The attractive bow string bridge©Copyright: Jeri Danyleyko
Once the new lands in Grey County were opened for settlement, travellers and settlers slowly began to make their way up the rough, swampy trails. Travel was anything but easy in those days. Stage coaches and wagons could rarely travel more than a few kilometres per day. Injuries and accidents were commonplace and there was a desperate need for stopping places along the road.
John Orchard was one of the many settlers who had gone to war for the British. As was the practise in those days, the British paid off their war vets with handsome land grants and then packed them up and sent them off. Orchard's grant was located about halfway between Mount Forest and Durham along the Garafraxa Road and had some conditions attached. He had to build and operate a public house and stopping place to accommodate the many new settlers heading up the rocky roads to their new homes. Orchard conveniently obliged and named his little settlement Orchardville.
Orchardville was settled around 1846. Settlers quickly began to pour in. The community was located on the town line between Normanby and Egremont. A log school, USS No. 2 Normanby, was established on the Egremont side some time before 1849.
In 1855 Thomas Caldwell opened a post office in his general store under the name of Normanby. Caldwell's store was located on the Normanby side and it was customary in those days to name the township's first post office after the township where is was located. In 1858 Orchard laid out a small town plot. By the mid 1860s telegraph service was added in the store.
Around 1859 James Dodds built a flour mill on the Egremont side about 2 km south of the village. Orchard followed suit with a sawmill located just south of the grist mill. Both of mills were well patronized by the large number of settlers who were dependent on the sawmill for their building supplies and on the grist mill for the farming needs. In the early days the grist mill used stone grinding. Later on it was converted to a chopping mill.
With the village filling up rapidly, Caldwell petitioned to have the post office name changed to Orchardville. The request was refused. For some reason the postal authorities at the time had developed a horror over long names. Whether their reasoning was due to the general illiteracy of the public at the time or whether there was some other strange reason is impossible to say. Finally in 1862 the post office name was officially changed to "Orchard." The change pertained only to the post office. The village's legal name along with all properties and deeds was still Orchardville. The post office was conveniently located right on the stage route between Guelph and Owen Sound and mail came in and out daily.
By the mid 1860s, Orchardville was a prosperous little village with a population of around 80. There was a pair of boot and shoemakers, James and John Allen, a constable, John Carpenter Quin, a carpenter John McCrae, and the Orchardville Hotel, which by this time was being run by Mrs. Howson. John Calvert's busy blacksmith shop had two smittys, Calvert and Abraham Sayjohn. Benjamin Rogers, the township clerk for Egremont also resided in Orchardville. The village had a Presbyterian church with Reverend P. Greig, serving as the first minister.
By the early 1870s, Orchardville's population had jumped to 150. New businesses included a second inn, owned by John Cornish and John Irvine, a woollen mill, run by Thomas Smith and James Dodds, a cooperage, run by William Pinder, a second grocery store, operated by W.B. Rowe, and a physician, Dr. Thomas Tanner. One important centre was the Buchan store located midway between Orchardville and the Egremont PO. During the late 1870s, Colin Blythe opened a second sawmill. A Methodist church (later United) was also added. Orchardville's more influential residents included John Blythe, a farmer and First Deputy Reeve of Normanby, and John Robertson, who served as a township councillor for over 20 years.
Businesses changed hands a number of times during the 1880s and 90s. However one business that remained stable was the Dodds mills. By the 1880s Dodds had taken over the flour mill and added a carding mill. During the 1890s he had took on a partner and the business became known as Hagerman and Dodds. The Caldwell general store also remained a long-standing family operation for many years. Following Caldwell's death in 1868 the store and post office were taken over by his widow, Eliza. John Irving, who was postmaster from 1875 to 1890, also ran the hotel for a number of years. After his departure, the Caldwell brothers, T. and H. Caldwell once again took over the post office, running it from 1891 to 1900, in addition to running the Briery Bank Farm.
By the 1890s the majority of Orchardville's businesses were farm-based. They included cattle dealers, grain threshing and feed sales. The carding mill had closed but the flour and sawmills remained open. The mills survived well into the 20th century and by 1910 they were being run by A. Dodds.
Another family that rose to prominence in Orchardville were the McQueens. They first arrived in Orchardville sometime during the 1880s. John McQueen sold insurance and during the 1890s his wife Mary took over one of the grocery stores.
The McQueens were instrumental in the establishment of an Anglican church. For years the Anglicans had been holding services in the Allan schoolhouse. In 1907 a brick church was finally built with Reverend A.A. Bice serving as the first rector and McQueen as one of the wardens. Members of the building committee included William McFadden, William Davis, James Eden and Robert Matthews.
Orchardville began to decline around the beginning of the 20th century. Records from 1910 show the village's population had slipped to around 50. The post office closed in 1918. Slowly the businesses began to close and the churches merged with other congregations in larger centres.
Although today a number of people continue to live in Orchardville, it exists as a mere shadow of its former self. An attractive bow string bridge still crosses the mill stream. One mill has been extensively renovated and is now a private home. Very little else remains of the original town site.