1890s


A couple of Flickr-related news items today, one local, one not-so-local.

This morning we passed one million views on the Deseronto Archives Flickr account, according to the statistics generated by that service:

Graph showing one million views on the Deseronto Archives Flickr account

And in the not-so-local news, the British Library has just released a million illustrations from digitized versions of 65,000 17th, 18th and 19th century books. Like the Deseronto images, these are in the Flickr Commons, which means they are freely available for re-use in whatever way you choose. Sadly, Deseronto doesn’t feature in any of these images, but there are a number of drawings of other Canadian towns and cities, including this image of Toronto, showing “a bird’s eye view of Toronto industrial exhibition, 1899”.
Bird's eye view of Toronto Industrial Exhibition, 1899
This is from page 22 of an 1899 book called Toronto, historical, descriptive, and pictorial, etc by Alexander Fraser. Its reference number at the British Library is HMNTS 10470.ff.24.

And here’s a reproduction of Guy Johnson’s 1771 map showing the territories of the Six Nations in what is now New York state:

Map of Six Nations territories

This is from A History of the Schenectady Patent in the Dutch and English times; being contributions toward a history of the lower Mohawk Valley, by Jonathan Pearson, published in 1883 (HMNTS 10409.cc.2).

You can search over all the images that the British Library has shared.

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When an archives’ focus is geographical, as ours is, there is often reason to be thankful for the fact that a town has a fairly unique name. This makes it easy to take advantage of the increasing number of online resources around the world which allow searching of historical materials by keywords: there aren’t any other Deserontos, so when we find a hit, we can be fairly sure that the article or book in question is about this town.

This week, the resource we were plundering was the National Library of Australia’s Trove service. This is an incredibly rich seam of information from Australian and international sources, including digitized newspapers, manuscripts, maps and photographs. Among the results for a search on Deseronto was this interesting snippet about a hard-fought and arduous event held in Deseronto in June 1897, the year of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee:

Great Tug of War

A story of an extraordinary tug-of war comes from Canada. At an athletic meeting held at Deseronto, Canada, on Jubilee Day, two teams, styled Picton and Deseronto, were down for a tug-of-war, seven men aside, one pull of 3ft. to a finish : and for the record time of 2h. and 10min. those fourteen men strained every muscle in the glaring sun without any apparent advantage. Picton secured eight inches in the first hour, which Deseronto reduced to nil, but could not get it over scratch 1/16th of an inch.

They, however, held it there for half an hour, when Picton again, by fractional parts, got 7in. ; and the judge, after consulting the captains, decided to call it a draw in Picton’s favor, as the condition of some of the contestants did not warrant a continuation, although they were all averse to a draw. Stimulants had to be administered to every man frequently, and applications of cold water and rubbings were in order.

This story appeared in Victoria’s Traralgon Record and Bairnsdale Advertiser newspapers in October 1897, some four months after the event itself took place. News evidently travelled more slowly in 1897 than it does today.

The tug-of-war was one of a series of events held on June 22nd. The advertisement in Deseronto’s own newspaper, The Tribune, on June 18th proudly proclaimed that “This will be one of the most imposing celebrations ever held in the Bay of Quinte District”.

Diamond Jubilee celebration
In its post-event coverage on June 25th, The Tribune noted that the tug-of-war was “a magnificent exhibition of strength and endurance”. It went on to add that

the Picton team was organized by Mr. Taylor of the Bank of Montreal in 1892 and…has never been beaten. Mr. Taylor only induced them to come here on the understanding that he would not captain or coach their opponents, so that there might be fair play for all. He did, however, show the home team the correct position for pulling, a most important point. To those who think the pull should have had a time limit we are informed that it was conducted on precisely the same lines as the great international pull at Madison Square garden New York in 1892.

We missed the opportunity of organizing a rematch at last year’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, but maybe if Queen Elizabeth II is still on the throne in 2022 we could arrange a re-run of the event for her Platinum Jubilee. With nine years in which to practice, perhaps this time Deseronto will win!

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.

This small house on First Street in Deseronto looks to have an idyllic location nowadays: no immediate neighbours and a pleasant view of open fields behind it.

House on First Street (from Google Street View)

But over one hundred years ago, its location was considerably less ideal. You can see it at the bottom left of the photograph below. Immediately behind the house was the vast site of the Rathbun Company’s brick and terra cotta works, busy with railway cars transporting raw materials to the factory from the Rathbun Company’s sawmills (sawdust was a key ingredient in the production of terra cotta):

Brick and Terra Cotta works

The works was in operation from 1887 until 1898, when it was destroyed by fire. As the house was so close to the buildings of the terra cotta works, it was fortunate to survive the blaze itself.

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

 

From a Hastings County directory of 1868-1869, this map shows the street plan of the village of Mill Point, later to become the town of Deseronto.

Mill Point in 1869

It is interesting to see how few streets were laid out at that time: Thomas Street, which now runs the entire length of the town, was only two blocks wide in 1869. Centre and Prince Streets were yet to be established and there were no roads north of Dundas. In 1869 the village did have a Third Street, however, which is more than the town can boast today! Compare this plan with the appearance of the town in 1962:

Deseronto lots, 1962

In 1869 the industrial core of the village was firmly in the southwest corner, where the steam saw mill, wharf, post office and ship yard can be seen. The H. B. Rathbun and Son advertisement from the 1869 directory neatly summarizes the firm’s interests at this date:

1869 advertisement for H. B. Rathbun and Son

The 1869 map also shows the location of Deseronto’s first church, at the top of [St.] George Street, close to the current location of the Presbyterian Church of the Redeemer. The Union Church had been built in 1868 as a shared place of worship: the Anglicans had a service there in the morning, the Presbyterians in the afternoon, and the Methodists in the evening.

Only one residence is marked on the earlier map: presumably that of the Rathbun family. At this period, Edward Wilkes Rathbun (1842-1903) had taken over the day-to-day running of H. B. Rathbun and Son, due to his father’s ill health. E. W. Rathbun built the Deseronto firm into a hugely successful business, becoming a millionaire in the process. While other family members built houses on Dundas Street, away from the busy industries of the waterfront, E. W. Rathbun liked to be close to his concerns. His Main Street home was a substantial property, as this photograph shows:

E. W. Rathbun's house on Main Street, Deseronto

This house no longer exists. To the front, it looked out on Central Park (now the Rathbun Memorial Park), which was laid out at E. W. Rathbun’s expense. He brought in A. J. Hopkins, a landscape gardener from Oswego, New York, to do the work.  The back of the house would have afforded good views of the Rathbuns’ industrial empire along the waterfront of the Bay of Quinte: Edward Wilkes Rathbun was clearly a man who liked to keep a close eye on his business!

As part of our series commemorating the 125th anniversary of the founding of the Deseronto Public Library, we highlight an item in the minutes of the Library Board’s meeting held on December 13, 1898:

1892 edition of Tess of the D'Urbervilles

The question of refusal on part of the Librarian to issue certain books to various individuals was raised by the Secretary who took the ground that we should not have books in the Library at all about which there was any reasonable doubt. Several books were named among which were the following:-

The Lady of Quality [‘A Lady of Quality’ by Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1896]
Maggie [by Stephen Crane, 1893]
Tess of Duberville [‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’ by Thomas Hardy, 1891]
On the Sunny Shore [by Henryk Sienkiewicz, 1897]

It was moved by Mr. Costigan, seconded by Mr. Copland that we expunge these books entirely.

The Librarian was instructed that outside of these books he was hereafter to refuse no person provided the books desired were in the Library.

An interesting approach to the problem! All of these once-controversial books are now freely available on the Internet, so you can see why they were considered to be inappropriate reading for some of the town’s residents by following the links on the titles to the Open Library.

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