new railway station. The station village attracted more businesses and the newer area continued to expand. Osmond Jones built a flour mill and sawmill and James Parr opened a new clothing factory. The community also boasted a cooperage, run by William Munro. The blacksmith shop was owned by John Phillips. By the late 1870s, Burrel Burnham had taken over the general store and a couple of temperance halls had been added. Burnham opened an official post office in 1888.

Unfortunately Yonge Mills' days were seriously numbered. By the end of the 19th century the mills began to suffer, following a decline in wheat and farming. They never recovered and the village slowly began to die. During the 1890s the village continued to support a couple of farm based businesses such as Hiram Cook's feed mill which opened around 1895 and the Leeds County Cheese Company Limited, run by Terrence Purvis. However by the dawn of the 20th century it was pretty much over for Yonge Mills. The post office closed in 1912, after being replaced by rural mail delivery. By 1914, Burnham's store was the lone survivor.

The construction of Highway 401 and other 20th century road realignments left very little of the original village. Luckily portions of the station village managed to survive. The church continues to operate and the schoolhouse is now a private home. A vacant section-house sits on the north side of the tracks while the original cemetery, once part of the old village, sits directly across from the section house on the south side of the tracks. A few mill ruins and cellar holes can still be found in the old part of the village. This attractive area continues to remain home to a handful of rural dwellers.