Hustonville founded, thrived, vanished in 20 years

The following is a re-print of a past column by former Advertiser columnist Stephen Thorning, who passed away on Feb. 23, 2015.


Some text has been updated to reflect changes since the original publication and any images used may not be the same as those that accompanied the original publication.

For a brief period – a couple of years – it was the largest settlement in Maryborough Township: Hustonville.

Today, the name is known only to Maryborough old-timers and a handful of history buffs.

It is easy to miss any sign at all of the settlement that once boasted a population of more than 200, located little more than a mile southeast of Moorefield.

The Province of Canada opened Maryborough to settlement in 1849, though squatters had taken refuge there previous to this year.

It was obvious that this would be good farmland, and settlers claimed the lots quickly, handling the transactions at the Crown Lands office in Elora.

Speculators as well as settlers saw the potential as well, and picked up farm lots, which they in turn rented to others.

The future site of Hustonville was among the speculative holdings. Walter Newman and his brother Edwin of Elora filed claims to Lots 11 and 12, Concession 8, land bisected by the Conestogo River and with the potential for a water power development.

Walter Newman had come to Elora as the bookkeeper at the Elora Mill. When his elder brother Edwin joined him, the pair started a store, then opened a real estate office, which soon became involved in the mortgage and insurance business.

The partnership would eventually evolve into the Farmers Bank, a staid and solidly run affair.

But in the early 1850s, the Newmans were anything but staid. They had visions of their 200-acre parcel, which was located near the centre of Maryborough, as the future business capital of the township. In the early 1850s, they severed parcels along the front of the property, then known as the Wallace Road, for use as a hotel, a store operated by William and John Robinson, and an Orange Lodge.

In 1855 Michael Tromanhiser (his name has a half dozen variants in the old records) approached the Newmans with a proposal to dam the Conestogo and build a flour mill. The Newmans readily agreed. This would be the magnet to attract other businesses to their future village.

During the summer of 1855, Tromanhiser built an immense dam, with flumes to a three-storey frame flour mill and a saw mill.

Late in 1855, the Newmans hired E.H. Kertland, the hard drinking Elora surveyor, to lay out a village. Kertland came up with a plan of 213 lots, covering more than 100 acres, and complete with a market square, and including several lots along the river designated for industrial purposes. The village, entirely to the southwest of the Wallace Road, had a central street to the southwest, which was to cross the river and then lead to the market square.

Six short streets crossed it, one named Tromanhiser Street, and another Moore Street, an unforeseen irony, since George Moore’s future village of Moorefield would ultimately doom the Newmans’ plans.

For a name, they selected Hustonville, after John Huston, the resident of an adjoining farm.

To promote the village, the Newmans spared no expense. They commissioned a lithographed map from a Toronto printer, and scheduled an auction sale of the lots at the Commercial Hotel in Elora on Feb. 27, 1856. An inset on the map shows Hustonville on a direct road from Elora to Lake Huron, a piece of imaginative fancy that hardly lent credibility to the Newmans’ venture.

On the day of the sale, hired carriages brought potential bidders from Guelph, Fergus and Maryborough and Peel Townships. When the prospects arrived in Elora, the Newmans provided dinner and drinks.

The day proved to be an expensive party for the Newmans, and nothing more. They lost their shirts.

Auctioneer R.J. Elmslie managed only to pull bids out of Charles Allan, another Elora land speculator, who bought 15 lots, and Rev. John Duff, also of Elora, who bought two.

Perhaps the other potential bidders had some fears about the legal title to the land. Although they were selling town lots, the Newmans still had not received a Crown Patent on the land, and would not get it until 1861. They did not file the plan for their village at the registry office until March 12, 1861, more than five years after the sale.

Though the auction had been a bust, the Newmans still attracted a slow stream of arrivals to Hustonville, who put up houses and other buildings with the intention of purchasing the land in due course.

At the time of the sale, in addition to the flour and saw mills run by Mike Tromanhiser and Robinson’s store, there was an Orange Lodge, and two hotels, English’s and Gordon’s.

The Newmans had sent a petition to the government for a post office before the ill-fated sale of February 1856, and their request was granted later that year when the Post Office opened a string of new offices along the Saugeen Road (Rothsay, Teviotdale, Harriston and Clifford), as well as Trecastle and Huston which were not on the road.

For reasons unexplained, postal officials preferred the name Huston to Hustonville. William Robinson, proprietor of the store, received the appointment as postmaster.

Arrivals during the late 1850s and early 1860s included John Landerkin, who opened the second store in the village, and David Calloway, who opened the third.

The land across the road was occupied by the Graham brothers, but ownership was in the name of William McMaster, the Toronto wholesale merchant and first president of the Bank of Commerce.

Taking advantage of the Newmans’ efforts, McMaster severed four lots from his property. He sold one to Sylvanus Beldon, who constructed the Western Hotel on it. Next door, George Deckart established a carriage and wagon shop, which at its peak employed a couple of blacksmiths and two other men.

Hustonville’s population hit the 200 mark in about 1860, and stayed there for a decade. Most of those with business establishments became discouraged, and moved on after a year or two. Tromanhiser had a huge investment in the dam and flour mill, but his business volume remained small, requiring only two or three employees.

He turned the operation over to Tom and Matt Gray in the mid 1860s. Proprietorship of the three hotels changed frequently, with only Syl Beldon remaining any length of time.

One guide to business activity is local postal revenue. Only twice, in 1866 and 1867, did Huston generate more than $100 in annual revenue, with $75 or $80 being typical. This is equivalent to only four or five outgoing letters per day.

Two factors account for the relatively poor progress of Hustonville.

The initial advantage of Drayton, which was five years older and not too far away, proved an insurmountable obstacle, with its larger number and variety of stores. The Elora and Saugeen Road drew traffic away from Hustonville. In the later 1860s, other centres, such as Elora, Drayton and Harriston, established bustling cattle markets. Farmers who sold cattle at these markets tended to spend at least some of their money before returning home.

Still, there was sufficient business for Hustonville to remain a relatively stable crossroads commercial centre.

But it was not to be. The Wellington Grey and Bruce Railway surveyed its line to the east of Hustonville in 1870. The railway had little interest in a station there – it was too close to Drayton. To the north, though, Richard Moore offered four acres to the railway for a station. This seemed as good a location as any, if there was to be a station between Drayton and Palmerston. Moore made up for his gift many times over by selling lots near the station grounds. The railway’s original name for the station, Moore’s Field, was soon abbreviated to Moorefield.

Over the next three years, Hustonville virtually disappeared. The Grays abandoned the milling operation, and a contractor moved Tom Gray’s house up the road to Moorefield, where it became a parsonage. Deckart’s wagon shop followed the trail, and served as the first St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Moorefield. Robinson’s store also moved, literally, and several more buildings as well. Contractors dismantled others, recycling the stones and lumber into new structures in Moorefield.

By 1875, Hustonville consisted of a couple of houses and a single store, operated by David Calloway, who also retained the post office. The later remained open until 1890.

For the Newman brothers, Hustonville had been an unhappy experience. It was their first and last venture into big scale speculation. In 1876 Walter and Edwin Newman sold the entire village site to John Huston for $150.

Henceforth, they would be content to handle real estate transactions and mortgages for others, being content with a small percentage from each and every sale. In the long run, this proved a successful strategy.

It is hard today to comprehend that Hustonville was founded, thrived, waned and disappeared, all in a span of 20 years. Lives were lived there; dreams were made and broken.

Hustonville is more than just a name on an old map.

*This column was originally published in the Wellington Advertiser on May 5, 2000.





Stephen Thorning - 1949-2015