|History | Nelson Clark Remembers Waterford past
is a transcription of an article originally published in the Waterford
Star and subsequently re-printed on pages 12-13 of the 6 Dec 2022 Simcoe Reformer newspaper. Most paragraph breaks were
inserted by the transcriber to break up long paragraphs. Difficult to
transcribe words and words of explanation appear in the article between
Comments: This article combines two elements -- Nelson Clark's biography
and his recollections of Waterford's past. Many of the names indexed under
Mr. Clark's picture appear more than once in this article, but only the first instance is
CELEBRATES 88TH BIRTHDAY
Nelson Clark, Pioneer Settler,
recounts the early days of this Community
(The Waterford Star)
How many of the present generation can recall the very early days in the life of Waterford, when our prosperous town was but a struggling hamlet boasting one main street, a few scattered houses, a grist mill, a store or two, a foundry, a blacksmith shop, one church and a little old frame schoolhouse?
At least one of the pioneer trail-blazers of the forties and fifties still remains in our midst to tell the story of Waterford's gradual growth down through the decades. He is Nelson Clark, who for more than sixty years has resided at his present home on Main Street south, and who on Saturday last observed the 88th anniversary of his birthday.
Despite his advanced years, Mr. Clark still maintains an active interest in the welfare of his native village. Hale and hearty to a degree quite unexpected of a near-nonagenarian, he is of an optimistic nature, happy in the possession of all his faculties and both physically and mentally alert.
His brisk pace as he makes his daily pilgrimage downtown is regarded with envy by many a younger man. But foremost among all his possessions he treasures his memories of the "good old days" and is at his best when recounting the tales of a bygone era in this historic district.
Came here in 1842
Quite distinctly he recalls the day in the autumn of 1842 when his father, T. W. Clark, moved with his family from the old homestead at Bloomsburg to take over the contract of clearing and tilling 400 acres of land just east of Waterford.
The Clark family consisted of five boys and four girls of whom are still living Nelson, James, who keeps the old family hearth burning, and Dr. Aaron Clark of Michigan, Mrs. Henry Skelley of Benton Harbor, and Mrs. Eli Barber of Scotland.
Leaving school, he entered the meroerite [sic] business in the employ of the late Hugh Slaght, and later with G. W. Park, a prominent tradesman in the district at that time, whose place of business was located where the old Lundy store now stands.
Several years elapsed before Nelson Clark entered a partnership with another well-known local character, D. R. Foster, and for about one year he twain [sic] carried on a manufacturing establishment, turning out farm implements at what is now known as "The Gore" one mile south of Waterford. Hard times set in and they were compelled to abandon the industry.
Mr. Clark had always been eager to turn his talents to the study and practice of medicine, but his father succeeded in dissuading him and urged him to delve further into the commercial world. Nevertheless he attended the old London grammar school for one year, when that city was only a miniature of the present Western Ontario metropolis.
The early sixties found him again in the retail clothing trade, this time with Norman B Scoffield of Port Dover, who had been notably successful at the lakeside village and who shortly established a Waterford branch, where Nelson Clark was employed for a time.
A few years later he became associated in business with G. F. Marter, a name well within the memory of many of our present day citizens.
Finally, Mr. Clark branched out for himself in the mercantile trade and for about seven years conducted a general store on the lot just north of the pond bridge on the east side of Main street.
Then G. F. Marter, who was a particularly keen businessman secured control of the grist mill and a large planing mill just north of it and Mr. Clark became his right hand man.
Marter seized the opportunity to dispose of large quantities of timber to the Michigan Central Railway Company whose Canadian line, with the old wood-fed engines had just been constructed. He employed several large gangs of workmen to keep pace with the constantly growing demand for wood.
Later Marter departed to Gravenhurst where he owned a large general store, and finally retired to Toronto. He is said to have died comparatively wealthy. While in Waterford he erected and lived in the present Foster Bauslaugh home on Main street south.
Retired from Business
Following the departure of Marter, Nelson Clark retired from active participation in any particular field of business life, but continued to lend a helping hand to his neighbors and friends whenever he could be of assistance. His father bequeathed to him about ninety acres of farm property, which he has disposed of piece by piece, retaining sufficient for his own private use.
In 1863 he married Hulda Duncombe, daughter of the late Dr. David Duncombe, who was prominent all through this district as a physician and politician, about that time he purchased his present property bordering Main street, tore down the old building and built the handsome brick residence, where he still resides.
"Shades of James L. Green"
His vivid memories of the era, when towering pines ruled supreme where hundreds of Waterford homes are now situate, when the stagecoach was in vogue, and when the crops were reaped by hand, are all highly interesting.
Those were the days when James L. Green (J. L. after the historically famous Job Loder), was a leading light in the district, when Aaron Slaght, father of the later Elder Slaght, and step-grandfather of Nelson Clark, ran the grist mill, when Barton Becker, father of the late Leamon Becker, was a conspicuous figure in the commercial list of Waterford, when Oliver Blake owned the present J. W. Duckworth farm at Cherry Valley, and was Clerk of the district court, and when Adam Bowlby, father of the late Dr. Alfred Bowlby, and Deacon Ellis were leaders in the rural life of the community.
In the early forties and fifties, James L. Green was somewhat of an industrial magnate here in Waterford. With the aid of his two sons, John Wesley and Nelson (both of whom are now deceased), he built the first foundry in this district at the spot where the livery barns now stand on West street.
At the outset their productswere mainly stoves and ploughs, but as the age of invention crept in, they commenced the output of every description of farm implements, which were readily snapped up both in local and distant markets.
For many years they carried on with pre-eminent success. Then came catastrophe for the Green family when their substantial factory building was gutted by fire.
But with characteristic energy, James L. sought a new site on St. James street (James after himself), rebuilt, and continued in business on a larger scale than before. The Green Bros. splendid structure became a landmark in the district, but it too fell prey to devastating flames.
James L. Green was not only an influential leader. He boasted real estate possessions of great magnitude. At one time he was the owner of practically every acre of land within village limits west of Main street. Generously he carved his vast estate into lots, built a number of homes and housed his employees therein encouraging and aiding them in paying on the installment plan to ultimately become owners of their properties.
Among the residential buildings erected by James L. Green are the Henry Serles home, Emerick's and Somers' on Main street, the Bowlby residence on St. James street and the old Dr. Snider homestead on Alice street which James L. sold to Jas. Cutting, father of Jas. Cutting of Simcoe and which was once converted into a hotel.
Green's woods, through which the L. E. & N. Ry. [Railway] cut a road, still remain as a memorial to the pioneer who accomplished so much for Waterford, and whose name will forever be indissolubly linked with the growth of this fair village.
The Village Mill
Naturally, the majority of the inhabitants of this sprouting municipality, at this early period, were engaged in clearing the land and tilling the soil. The village grist mill therefore became the scene of great activity. Job Loder, one of the outstanding men of bygone days in Waterford, was the owner of the old frame mill for a number of years.
He disposed of the business to Aaron Slaght, stepfather of T. W. Clark, who came here early in the century. Fire destroyed the ancient landmark but undeterred its owner set about to rebuild and the present mill of stonework is a monument to the indefatigable labors of the later Aaron Slaght. In addition he erected a fine home on the property now in the possession of T. D. Duncombe and though it was later replaced by the brick residence, the old frame house is still in existence.
Following Aaron Slaght's regime at the helm of the milling industry, two other well-known characters of several decades ago took possession, namely D. R. Foster and Henry Skelley, who remained in charge of the establishment for several years.
Waterford's central business district, needless to say, was comparatively insignificant in those days, but there were several enterprising merchants, among whom none was more highly respected than Barton Becker, who for many years successfully conducted a retail merchandise store and who built a home at the spot where the Robinson Business College is located. His son, Leamon Becker, who followed in his father's footsteps, was a leader in the town's commercial enterprise and erected a palatial brick residence on Main street south.
Adam Bowlby will be rememberd as one of those rugged pioneers, so often referred to in histories of Upper Canada, who were responsible for clearing away the primeval forests, and preparing the soil for use by future generations. Eminently successful as a farmer, he owned the land bordering on Main St. from the mill to the first concession north of the village and lived near where later his son, Dr. Alfred Bowlby, built the grand old stone house on the north side hill.
Waterford's only known distillery was inaugurated by G. W. Park, back in the sixties. He found a ready market for his product, both locally and at distant centres. G. W. Park was likewise renowned as a leader in the mercantile trade hereabouts and was a most progressive citizen.
The proprietors of the old Beemer House, where Dr. Teeter's residence now stands, and the Teeter Hotel, did a thriving business, but both buildings have been swept away by fire.
These are but a few of the "Old Guard" who remain foremost in the memory of Waterford's oldest citizen, and to whom the present generations must feel extremely grateful for the beginning they made, in face of almost insuperable difficulties.
But the trials and tribulations of our forefathers were not in vain and the present prosperity of Waterford would be ample reward for these hardy pioneers, could they return to-day to the scene of their labors of nearly a century ago.
Travelled by Stagecoach
All the modern comforts and conveniences which we enjoy were lacking then, but perhaps the greatest drawback to the development of the country was the non-existence of adequate transportation facilities. Those were the days when the old-fashioned stagecoach reigned supreme, in the field of travel, when the roads were quagmires in the spring and autumn and when the uneven plank highways made travelling anything but pleasant.
The regular daily routes of the stagecoach were from Simcoe to Waterford to Brantford and from Simcoe along the town-line road to Paris, where a spur line of the only steam railway in this section of the province enabled the residents to visit friends and relatives at a distance.
The blast of the stage-driver's horn, announcing the arrival of the coach, was a familiar sound in those days and the village people flocked in to receive their mail. (There was no rural mail delivery back in the sixties and the drivers were the only posties.)
Despite the low cost of living, travelling was an expensive luxury. The fare to Brantford was far higher than now by radial. The roads were never good and Mr. Clark recalls a trip from Brantford in the springtime of the year, when the caravan lurched and his brand-new silk topper went "blooie" in the mire below.
Yes, They Had Politics
At the time of Mr. Clark's advent here, Waterford boasted no public building, but later the village was blessed with a town hall, which after many years, was torn down and replaced by the present fine building.
The grand old game of politics was fully as fascinating then as to-day, and though the ladies of the 19th century, of course claimed no right to exercise the suffrage, the men were keenly interested in the political welfare of their [leaders]. However, it is to be deplored that they belittled the abilities of their home talent and imported parliamentary representatives such as Henry Jas. Boulton and Dr. Rolph of Toronto. How amazed they would be to learn that a cabinet minister has been unearthed right here in Norfolk, and that from the ranks of the farmers!
Interest in the elections always ran high as the time of polling drew near. Secret balloting was unknown to that generation of Waterfordites. Polling was done openly in the town hall, always crowded with eager onlookers. When a citizen appeared to cast his vote, the crier loudly demanded his name and occupation, and for which of the two parties (the U.F.O. was as yet unborn) he wished to vote. Thus the privity of the franchise was [loath] and the political leanings of each individual voter was common knowledge.
This inevitably led to corrupt practices and less fortunate townspeople could easily be intimidated by their employers. All sorts of dishonest tactics were employed by unscrupulous political gamesters. Votes were bought in wholesale fashion and many a voter was bought drunk and led to "the slaughter."
Prohibition was an undreamed of entity and invariably one or more inebriates could be observed on the downtown streets. Between Waterford and Brantford were no less than eight taverns.
"Them Were the Days"
Just as the cost of living is a tremendously important factor now in the life of the average citizen, it was of comparatively minor importance at that time when eggs were 10 cents per dozen, wheat was 50 cents per bushel and other staple farm products were proportionately low.
Agriculture, the chief occupation of the early settlers, was hampered by the lack of modern farm tools and implements. The age-old flail or scythe was employed to cut the grain and the hired help followed the reaper to stack it in sheaves.
The absence of railways greatly retarded the development of agriculture for though the grain was converted into flour at the village mill, it was necessary to transport the flour by wagon to the lakeside for shipment to the United States markets.
The chief Ontario markets for Norfolk-grown produce were Hamilton, Toronto and the Niagara settlements. Long tedious journeys were everyday occurances and Mr. Clark remembers distinctly, travelling with his father by horse and buggy to St. Catharines on various occasions.
Until the progressive Jas. L. Green turned his energies to the manufacture of farm implements, the plow was really the only available piece of machinery for tilling the soil and consequently the work was extremely laborious.
Lumbering was a big industry and not infrequently huge piles of logs filled the pond and the vacant lots on the northside hill up to the Bowlby house, preparatory to passing through the Marter saw-mill thence to Port Dover and Port Ryerse for shipment to United States.
Soldiers? Certainly Waterford had a military unit and once a year all able bodied men were called to shoulder arms (broomsticks and other fiendish weapons), and drill for the extensive period of one day.
Apparently there was little fear of an invasion from across the border or a repetition of the uprising of 1837, for the inhabitants lived very amicably, never troubled by the hostilities of an earlier period in Canadian history.
Associated with the early militia are the names of Col. McPherson, a brother-in-law of G. W. Park, Col. T. W. Clark, Major McCarley and Capt. Nelles of Boston, all very popular men through out the district at the time.
Churches? Yes, they had the old Baptist church at the site of the present day edifice, and the two denominations, Baptist and Methodist, had charge of the services on alternative Sundays. Incidentally, Nelson Clark adheres to Baptist beliefs and has been a faithful churchgoer for many, many years.
Mr. Clark is
not one of those fortunate individuals who has the gift of remembering the
precise date of every event of importance in the history of the native
town, but his recollections of the early days in Waterford, some of which
are very vivid.
He has watched the age of invention slowly butsurely creeping in, decade after decade, changing the entire plot of
living and building up a new and more prosperous Waterford.
railways, radials, electricity, telephones, automobiles and hundreds of
additional inventions have been instrumental in effecting marvelous
changes in the old home town.
"Some," he stolidly asserts,
"claim that business is worse than in the old days, but I maintain it
is better by far."
He has watched the age of invention slowly butsurely creeping in, decade after decade, changing the entire plot of living and building up a new and more prosperous Waterford. Steam railways, radials, electricity, telephones, automobiles and hundreds of additional inventions have been instrumental in effecting marvelous changes in the old home town.
"Some," he stolidly asserts,
"claim that business is worse than in the old days, but I maintain it
is better by far."
|Copyright 2002 John Cardiff