Early Settlement in Rochester/Maidstone Townships

(photo note: this mural is actually in Comber, in Tilbury West Township. But it’s only a kilometer from the Tilbury West/Rochester Townline. Close enough … and it’s a great mural. I have lots of memories of the Comber Fair)

Compared with present standards, life in Rochester Township one hundred and twenty five years ago was full of hardships. The land was being cleared of forests and used to build log homes for the settlers. Oxen were used for farm work. Travel was difficult and restricted.

The Township of Rochester was formed by the government in 1790. The main roads were marked in 1824. A surveyor named Burwell divided the township into concessions and lots, then located the roads.

The first Rochester council met (under conditions as we know them today), was in February 1853 at the home of John Mullins on the 2nd concession with W.F. Wilson as Reeve. Prior to that first meeting in 1853, the country was divided into District Councils with the first representatives from Rochester being: George Elliott (1844); Andrew Duroche and James Daely were added to the list of officers in 1845 as changes were made. Others appointed in 1844 for 2 years were: Edmund Cody, township clerk; Patrick Tracey, assessor; William Flanagan; collector; D. Aldrin, superintendent of schools. By 1847 wardens were elected with Pierre Charron elected in 1848 for Rochester.

The first settlements in the interior of Essex County flanked Talbot Street and the Middle Road. These two roads meet at Maidstone with Talbot Street running in a northwesterly direction towards Sandwich. It was first surveyed in 1804, but it was not until 1826 that it was opened all the way to Sandwich. Each person who obtained a grant of land along it was required to chop and log a sixty foot width of road along his farm. Year later, when modern highway construction was in progress, workmen recovered hundred of well preserved oak logs from the road bed where the early settlers had placed them.

Among those who took up land along Talbot Road were many Irish Catholics. The Middle Road running easy and west (Highway 98 and later County Road 46) was surveyed by Colonel Burwell in 1828. But it was only a trail of blazed trees until well after the 1837-38 Rebellion. Practically all the settlers along the Middle Road from Maidstone to Woodslee where it crossed the Belle River were Irish Catholics. The earliest of these was James O’Connor, who came in 1828. A short time later the Kavanaugh family arrived. By 1838 the Scullys, O’Callaghans, Costigans and the Morans had settled there. Then in the early forties came the Monaghans, Gallagher, Conway, Farrell, Sheehan, Hardigan, Geehan, Rushton, Slattery, Murray and many other families.

The first settlers in Rochester were French residents who came east from the Sandwich Settlement, when the construction of the Great Western Railroad in 1852 changed the farming, fishing and trapping community to a more industrial centre. At the same time the steam saw and grist mill previously operated by the Ouellette family were joined by a store under the guidance and a second mercantile enterprise established by P. Doumouchelle in Belle River. Growth of the settlement was slow. In the early days there was no Belle River village. It was all known as Rochester between 1828 and 1857, before a prominent citizen and politician at that time, Robert Chisholm, had the village named after himself. The name Chisholm was used until 1874 when the village was incorporated as Belle River. it is believed to have been named by a group of early 17th Century French explorers who took shelter at the river’s mouth during a storm and who thought the area was very beautiful.

Further east, along the shore of the lake, the names Hogan, Strong, Knapp, Moran and Ouellette appear. Along the western border fronting the Belle River, William Murray was the first to locate, taking up Lot 7, Concession 1 in 1834. The Middle Road had already received some settlers by this time, Bolwell, located on Lot 2 North, and Michael Cotter on Lot 4. Three German brothers, Conrad, Adam and Christian Simon followed them and formed the vanguard of what was subsequently known as The German Settlement (later Ruscomb), lying toward the eat and centre of the township. Others among the German pioneers were Adam Knister and 4 children who came to America in 1834; Henry Hedrick in 1835; Geroge Geisel who came to Ontario in 1824, the Fenners who came later (between 1840 and 1850); Friedrich Dornte and his wife Amelia in 1847. They took the Canadian name of Dornton. Mr. Dornton planted all the early orchards and his wife was the only doctor here for years.

The interior between the lake and the Middle Road was not settled until the leading highways had been flanked with selected locations. In 1848, John and Michael Byrne, Patrick Tracey and Patrick Strong settled on the Third Line while Edward Mullins and Richard Walker and sons receive the credit for being the first to brave the hardships of the Second Line.

.. to be continued .. next installment .. the village of Woodslee


Posted on January 25, 2012, in A History of Rochester Township 1853-1978, Essex County Families and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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