Day trip down the original Talbot Road

 

Original Talbot Road

Following the original Talbot Road from Brantford to Tyrconnell

 

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In September 1804, Thomas Talbot and others, all from Long Point or Port Talbot, were given 250 to spend on a road starting from near the native village on the Grand River (now Brantford), passing through Sayles Mills (now Waterford) and linking up with an old aboriginal trail through the townships along Lake Erie. Although surveyed by John Bostwick in 1804, this road was never completed because the funds ran out in 1806. The exact route of this road is unclear, but Edward Ermatinger tells a story of a young couple travelling on the Talbot Road to Brantford and who stopped at Mother McAllister's house in Mount Pleasant. The old Talbot Road probably ran from Brantford, along the Mount Pleasant Road, and then down King Street to Waterford. South of Waterford. the road probably curved west through Bloomsburg until it straightened out and headed for Delhi.

The road west from Delhi is well known. It has always been the Talbot Road and was surveyed by Mahlon Burwell as his first job after his appointment as Deputy Surveyor in 1809. He surveyed the road from Dunwich Township (Port Talbot) to Middleton Township (Delhi). This road was called Talbot Road East.

This trip is about 150km and will take you from Brantford, along the Mount Pleasant Road to Waterford, along the 12th Concession to Delhi, then along the Talbot Road and the Historical Talbot Trail through St Thomas to the sites of Port Talbot and Tyrconnell.

Starting the trip-Brantford

Description of Brantford

Start the trip at Brant's Crossing. Here the City of Brantford has created a place where you can stop and look at the Grand River. The actual site of Brant's Crossing is in dispute but you can enjoy the park.

Leave here by turning north on Icomm Drive. At Colborne Street, turn left and cross over the river.  The first road on the left is Gilkison Street. Turn left. On the right, partway down the street at number 71 is Oak Bank, the house built by Captain William Gilkison when he bought this land in the 1830s. The land surrounding the house was then a farm and it stretched down to the river. This section of Gilkison Street is not very pretty, but, as you continue, the river appears on your left and the view improves.

Oak Park, 71 Gilkison Street

Carry on until you reach Mount Pleasant Road, then turn left. Do not turn left at the sign for the Bell Homestead; instead continue along Mount Pleasant Road. After you pass Blossom Avenue, look for a red-brick bungalow on your right at 571 Mount Pleasant Road. This house is called Tall Trees and was built by one of the founders of Mount Pleasant, Robert Biggar, about 1820. Biggar was one of the men who tried to have Brantford named for him. He owned a triangular piece of land in Brantford between West Street and Church Street. Biggar, a Scotsman, died in 1836 and in his will he directed that if any of his heirs disputed his will, that heir's portion would be divided between the other heirs.

Tall Trees

Just further on, on the right, is the two-storey brick house of Alvah Townsend, built possibly about 1863. This successful wagon-maker and blacksmith was the owner of a carriage factory in the 1851 census. This 2-storey Classical Revival house has a gable roof, a porch with Ionic columns, and six-over-six sash windows with black shutters. The entrance has a transom and sidelights with a four-panelled door. A story says that Townsend wanted his house to be exactly the same as Brucefield (see later) and was angry when he learned that the builders had installed a different stairway. The house is different from Brucefield in many ways beside the staircase. For example, it has a gable roof, where Brucefield has a hipped roof, and it has Ionic columns where Brucefield has Doric. Apart from his bad temper, Townsend must have been a doting father because, in the 1871 census, six of his eight chilren were still living at home well into their twenties and thirties.

Alvah Townsend House

At the next crossroads is an unusual house. On the left, on the southeast corner is the octagonal house of Richard Tennant, boot and shoe maker, built in the 1850s. Eight-sided houses were the idea of an American, Orson Squire Fowler, who believed they would bring their inhabitants all kinds of benefits, including good temper. Some people we know would benefit greatly from living in an octagon house! Tennant's house is now a spa and still has the fine high, steep gables but has lost most of the verandah that used to circle the house.

Richard Tennant House

Another impressive house is further down the road on the right. It is the red-brick Georgian house of Abraham Cooke, who came to Mount Pleasant in 1799. A produce merchant and postmaster, he built this house in 1849 and his first guest was James Bruce, Earl of Elgin and Governor-General of Canada. It was the earl who gave it its name, Brucefield.

Brucefield

Continue along Pleasant Ridge Road until it becomes County Road 24 and changes its name to King Street. At the intersection with Oakland Road (17km) is the tiny community of Oakland.

The land along Oakland Road from here west to Scotland was granted to Finlay Malcolm around 1798. The son of a Jacobite who fled to America after the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie at the Battle of Culloden, Malcolm was a sea captain in Maine before the Revolution. After the war, he lived in St Andrews, New Brunswick for 15 years. Finally, in 1798, he sailed down the St Lawrence and settled in Oakland Township. Here he built mills on Malcolm's Creek and the settlement became known as Malcolm's Mills until it received the name Scotland.

Continue across the intersection. On the right is the marker for the Battle of Malcolm's Mills.

Site of the Battle of Malcolm's Mills

On the left, south of Concession Road 5, is the house built by Dr. David Duncombe. David was one of three Duncombe brothers who became pioneer doctors in southwest Ontario. He had practised medicine in the area for many years before building this house/surgery in 1867. By that time, he had married for the second time, his first wife having died. His second wife was Nancy Nelles, granddaughter of Mary Sitts and William Nelles. There is a story about the site of the house. Across the road just north of the Duncombe House is another house, even older than the Duncombe house. Apparently Dr. Duncombe had planned to have his house opposite the other house but his wife didn't like the new neighbours. So when Dr. Duncombe was away on his rounds to Ancaster or somewhere far away, she moved the stakes marking the house site and the house was built here instead.

Dr. David Duncombe House

Entrance

The house is a classic Canadian Farmer house. This name characterises house built to a pattern published in a magazine called The Canadian Farmer. A house built to this pattern has: a cottage roof (hipped); the front of the house has a projecting section in the centre topped with a triangular pediment; the windows (usually two on each side of the centre section) are multi-light sash windows; and the front entrance has a transom and sidelights. Behind the white screen door in the picture is the original six-panel door.

This house is T-shaped with a rear section that contained a kitchen and some living areas. The main house had bedrooms and a study upstairs and the doctor's surgery downstairs. Patients would come to the front door and ring the bell (which still works). On being let into the hall, the patient would go into the waiting room on the left. From there, the patient would go through sliding doors to the surgery to consult the doctor. Afterward, the patient would leave by another door that opened into the hall and from there would leave by the front door.

The house is famous for a second reason. It is the boyhood home of Douglas Glover, author, and winner of the Governor-General's Award for Fiction.

Continue to Waterford (30km). The first name of this community was Averill's Mills for Paul Averill, who built the first houses and grist mills here. Averill was a founder of Townsend Township and was an agent who brought about 28 settlers to the area. Later names for the community were Sayle's Mills (for Mordecai Sayles) and Sovereen's Mills (for Frederick Sovereen or Sovereign). Between 1814 and 1818, Job Lodor bought the Averill property and the site of Moses Sovereen's mill, which had been burned by the American General MacArthur. The story behind the burning of the mill is that the mill was set on fire three times and, each time, Sovereen put the fire out under threat of death. Finally he was seized, taken up the hill and a rope put around his neck, ready for the execution. But Sovereen made the Masonic sign and his life was spared.

Lodor rebuilt the mill and built other businesses, including a tannery, a sawmill, and, of course, a distillery. In 1826, Lodor left for greener pastures and settled in Ancaster. About two years later, his nephew, James Lodor Green, returned to Waterford and took over Lodor's remaining businesses. Green's house is still here.

After passing the Waterford sign, look for a redbrick house with white shutters on the right at 112 Main StreetNorth. This Classical Revival house has a hipped roof with a widow's walk on top. The upper front windows are in two groups of two windows with a single window over the door. The porch has Doric columns and the entrance has a transom, sidelights, and a four-panelled door that may be original.

Leonard Sovereign was the grandson of Frederick Sovereen, who owned the mills here after Paul Averill. Leonard was himself a well-known businessman. He was born near here in 1805 and built this house in 1842.

Leonard Sovereign House

On the other side of town, at 92 Main Street South is the house built about 1850 by Dr. Joseph Merritt as a 1-storey brick house. Needless to say, it had been "iumproved" over the years with a Doric-columned porch in the front and side.

Dr. Joseph Merritt House

At 150 Main Street South is the house built by James Lodor Green about 1847 after he came to Waterford to take over his uncle's businesses. He was born on a farm near Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania in 1810 and came to Ontario in 1829 to work with his uncle, Job Lodor, in Ancaster. After coming to Waterford, Green met Elizabeth Sovereign, daughter of Morris Sovereign of the mill (see the story earlier). After they married, they lived in this house. The house looks like a Classical Revival cottage but those cast-iron grill conceal narrow bellyflop windows for a second storey. Between the bellyflop windows are ornamental wooden rails. In the mid-1800s, Waterford must have had a grand sale in Doric columns because this house, too, has a porch with these columns. Although not noticeable from the picture, the side windows are not symmetrical. There is a wider space between the front and centre windows to take the chimney flue, which is inside the house.

James L. Green House

Leave Waterford going south on Haldimand-Norfolk Road 24 toward Bloomsburg, named by early settlers for Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania. Look for the old Bloomsburg Baptist Church on the left as you go round a bend in Bloomsburg. This church was built in 1850 on land donated by William Kitchen. Kitchen's father moved hid family here in 1810. During the War of 1812, Kitchen's father was called to serve but William volunteered instead. For his service, William was given land, which he sold to buy land here near his family.

Bloomsburg Baptist Church

Continue through Bloomsburg to Highway 24 (36km). At the T-junction with Highway 24, turn left toward Simcoe. Then turn right almost immediately onto the 12th Concession Road and drive to Delhi (50km).

Pronounced Dell-HIGH, the town was named after a city in India, where it is pronounced DELLee. Frederick Sovereen or Sovereign, an early settler, built the first mill and hotel in 1830 and for a time the town was called Fredericksburg. The name Delhi, though it had been the official name for many years, only came into general use after the railway came in 1872. By this time, the dominant lumber industry was giving way to the growing of fruit, leading to the establishment of a canning factory by 1910. The fruit industry gave way to tobacco in the 1930s with the building of the largest tobacco-processing plant in the British Empire in 1937.

Continue on Highway 3 to Courtland (62km). Once known as Middleton Centre because it was part of Middleton Township, Courtland got its present name when the court moved here from Fredericksburg (now Delhi) in 1864.

At Courtland, turn left onto Regional Road 38, Talbot Street. Follow Regional Road 38 through Mabee's Corners to Guysborough, where the name of the road changes to Heritage Line. Mabee's Corners was named for John Mabee, former Butler's Ranger, who had a store here. Guysborough was named by the Harvey family, who came here from Guysborough, Nova Scotia. Now there's not much left except an old Orange Lodge building dating from 1890 (72km).

Old Orange Lodge Hall in Guysborough

Continue through Straffordville and Richmand, a small village on a hill, until the road joins Highway 3 again. Straffordville started as Sandytown, a lumber village at the junction of the Talbot Road and the Plank Road between Port Burwell and Ingersoll. Richmond was one the earliest places settled in the county and had a sawmill in 1816. Like Straffordville, it benefitted from its location on the Talbot Road. Both villages suffered when the lumber industry died but revived later when tobacco took hold.

Tobacco curing sheds outside Straffordville

Richmond

Turn left onto Highway 3 and drive through Seville and Summers Corners to Aylmer (97km). As you drive, you will see the remnants of the once all-powerful tobacco industry: flat fields divided and sheltered by high evergreen hedges, and small sheds with chimneys running up the sides, where tobacco leaves were stacked and cured. Many of the tobacco sheds are falling apart from disuse as the demand for tobacco declines.

The first settlers in Malahide township were the Davis brothers: William (known as Deacon), Joseph, and Andrus, sons of Thaddeus Davis, a loyalist from Albany NY. They arrived in 1810, liked the look of the area, then approached Col. Talbot. The next year, they returned with families and friends and, between the various families in the group, were allocated all of the land from the edge of the township through to the present site of Aylmer. The land on the southwest and northwest corners of Aylmer (John and Talbot) were allocated to John Van Patter, a friend of the Davis brothers. Wright Davis, another Davis brother, received the land on the southeast and northeast corners. In 1829, Peter Clayton opened the Red Chequered Store, a general store, on the southeast corner. The next year, John Hodgkinson and Thomas Keith opened a general store on the opposite side of Talbot Street and the community of Hodgkinson's Corners was on its way. However, at a meeting in Caswell's wagon shop in 1835, the decision was made to rename it for the Governor-General of Canada, Lord Aylmer. Now, despite the decline of the tobacco industry, Aylmer still appears clean and prosperous, in contrast with some other towns on the route.

One of the group of settlers who arrived with the Davis brothers was Anson Treadwell. He received Lot 8 north of the Talbot Road. Here, in 1867, his son Alexander built the house now at 445 Talbot Street West. The house was originally two storeys in the Gothic style. It was the next owner, Charles Timpany, who added the mansard roof and third storey.

Treadwell House

Continue on Highway 3 through Orwell, New Sarum, and Yarmouth Centre. On the Talbot Road between Catfish Creek (Orwell) and Kettle Creek (St Thomas), the first settlers included Garret Smith, Moses Rice, Garret Oakes, Abraham House, and Edwin Barstow. Barstow was killed in the Battle of Malcolm's Mills at Oakland in Brant County during the War of 1812. Captain David House built the first home, which was made of logs.

Continue to St Thomas.

Description of St Thomas

In St Thomas, follow Talbot Street through the centre of town, then turn left onto Stanley Street. Immediately turn right onto Talbot Hill, which is the original path of the Talbot Road. The land to the left and right of Talbot Hill was part of the farm of the first settler, Daniel Rapelje. Stanley Street was originally Port Stanley Street and was the road to Port Stanley on Lake Erie.

As you drive along Talbot Hill, notice the statue of the elephant on the right. This remembers the original Jumbo, the elephant most other elephants are named after. He was the star of the Barnum and Bailey Circus, but was killed by a train in St Thomas on September 15, 1885 when on tour. This statue was placed here on the hundredth anniversary. Other places to watch for are the Talbot Trail Cafe and the Elgin Pioneer Museum.

Follow Talbot Hill as it bends and goes downhill to the railway bridge. The area at the bottom of the hill was an early settlement and was known as Stirling. It was on the land owned by another founder of St Thomas, David Mandeville. Mandeville's house was on the left at the bottom of the hill, where the road crosses Sunset Drive, which used to be called the London Road. On the right, on the southwest corner, James Hamilton had the first store in the area. Across the traffic lights, the road becomes Fingal Line (Regional Road 16).

Continue on Regional Road 16 up the hill for about a mile (1.6 km) until you see a historical marker on the left side of the road. This marker is for Dr. John Rolph. This farm belonged to his father, Dr. Thomas Rolph, who settled here in 1808. The older Dr. Rolph built a log house on the site of the present house but died in 1814. The younger Dr. Rolph had not come to Canada with his father and family, instead staying in England to complete his education. He did immigrate to Canada in 1812 and inherited the farm on his father's death. He sold the farm in 1832 to James Innes, who later became Sir James after he inherited a title. It was Innes who built the present house. When it was built it was a Regency cottage with two chimneys, each of which handled two fireplaces. The windows were larger and 6-over-6 lights. The entrance had a fan transom and sidelights. Alas, the chimneys, windows, transom, and sidelights are gone. The bricks on the front are largely original but the bricks on the sides and rear of the house were so poor that they have been covered in stucco.

Dr. John Rolph House

Continue on Regional Road 16 through Middlemarch to Fingal. The village of Fingal, the oldest village in the township, was not named for Fingal's Cave in Scotland but for an area north of Dublin. The first settler, Titus Cowle, sold his land here (Lot 18) to Levi Fowler, who opened a store on the northwest corner. Before that, the nearest store was Col. McQueen's store a mile away. In 1830, he laid out part of the land into village lots. Levi Fowler became the first postmaster on the recommendation of Col. Mahlon Burwell, and became reeve of Fingal in 1852 when the town hall was built. Early meetings of the council were so boisterous that the village became known as the Devil's Half-Acre.

Daniel McPherson had a threshing machine. Its separator was built in Lockport and its drive in Rochester. So when the thing broke down he had to go to NY state. One tiome when he was there, he met a Mr. Harvey and a Mr. Glasgow. Presumably they all grumbled together for, in 1848, McPherson, Glasgow & Co. built a factory for making threshing machines in Fingal. The factory continued in operation for fifty years until it burned down and the manufacturing moved to the company's other factory in Clinton.

The height of Fingal's development came in 1889, but an epidemic of smallpox halved the population. The village never recovered and most of the development moved to St Thomas.

Col. James McQueen is an interesting man and much like James FitzGibbon. He was born in Bertie Township near Fort Erie in 1794, the son of Alexander McQueen of the 42nd Highland Regiment. The McQueens moved to Port Dover in 1802 and are considered founders of the town. On the outbreak of war in 1812, James enlisted as a private. When Gen. Brock led the attack on Detroit, McQueen was with him as a sergeant. Brock saw something special in the young man as he had seen something in Fitzgibbon and commissioned him as ensign. For the rest of the war, McQueen served in the Thames and Niagara theatres. In 1813, Lt. McQueen led a small force against some Americans who had seized three houses near where Chatham is today. He took all the enemy prisoner and marched them to Port Talbot and Burlington Heights. In 1814, Capt. McQueen fought at Lundy's Lane. With the end of the war, McQueen moved to Southwold Township and opened a store. In 1820, he married Elizabeth Wood, sister of Amasa Wood. He was later a colonel of militia and died aged 83 in 1877.

Just after you pass the sign for Fingal, look for the red-brick house on the left, opposite the old United Church. This was the house of Amasa Wood. He moved to this area in 1817 and three years later married Levi Fowler's sister Elizabeth. He worked for a while in the McQueen store before buying William Burwell's tavern on the southwest corner of Fingal. Later he sold it and went into partnership with his brother-in-law, Levi Fowler. He was reputed to rise so early and talk so loud that he was known as the Town Bell.

Amasa Wood House

Follow Regional Road 16 through Fingal and Burwells Corner. Like most surveyors in the late 1700s and early 1800s, Mahlon Burwell took some of his pay as land in the area he surveyed. One of the pieces of land he received was in the area now known as Burwell's Corner. Burwell had three houses in the area at one time or another. His first house was on Talbot Creek just north of Col. Talbot's home at Port Talbot. This house was burned down by the Americans during the War of 1812. After the war, he built his second home on the southwest corner of the crossroads at Burwell's Corner. Here he lived from 1815 to 1825, when he moved to his third house built on the northwest corner. The third house was on the right just after you reach the crossroads. The second house was on the left just past the crossroads. The second house was where Col. Talbot's supposed heir, Col. Airey, and his family stayed after they moved here from England. If you look at the side of the road on the far right corner and just up the Iona Road, you will see a small marker at the place where Burwell's home and registry office were located.

Burwell House Marker

Continue across the crossroads at Burwell's Corner. A little further down the road on the left is the tiny church of St Stephen. The land for this church was given by Mahlon Burwell and his grave and that of his wife are in the graveyard here.

St Stephen's Church

Graves of Col. Mahlon Burwell and his wife

Continue to Port Talbot. The place that once was Port Talbot is now private property. The point that is nearest to Port Talbot but not on private property has a cairn describing the Talbot Settlement. It is located on the east (left) side of Regional Road 16 about 3 km south of Burwell's Corner.

Port Talbot Cairn

Continue along Regional Road 16 to Regional Road 8 (Currie Road). Turn left. At the T-junction, turn left and follow the road to the John E. Pearce Provincial Park. If it is open, you might want to visit the Backus-Page House, a house built in 1850 by Andrew Backus, the son of one of the early settlers. The house is being restored by volunteers. It was one of the first brick houses in Dunwich Township. The bricks were made from clay dug up in the grounds behind the house. Of the house, the front door, windows, and floors are all original.

Backus-Page House

Continue past the Backus-Page House to the old church of St Peter.

The first three families to settle in the Talbot Settlement were those of Leslie Patterson, an Irishman from Fermanagh; his brother-in-law John Pearce from Rhode Island; and Patterson's widowed sister, Mary Storey. They arrived here in 1809. Stephen Backus or Backhouse arrived the following year and soon married Anne Storey. All four families were strong Protestant church supporters and were anxious that some form of religious services should be held nearby. The first recorded visit by a visiting churchman, however, was not until 1820 when the Rev. Charles Stewart, later Bishop of Quebec, visited Dunwich and held a service. Mrs. Storey gave ten acres to be used by a church, which was built in 1827 and called St Peter's. The cemetery, part of the gift, was used even earlier in 1825.

Only the nave of the church was completed in 1827. It was built of oak and was covered in shingles made by hand. Seven years later, the rest of the church was completed. Stephen Backus put on the shingles still seen today and John Pearce finished the inside. The present belfry and spire were added in 1845.

St Peter's Church

Across the road from St Peter's is the cemetery. It contains the grave of Col. Talbot and many other pioneers, including Pattersons, Pearces, Storeys, and Backuses.

Grave of Col. Thomas Talbot

Continue along the road. Just after the pavement ends, look for the first house on the right. This is the house built by Col. Leslie Patterson. It is a frame Georgian-style building with, originally, a symmetrical front with a central door and a pair of windows each side. A later addition on the east side of the house contains the present front door.

Col. Patterson House

The next house on the left is the Stephen Backus House. Backus was the brother of Mrs. Patterson and arrived here in 1810. This is probably his second house and was built about 1830.

Stephen Backus House

Two houses down on the left, on the brow of a hill, is the first Meredith Conn House. Meredith Conn was an Irishman who became one of the most important businessmen in the area. He owned much of the land around Tyrconnel. This is the house he built about 1828. The front is original but there have been modifications to the rear. This Regency cottage still has the original floors and entrance. The owner says that the beams in the attic still have the bark from the trees.

Meredith Conn House

Turn around and drive back the way you came. At the intersection with Currie Road, drive straight across toward Tyrconnell. The house on the left just past the intersection is the Pearce house. This house was built by John Pearce. It was in this house that the first school was held, taught by Col. Patterson's son-in-law Archibald Duncan. (More info needed.)

Pearce House

Continue until you come to Erie Street on the left. This intersection was the main intersection of the village of Tyrconnell, pronounced tirCONN'l, named after Tyrconnell or Tir-Connaill (pronounced TIRE-conNAIL) in Ireland. The Historical Atlas of Elgin County dated 1877 shows a plan for Tyrconnell but few of the planned streets remain. The road to the east of the main intersection with Erie Street was called High Street. Across the intersection it was called Mechanics Street. Parallel to High Street and further south was and is George Street.

In 1823, George Henry built a mill on Tyrconnell Creek, near where High Street crosses over the creek. The village was so promising that Absalom Shade opened up a store in the village in 1825. The next year, a man named McIntyre opened a distillery and bartered five quarts of whisky for a bushel of corn. Col. Talbot, however, refused to grant title deeds to businessmen, so they left and with them went the prosperity of Tyrconnell.

Erie Street ends at Lake Erie and at one time there was a fishing port there. But the lake has eroded the shoreline and all that remains are two supports for a bridge that once crossed Tyrconnell Creek and led to the landing place for the fish. A word of caution: if you decide to go down Erie Street, be prepared for a rough road and remember that the property on each side is private. If you go down, you will be able to turn around on the small beach on the lakefront but you will not be able to camp or picnic on the beach.

Remains of the old bridge at Tyrconnell

You have come to the end of the trip.