1880s


If you missed the history talk on the nineteenth century development of Deseronto this weekend, there’s a chance to catch it again on YouTube:

Due to a technical hitch on the day, the visuals weren’t available, but this version includes the slides!

A recent enquiry by a researcher who is studying the region’s lighthouses has revealed some interesting facts about Deseronto’s own lighthouse. Some of its history can be traced through federal government publications, beginning with the report of the Department of Marine and Fisheries for 1884 (published in the Sessional Papers for the Dominion of Canada, Volume 6,1885), where the Ontario Lighthouse Division reported that:

Agreement to build a lighthouse in Deseronto

Unsurprisingly, it was the Rathbun Company who were contracted to build the lighthouse, for the reassuringly precise estimate of $437.49. Construction of the light had been completed by the time of the Department’s report.

We next hear of the lighthouse in the Departmental report for 1885 (Sessional Papers for the Dominion of Canada, Volume 9,1886).

Deseronto light - 1886 report

Here we learn that the Rathbun Company supplied the gas to the light and that the light was constructed on the roof of the freight shed of the Bay of Quinte Railway at the Rathbun Company’s wharf. It’s interesting to see that the Rathbun Company went a little over their budget, spending a total of $455.55.

A search on our Flickr images reveals several photographs which show the light in place on that building.

Steam wharf at Deseronto

A notice in the Canada Gazette of September 19th, 1885 announced the light to the maritime community:

Gazette notice about Deseronto light

This detail of photograph RATHCO-06-48.4 shows how the light would have appeared to the ships approaching it from the Bay:

Deseronto wharf from the Bay of Quinte

In the background on the left, you can see the brick head office building of the Rathbun Company, from where its owners could keep a close eye on the activities of the wharf. None of these buildings survive today.

Sometimes chance survivals give us an intriguing glimpse into particular aspects of people’s lives in the past. We have just digitized some letters which were found in the former Cronk property in Deseronto and which were written in the early 1880s, just at the point when the village switched from being called Mill Point to being called Deseronto.

The first is a letter which was started but not finished or sent. It was probably written by Sarah Jane Cronk (1850-1929), wife of Reuben Cronk (1841-1931) who was a butcher in Deseronto for most of his life. It gives a touching account of the recovery from illness of her second eldest child, Albert, who was born in 1877.

Sarah Jane Cronk's letter

She wrote:

Mill Point feb 1881
Mr William Aull
Dear Brother yours of the 7 inst came to hand and was duly Recived and I Can asure you it was with Plasuer that I Read thos Lines from you informings us of your Good health and thay found us all well But Albert he has Bin verry sick, nii unto Death But I thank the Giver of all Good that he has spared us our Child. you doe Not Know how sickness Brings you to felings of Love for your for your Children and your Maker your father & mother are well at Presant and we heard from Molly and the Children this week and they ware well then times are not Bad here this winter But the thaw has taken off all our Snow wich efects trad to some Degere some thinks that we will have Early Spring while more thinks thair will be A later Spring we were glad to here that Mrs Berry is well and the Rest of her family

Two of the other letters relate to a fugitive from justice who escaped from Deseronto to Elkland, Tioga County, Pennsylvania in 1882. As well as being a butcher, Reuben Cronk was Deseronto’s Chief of Police in the early 1880s. These two letters were both written to Cronk by the postmaster of Elkland, Eugene G. Webb, who was anxious that the fugitive, W. H. Mabey, alias Amos Hicks, should be captured and taken back to Deseronto and equally anxious that his own role in the affair should be kept secret.

Eugene Webb's letter

In this part of the first letter, written on January 28th, 1882, Webb describes the appearance and activities of the fugitive:

…also a lady to whom he was married about two weeks ago.
He has been here about a month or six weeks and is to work at the Shoe Makers trade and is running a small shop here.
He is a man about 5 feet 6 or 8 inches high, small black eyes, black mustatch, wears a black stiff Hat, light Coat and Vest dark Pants and should judge he is of foreign birth.
The lady he married was purported to come from Philadelphia Pa but have since heard she is from Canada.
In mailing a letter at my Office he requested me not to put my dateing stamp on and have surmised he was a bad caracter.
I shall keep perfectly mum and you can call on me and I will tell you where you can find him.
Hopeing I have given you sufficent evidence I must close.
Yours Very Respectfully
E. G. Webb
P.M.
P.S. Please do not mention who gave you this information and oblige Yours Truly

What crime had Mabey/Hicks committed? Did Chief Cronk actually make the trip to Elkland to retrieve him?

We simply don’t know: sometimes these chance survivals just raise more questions than they answer!

April 27th, 1881, local item about the cemetery in the Deseronto Tribune

Correspondence with a family historian this week has shed some light on this cryptic comment in the ‘Local items’ section of Deseronto’s newspaper, The Tribune, in the April 27th, 1888 edition.

The decision to build a cemetery in the town had been taken earlier that year: on Monday, February 6th, 1888 a meeting was held in Deseronto’s Town Hall to discuss the establishment of a Cemetery Company under the terms of the Cemeteries Act. It was agreed that the Deseronto Cemetery Company should be formed, with a capital of $4,500. Within a week a prospectus had been issued and shares were being sold at $100 each.

The Tribune  reported the outcome of the meeting in the following way:

The prospect of the early opening of a cemetery in this vicinity is everywhere hailed with satisfaction. The people of Deseronto and neighbourhood have in the past been compelled to bury their dead here, there and everywhere, a state of affairs in no way creditable to their public spirit. We are glad to know that so many are taking shares in the company. The Tribune, February 10th, 1888

Forty acres of land to the east of Deseronto were purchased by the Rathbuns for the cemetery in April 1888. “Before long, it would be a ‘pleasure’ for anyone to be buried in the Cemetery”, reported The Tribune, chirpily, on April 6th.

A. J. Hopkins, a landscape architect from Oswego, New York, was hired to design a layout for the site in early May of the same year. The choice of an Oswego landscape architect reflected the industrial interests of the Rathbuns in that town and the fact that there were no landscape architects in Canada at that time.  By the summer of 1888 the cemetery was in use.

As the cemetery was not yet open in April 1888, the comment in The Tribune about a birth there seems odd, but our correspondent was able to share another newspaper clipping with us (probably from the Napanee Express) which gave some more information:

Newspaper birth announcement of William Langton

Edwin R. Langton was the son of an English grave digger called William Langton and was born in Hanwell, Middlesex (just to the west of London) in 1852. He came to Canada in 1883 and married Martha Penney in Sillery, Quebec, on October 26th, 1886. On their marriage record, Langton is described as a gardener from Deseronto and a widower.1 In 1891 the family are listed on the census in Deseronto, with Edwin as a gardener.

The cemetery originally had a cottage just inside the gates, which was occupied by the cemetery caretaker. Perhaps the Langtons were in occupation of this building when William was born and the new cemetery was taking shape around it. Edwin, with his gardening experience, may even have been the first caretaker of the cemetery grounds.

By 1901 the Langtons had moved back to Sillery with their five children. The eldest (the one born in the cemetery) was called William. It does seem appropriate that a child born in a cemetery should be named after a grave digger!


1 It turns out that this wasn’t true: my correspondent informs me that Langton’s first wife, Ruth (née Winkworth), died in England in 1894 (read more in his article about this family [PDF]). This is the second bigamist we’ve come across in Deseronto.

One of the most prominent Mohawks associated with Deseronto was Dr Oronhyatekha (1841-1907), originally from the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford. He studied at the University of Oxford for a while and trained to become a doctor at the University of Toronto in 1867. He became involved in the Independent Order of Foresters and successfully transformed the finances of the organization. Oronhyatekha married Ellen Hill, a Mohawk from Tyendinaga Reserve. They had a house in Tyendinaga and the doctor also built properties on Foresters’ Island, which is situated in the Bay of Quinte, opposite Deseronto. These included ‘The Wigwam’, his elaborate summer residence; a hotel, and pleasure grounds. The postcard below shows the orphanage on the Island which Oronhyatekha constructed for the Foresters’ Order, and which operated from 1906 to 1907.

Imperial Order of Foresters' orphanage

Imperial Order of Foresters’ orphanage

[Postcard loaned for scanning by R.N. Goodfellow]

Oronhyatekha’s fame overshadows history’s awareness of his Mohawk colleague, Kenwendeshon, who was born in Tyendinaga on April 8th, 1855,  the son of Cornelius Maracle and Nancy Hill (a great-granddaughter of Deserontoyon). We have recently been in contact with a descendant of Kenwendeshon, who has been gathering information about his ancestor from a variety of sources, including the Kanhiote Library and the Legacy Center of Drexel University College of Medicine. He has kindly agreed to let us share the information he has obtained, to allow us cast some more light on this man, the first of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte to graduate from a university.

Kenwendeshon (also known as John C. Maracle) trained as a physician at the Eclectic Medical College of Pennsylvania and American University of Philadelphia (which has an intriguing history of its own), graduating in  1878. One of the items in the possession of Kenwendeshon’s descendant is a 1953 letter from the London Public Library which refers to a diary entry about an incident in 1874, when Kenwendeshon helped to turn the tide of a smallpox epidemic at the Moravian Indian mission at Fairfield (Moraviantown). The date is interesting, as he would only have been 18 at the time, and presumably unqualified: perhaps his association with Oronhyatekha began before he went to Philadelphia. Oronhyatekha had moved from Tyendinaga to London to begin a new practice in 1874, so may well have met the Maracles when he had been working in this area.

UPDATE, 25 May: Professor Michelle A. Hamilton of the University of Western Ontario has informed us that the epidemic was actually in 1879 and that Kenwendeshon left his practice in Syracuse, New York when Oronhyatekha asked for his assistance. Professor Hamilton also provided us with links to a file of digitized correspondence with the Indian Branch of the Department of the Interior held at Library and Archives Canada which details the response to the epidemic. Here is an example of the correspondence: a request from the Chief of the Moravian Indians to allow Dr Oronhyatekha to establish a temporary hospital “to isolate our small pox cases we have had four deaths six other cases local physicians refuse to come on the reserve”.

Telegram from Chief Stonefish, 21 May 1879

Telegram from Chief Stonefish, 21 May, 1879

A report from Oronhyatekha in this correspondence explains the circumstances of Kenwendeshon’s appointment:

…I have also employed a young physician who was formerly a student in my office & who himself has had the small pox to proceed to the reserve and be in constant attendance and to personally supervise the disinfecting of the clothing and houses of those Indians who have had the small pox.

[Professor Hamilton is currently co-writing a biography of Dr. Oronhyatekha with Keith Jamieson. This is going to be published by Dundurn Press in 2014.]

On November 20th, 1879 Kenwendeshon married Julia Hill Thompson in London and the couple had two children: Lillian, born in London in November 1880, and John Albert (Bert), born in Roscommon, Michigan, in August 1882. A note written in 1953 by Bert (reproduced below), suggests that Kenwendeshon worked with Oronhyatekha in London and Stratford before moving to Roscommon.

Note by Bert Maracle about Dr. Kenwendeshon

Note by Bert Maracle about Dr. Kenwendeshon

According to this note, Julia died in Roscommon when Bert was 14 months old (late 1884). We have not been able to track down a death record for her, but the two children were subsequently adopted into two different families, 400 kilometers apart. Lillian went to live with her mother’s two unmarried older sisters, Caroline and Georgina, and her grandmother, Henrietta Thompson, who lived in Queen’s Avenue, London, Ontario. Her brother, Bert, went back to Tyendinaga to live with his aunt, Susan in the household of his grandfather, Cornelius.

Kenwendeshon appears to have continued to working as a doctor  in Michigan: in Roscommon and, later, in Beaverton. He died in Beaverton on September 22, 1899 at the age of 44 and was buried at Christ Church in Tyendinaga. His mentor, Oronhyatekha, died eight years later.

Sometimes the bald information in records of the past can conceal stories of human suffering and loss. But those bare bones of birth, death, marriage and census details can also be used to give structure and meaning to half-remembered family stories and newspaper reports from days gone by.

Deseronto’s Tribune  newspaper of August 31, 1888 reported the death of Philip Gaylord, a man who was working for the Rathbun Company, in the following (rather graphic) way:

Fatal Accident

On the afternoon of Saturday, 25th inst., Philip Gaylord, an employee of the Cedar Mill, was the victim of an unfortunate accident which was followed with fatal results. He was employed as a teamster and was engaged in hauling cars loaded with refuse from the mill to the yards. About the middle of the afternoon he left the mill with a loaded car and had almost reached its destination in the yard east of the Chemical works. It happened, however, that one of the pieces of stuff on the car projected too far from the load and as the car proceeded along the track between two piles of wood, this piece was caught and as the horses moved on it was swung about, throwing Gaylord from the load.  He fell on the rails, and the loaded car passed over him, the wheels mutilating him in a dreadful manner.

Railway tracks behind the cedar mill in 1907, with refuse burner chimneys in the distance (HMR1-06-79)

Mr. Donaldson, the foreman of the yard, witnessed the accident and ran immediately to his assistance.  He was conveyed at once to Dr. Newton’s surgery where it was found that his right arm was nearly cut off, the bones being shattered to the very shoulder, while the right leg was also fearfully mangled.  Dr. Newton immediately amputated the arm at the shoulder joint, and the leg above the knee; he also amputated the great toe of the left foot which had also been crushed.  The young man bore the operation well, but the terrible shock was too great and after midnight he began to sink rapidly and he expired at an early hour on Sunday morning.

The funeral took place on Sunday afternoon and was numerously attended.  The deceased, who was 21 years of age, was the son of Levi Gaylord, of the township of Arden.  He was a steady young man and had gained the good will and respect of his companions and fellow workmen.  His sudden cutting off is rendered more sad by the fact that he was to have been married in the course of two or three months.  His last words, somewhat indistinctly uttered, expressed a message which he wished to be conveyed to his betrothed.

The obituary was discovered on this blog by a researcher who was trying to find out about the parentage of a woman called Minnie May Penny who was born in January 1889. The family story had been that she was adopted by Charles and Emma Penny in Arden after one of her parents was killed in a railway accident that spooked some horses. Marriage and census records show us that Emma Penny’s father was Levi Gaylord and that she was therefore the sister of Philip, the man who died in Deseronto in August 1888.The similarity of the family story and the information from the obituary strongly suggests that the soon-to-be-wed Philip was Minnie’s father. Minnie’s date of birth was January 4, 1889 and in the 1891 census we find her living with the Pennys in Arden and carrying their surname, which bears out the family story that she was adopted by them. Now we know from the information in the newspaper story that the Pennys were her paternal aunt and uncle.

But who was Minnie’s mother?

We had a date of birth for the child, but no name for her mother apart from a family story that it might have been Haws or Boomhower. This time, it was the Ancestry website which was the best source of information. A search on Minnies born in Ontario on January 4, 1889 brought back a likely match: Minnie Hawes was born to Ida Hawes of Olden Township, Frontenac County (not far from Arden) on that day. No father’s name is given on her birth registration, but the matches between the family stories and the records mean that Philip Gaylord and Ida Hawes are highly likely to be Minnie’s parents and that Philip’s ‘indistinctly uttered’ last words had been meant for Ida, the woman he had planned to marry.

Mystery solved!

Ontario’s marriage records show us that Ida went on to marry a man called Stephen Dolan in August 1892, by which time Minnie was living in Arden with her aunt and uncle. Minnie herself married a man called Robert Loyst in 1905 and by 1911 the couple had three children and were living in Nipissing. We can hope this was a happy ending to a life which had such an unfortunate beginning.

Deseronto Public Library traces its roots back to the foundation of the Deseronto Mechanics Institute in 1885. Mechanics’ Institutes were established as a means of providing educational opportunities for working men. Many of them provided lectures, social events and reading rooms for the use of their members, who paid an annual fee for access to these facilities.

Dr John Newton

A public meeting was held in the Town Hall on October 27th, 1885 to discuss “the propriety of forming a Mechanics Institute in the Village of Deseronto”. The attendees were assisted in their deliberations by Mr McGowan and Mr Scott, members of the Napanee Mechanics Institute. It was unanimously resolved that it was “expedient to form a Mechanics Institute in Deseronto” and Dr John Newton, Deseronto’s physician and Reeve, was elected as the President of the Institute.

On November 11th, the first Library Committee was established “to select books and prepare a catalogue”. At the same meeting it was agreed that “Mr E. A. Rixen be Librarian and Miss Millie Anderson be Assistant Librarian”. Ebenezer Arthur Rixen was the Rathbun Company’s  accountant and his involvement with the library was to continue for many years. The Mechanics Institute library would be open from 7pm to 9pm on Tuesdays and Saturdays and 3pm to 5pm on Thursdays.

Deseronto House Hotel

Rooms for the Mechanics Institute were secured from George Stewart, one of the Directors. The location of these rooms is not known but Stewart was the proprietor of the Deseronto House Hotel on Main Street and it is possible that the rooms were located within that establishment. In May 1887 the Institute paid for gas lighting to be installed in the rooms rented from Stewart. 80 feet of gas pipes were needed, at a cost of 15 cents a foot.

The first salaried librarian to be employed by the Mechanics Institute was Alva Solmes, who was also the caretaker for the rooms. He was taken on in May 1889 at a salary of $25 a quarter. Mr Solmes was a 43-year-old shipwright who had been born in the USA. By this time, the Institute was looking out for new accommodation and in 1890 the Directors were discussing building a new library with an adjoining Opera House. Estimates for such a building were received in September of that year but the depressed state of trade at the time meant that the idea was shelved.

Colp Block

In October 1890 the President of the Institute, Frederick Sherwood Rathbun, reported that he had obtained new accommodation for the Institute in Godfrey Colp’s new block. This building was situated on the southwest corner of Edmon and St. George Streets. The rent for the new rooms was to be $150 a year, payable quarterly. The Institute moved into its new home in 1891 and a new caretaker/librarian, Arthur P. Brown , was employed in the same year.

The Institute faced financial problems and by the mid-1890s was running an annual debt in excess of $300. Efforts were made to increase membership but the problem was resolved when a change in the law in 1895 permitted the conversion of Ontario’s Mechanics’ Institutes into free Public Libraries. Ontario had passed the Free Libraries Act in 1882, the first of its kind in Canada, which allowed municipalities to establish public libraries supported by tax dollars rather than membership fees. The 1895 amendment resulted in Mechanics’ Institute libraries being converted into free libraries from May 1, 1896. If the Directors of the Institutes agreed, the management of the libraries would be taken over by a Public Library Board and funding provided by the municipality. As a result of this Act, the number of public library boards in Ontario rose from 16 in 1894 to 54 in 1896. At this date, the annual running cost of the library in Deseronto was $250.

F. S. Rathbun

A public meeting in the Mechanics Institute on April 10, 1896 elected the first Board for the Deseronto Public Library. Its Chair was Frederick Sherwood Rathbun, Treasurer of the Town Council and brother of Edward Wilkes Rathbun, Mayor of Deseronto and head of the Rathbun Company. The new Public Library took over the Mechanics Institute’s books (including their Minute Book!) and premises and continued to employ Arthur P. Brown as its Librarian at the same salary as before. A set of Rules and Regulations for the library were drawn up.

Arthur P. Brown was born in Ireland in 1847 and came to Canada in 1881. His time as Librarian was not without its moments of controversy.  In 1898 the Board noted that he was refusing to lend certain books to particular individuals. It was decided that “we should not have books in the Library about which there was any reasonable doubt” and a number of books were “expunged entirely” from the collection as a result, including Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles: now seen as a classic, but apparently too controversial for some of Deseronto’s citizens in 1898.

The Board minutes noted on October 1st, 1901 that “many complaints are being made of the discourteous treatment received by the patrons of the Library from the Librarian”. It was resolved that the Secretary of the Board “be empowered, on a recurrence of the treatment complained of, to call a special meeting of the Board with a view to the selection of a suitable successor to the present Librarian”. Despite this reprimand, Mr Brown continued in the role of Librarian until 1915, with a total of 24 years in the post.

By the early years of the twentieth century the condition of Colp’s block was giving the Library Board cause for concern. At this time, the millionaire industrialist Andrew Carnegie was funding the construction of public library buildings: over 2,500 around the world and 111 in Ontario. The Board wrote to Carnegie in 1901 asking about the construction of a library in Deseronto. At this time, the Town Council was using the Library’s rooms for its meetings and it was hoped that a shared building suitable for use as a Library and Town Hall could be funded. However, the terms of the Carnegie grants were for dedicated library buildings only and so the chance of having a Carnegie library in Deseronto was lost.

Fire Hall, 1976

In June 1909 the Library moved to rooms above the Fire Hall on Edmon Street. The move was costly: the Librarian being paid $1 a day to move the books. It took 20 days to complete and the cost plunged the Library into another financial crisis. A meeting was held on October 28th, 1909 at which it was noted that the Board wanted to discuss the future of the Library with the Mayor and Reeve as “funds were exhausted and the Board was in debt”.

Scorched books

The Library continued to function in its location on Edmon Street until 1931 when a fire in the building caused extensive damage to the books. Some of them were sold off after the fire but others were trimmed and returned to the shelves. Several of these charred volumes are still owned by the Library. After the fire the Town Council offered the Library Board the old Tribune office on Main Street as alternative accommodation. Insurance money paid for the refurbishment of the property at 309 Main Street and the Library occupied that site for the next 70 years.

Library at 309 Main Street, 1976

The Great Depression saw hard times for the Library again and the Board reduced the salary for the Librarian, Mary Mitchell so much that she resigned at a meeting of the Board on September 19th, 1933 and it was agreed to close the Library until further notice. The closure was short-lived, however, being rescinded at the next meeting of the Board due to the appointment of Dorothy McCullough as Librarian, a post she was to hold for nearly 20 years. Mrs McCullough was succeeded by Helen Tunnicliffe, another very long-serving Librarian. In 120 years of having a salaried Librarian, only thirteen people have held the role:

Alva Solmes 1889-1891
Arthur P. Brown 1891-1915
Helen Cronk 1915-1921
Flossie Hall 1921-1926
Mary Mitchell 1926-1933
Dorothy McCullough 1933-1952
Helen Tunnicliffe 1952-1975
Stella Carney 1975
Heather Granatstein 1975-1977
Gloria Greenfield 1977-1983, 1987-1989
Gail Herman (later Maracle) 1983-1987
Glendon Brant 1989-1999
Frances Smith 1999-present

In 2001 the Library moved to its current location at 358 Main Street. This was once the site of the Deseronto House Hotel, the possible location of the rooms rented for the original Deseronto Mechanics Institute in 1885.

2015.13(2) 7

Opening of Deseronto Public Library at 358 Main Street, July 1st, 2001

 

A genealogist visited the archives last week, interested in finding out more about her ancestor, a man listed in the 1881 census as of African origin, who had been born in the United States. A closer look at the whole census for Mill Point, as Deseronto was then known, using the search interface at Library and Archives Canada, shows that there were five adults in the town at that date who are identified as being of African origin: two women and three men. The three men were all born in the United States and two of the three are described as barbers. They were, in fact, the only barbers in Mill Point at that time.1

Former archivist Kenneth M. Brown found the following advertisement for John Jackson’s business in the September 2, 1881 edition of the Napanee Express:

Advertisement for Jackson's Tonsorial Parlours

In light of this discovery, I  thought it might be interesting to have an overall look at the racial origins of Mill Point (Deseronto) citizens in 1881. There were 1,670 people in the town at that time (slightly fewer than today). Here is a table breaking down the population by their reported racial origins:

Racial origin Number
Irish 542
German 343
Scottish 253
French 177
Indian 121
English 112
Dutch 41
African 10

In this next table, the places of birth of the townspeople are listed:

Place of birth Number
Ontario 1,300
Quebec 106
Ireland 99
England 71
USA 52
Scotland 25
Germany 7
Nova Scotia 4
West Indies 4
Alberta 1

We can see that by 1881, nearly 100 years after this area was first settled in any great numbers, 85% of the town’s population had been born in Canada. This was a period of industrial expansion for the Rathbun Company, whose mills and factories were attracting working men to the town. A closer look at the ethnically Irish third of the population shows how youthful the people of the town were in 1881:

Age Number
1 to 10 170
11 to 20 110
21 to 30 118
31 to 40 48
41 to 50 44
51 to 60 23
60+ 22

If we compare this age profile with information taken from the 2001 census for the town, the difference is obvious:

Profile of age groups in Deseronto, 1881 and 2001

The gender profile was also quite different from today’s. Now there is an even split between men and women in Deseronto. A sampling of the 1881 data suggests that two thirds of the population were male and only a third female back then. Those American barbers would not have been short of customers!

1 Douglas Bristol’s article, “From Outposts to Enclaves: A Social History of Black Barbers from 1750 to 1915,” Enterprise & Society 5 (2004), gives a good overview of the entrepreneurial success of black barbers.

Last month’s description of Deseronto as one of Canada’s leading industrial towns in the late nineteenth century is reinforced by the Canadian Patents database at Library and Archives Canada. This database has been created by digitising microfilms of patents for the years 1869 to 1894. A search for ‘Deseronto’ reveals a list of 23 patents that were filed from the town in those 25 years; a period covering its busiest industrial times.

These include:

  • 1884
    • APPARATUS FOR PRODUCING GAS FROM SAW DUST, submitted by George Walker
    • MACHINE FOR GUMMING AND SHARPENING CIRCULAR SAWS, submitted by James H. Totman
  • 1885
    • SNOW PLOUGH [for steam locomotives], submitted by John M. Poitras
  • 1886
    • COUNTERBALANCE FOR LINK MOTION OF STEAM ENGINES, submitted by James B. Stewart
  • 1889
    • PROCESS FOR MANUFACTURING POROUS EARTHENWARE BUILDING MATERIAL, submitted by William Lenderoth

This last is one of nine patents filed in this period by Lenderoth and Edward Wilkes Rathbun in connection with the Rathbun Company’s brick and terra cotta works at the eastern end of Deseronto. The firm began producing terra cotta in 1887 and the factory continued to generate terra cotta (both structural and ornamental) and bricks until it was destroyed by fire in 1898. The picture below shows the works from the west in the early 1890s. The photograph was taken from Dundas Street, with First Street visible in the foreground.


Examples of the terra cotta produced by the works can still be seen on many of Deseronto’s buildings.

A mention in the Napanee Standard of April 7, 1881, led former Deseronto archivist, Ken Brown, on a detective trail to hunt down a published description of ‘Deseronto and its industries’. The article in question appeared in the journal Lumber World, published in Buffalo, New York, in 1881. This publication proved difficult to find, but eventually we established that the Hagley Library in Wilmington, Delaware, held a copy (call number: TS800.L98). This library specialises in collecting the records of American enterprise (and is based on the site of the original DuPont gunpowder factory). The library’s head of imprints, Max Moeller, was incredibly helpful and has furnished the Archives with a digital version of the article.

The article runs to seven pages and is handsomely illustrated with etchings of some of the principal industrial buildings of the town: the saw mill, sash and door factory, flour mill, cedar mill and steamboat wharf. The text is fulsome (verging on the sycophantic) in its praise of the Rathbun company. Here are a few extracts:

The original saw mill has given place to one of immense proportions; extensive machine and blacksmith shops; sash and door factories; cedar mills; flour mills; lines of steam and sailing vessels; commodious and extensive warehouses and docks have been called into being, and, so great has become the importance of Deseronto as a shipping centre, the United States government has established there a Consular Agency. [p.32]

The total number of vessels which sailed from Mill Point (Deseronto) loaded by or for the firm alone, during the season of navigation beginning March 31, 1880 and ending November 20, 1880, was 509, of which 300 cleared for United States, and 209 for Canada ports. This does not include passenger steamers. During the season of navigation it is not an unusual sight to see from fifteen to seventeen vessels loading at the Deseronto docks simultaneously. [p.35]

The firm of H. B. Rathbun & Son is too well known and stands too high in the commercial world, to require commendation at our hands, yet our acknowledgement of an appreciation of the numerous courtesies extended, upon occasions when we have visited their establishments will not be inappropriate. Mr E. W. Rathbun, upon whom has devolved, in a great measure, the direction and management of the vast interests of the firm, has repeatedly demonstrated that courteous demeanor is not incompatible with careful watchfulness and prudence in business affairs, and were we to hazard a guess as to the prime cause of the magical success which has crowned the business career of this firm, we should attribute it in a large degree to the courteous and affable manner in which everyone who has dealings with them is treated. [pp.36-37]