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Purdy's Mills, Victoria County, Ontario Canada

Purdy's Mills in the Thirties

Meanwhile a small village, known as "Purdy's Mills" or as "Portage Village," was growing up, chiefly on the Purdy estate to the east of Lindsay Street. Jeremiah Britton, together with his sons, Charles and Wellington, came from Port Hope in the winter of 1834-35 and bought from Purdy for $100 an acre of land at what is now the foot of Kent Street. Here, on the present Academy of Music corner, he built a log shack and opened a tavern. It is said that a notice was posted up over the bar reading "Keep sober or keep away !" Small stores were opened on the mill property by a Thomas Sowden from Cavan and a Major Thomas Murphy. A Mr. Fulford also began a little carding mill on the Purdy tract. Purdy's house was near the modern Flavelle mill, and his barn on the site of the modern convent. Prior to 1834, the only settlers on the surveyed townsite were David Ray, William Culbert (later the postmaster) and. the family of Edward Murphy, on Peel Street. In 1837, James Hutton moved in from Ops and opened the first store on Kent Street. Other citizens who came in soon afterwards were James Twohey, Thomas Clarke, Thomas Vane, Nicholas Powell, Dominic McBride, and Wm. Thatcher.

Virgin wilderness still hemmed in the little settlement, however. Deer could be seen drinking from the river in the heart of the present town or being chased by wolves up Kent Street. A woman was supposed to have been eaten by wolves or bears at Sucker Creek, near the Riverside Cemetery. Nothing but her handkerchief was ever found.

For a long time, the only bridge across the river was situated at the foot of Huron Street, or a few yards east of the present Allenbury factory, where the north bank is quite steep. Two abutments of logs were built, one on each side of the river, strong cedar stringers put across, and shorter cedar logs laid side by side on these to form a roadway. The road which led from the north end of this bridge wandered east to what is now O'Neill's Corner, but was then known as "Lang's Corner." Here it parted into two roads, one running east and south to Omemee and Peterborough and the other south (by the modern Logie Street) towards Bowmanville. These roads were, how ever, in unspeakable condition, and in the thirties those seeking supplies often went by canoe to Bridgenorth, on Chemong Lake, and walked six miles from there to Peterborough. In 1841, Purdy's Mills itself became a distributing centre when Thomas Keenan opened a general store just east of Jeremiah Britton on Kent Street East.

A Period of Invasions

During a period of about ten years, Lindsay was subjected to a series of armed invasions which made life in the village anything but peaceful.

The first invasion came in December 1837. The provincial revolt of that year had been put down and Major Murphy, for reasons of his own, started a rumor in Peterborough to the effect that William Lyon McKenzie was in hiding at Lindsay. As a result, a number of farmers who were with their ox-teams at Purdy's mill one clear, cool evening were startled to hear a volley of muskets and to see a column of about 300 armed men with a large flag descending the steep river bank to the north. When the advance guard got on the bridge cheers were raised, trumpets sounded, kettle drums rattled, the flag waved, and another mighty salvo of musket fire let off into the upper air. The villagers, some thirty men, women and children in all, rushed from their cabins to see what was happening, and found that their visitors were a detachment of Peterborough militia under Colonel Alexander McDonnell, searching for McKenzie. As it was too late for the contingent to return home that night, they bivouacked in and around Britton's tavern, it soon did not matter much which.

William Purdy had been speaking rather plainly against the Family Compact, and Major Murphy took this opportunity of laying information against him. The miller was accordingly arrested and taken to Cobourg gaol. Here he lay without trial for some time, but was at last liberated and told to go home and mind his own business. As a result of this unpleasant experience, Purdy decided not to live in Lindsay any longer, and removed to Bath. Of his two sons, Jesse, who had had a severe attack of fever and ague, went with him, while Hazard remained in charge of the mill.

Major Murphy rceived the postmastership which had been held by William Purdy up to this time. He did not hold this ill gotten position long, however, for he started a distillery, drank to much of his own whiskey, took delirium tremens, and left the country. The postmastership then passed to William Culbert, in whose family it remained for more than twenty years.

The second invasion of Lindsay came in 1838. The Purdy dam had backed the waters of the Scugog over some 60,000 acres of land adjacent to river and lake. The forest was drowned out; all vegetation rotted; and a plague of fever and ague carried off nearly one-third, of the population. There were hardly enough well men left to bury the dead. On one Sunday, eleven deaths were announced in Ops; and on another Sunday seven heads of families had been swept away. Hostility towards the dam became more and more definite and bitter, and at last, in the summer of 1838, a great band of farmers gathered from Ops, Manvers, and Cartwright; armed themselves with flint locks, pitchforks and axes; marched to Lindsay; and hacked away part of the dam. The structure was not completely demolished, however, and Hazard Purdy rebuilt it, though at a lower level. At the same time, he put in a large water wheel, a cog and spur wheel, two run of stones, and bolting apparatus.

The government meantime was planning a lock at Lindsay for navigation purposes and it was arranged that a new dam, situated in the present location, would serve both lock and mill. Dam and lock were begun about 1838, let lapse for a time, and finally completed in 1844. The old Purdy dam had had a head of twelve feet, reckoned from the foot of the rapids. The new dam's fall was only seven feet. As compensation for the loss in water power and the construction of new works, the Purdys were paid $1600 by the government .

In the spring of 1844, Hiram Bigelow came to Lindsay and bought the mill and the 400-acre "Purdy tract" from Hazard Purdy for $10,000. The latter then left Lindsay and ultimately settled in Pembina, North Dakota. In 1844, the old dam was still in use and the original mill still running. As no steamboats were to appear on these waters for eight years more, no urgencies of navigation called for the, dam's immediate removal. In the early part of 1845, new mills were built on the present site, a quarter of a mile farther down stream. The old dam was then taken down and the mills worked by water from the new dam.

The third army of invasion appeared before Lindsay on July 12, 1846. "Billy" Parker, a noted Orange fighter from South Emily, had, received a beating in Lindsay and the hundreds of celebrants of the Boyne victory marched on the little hamlet to avenge on its population the defeat of their champion. The villagers were warned of the impending attack and prepared to defend themselves. All who had muskets put them in working order. Thomas Keenan prepared rude swords by winding cotton around the hilts of scythe blades as handles. Pitchforks were served out as bayonets. The old log bridge across the Scugog was chopped down into the river, as in the defense of ancient Rome against the Tuscans. Sharp shooters lined the river bank. Then a deputation, headed by Alexander Bryson, was sent out to confer with the foe at Lang's Corners. Happily wise counsels prevailed and the history of the town was not marred with such a battle as was then imminent.

The fourth, and last, major invasion came in the summer of 1847. In June of that year Bigelow sought and secured the permission of the government Board of Works to put a line of planks, a foot in height, along the top of the dam in summer so as to maintain the flood level of spring time and ensure a uniform flow of water. This was to be done at his own risk and expense. No sooner did the news of this flashboard become generally known throughout the Scugog valley and back into Manvers and Cartwright than the riparian farmers assembled once more with axe and rifle, marched to Lindsay, and removed the planking.

A unique accident happened at this time. There was a single mill race or sluice, controlled by a gate in the dam, which conveyed the water down into the mills. The current was strong and the one stream worked both the sawmill and the grist mill. The invaders opened the sluice gate so that most of the water would pass through and render their work on the dam easier. By some mischance, a man named Tom Toole slipped into the sluice and went through the gearing of the two mills the sawmill first and then the grist mill. When he was fished out, fortunately still alive, from the river below the mills, he was asked how he got through. He replied that he had had no time to take notes. Toole beat all records for "going through the mill" by going through two of them.

In the summers which followed, Bigelow renewed the flashboards on the dam and succeeded in persuading the countryside that his action was not a serious menace to health.

Town of Lindsay

Victoria County

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