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.
Over the past couple of years, this column has looked at many of the old hamlets along Wellington Road 7, which originally was the Elora and Saugeen Road, and in the early years of settlement, one of the key transportation routes in Wellington.
Teviotdale, at the boundary of Minto and Maryborough Townships, would seem to be an obvious place for a village. Roads lead directly from there to Harriston, Palmerston, Arthur and Elora. This, though, is a result of the modern highway system.
At the beginning, Teviotdale was not regarded as a crossroads village, but as the gateway to Minto and points west.
The founder of Teviotdale, an astute Irishman named Matthew Miller, fully realized the potential of the location. In 1854 he purchased Lot 116, the northeast quadrant at the Teviotdale intersection. Rather than spend his time making an attempt at backwoods farming, he put up some commercial buildings, namely a store and a hotel with its ancillary stables and barns.
Locals soon tagged the nascent hamlet Miller’s Corners. Miller himself preferred Antrim, after his home in Ireland. Two years later, when the post office set up a string of post offices along the Elora and Saugeen Road, authorities rejected both names. Instead, they settled on Teviotdale, named for a valley in Scotland. The reason for this choice, if any beyond the need for a unique name, is lost to history.
The new post office, and the stage line serving it and other offices along the road, opened on Feb. 1, 1856, with Alex Scott, one of Miller’s employees, as postmaster. By then there was a second store in Teviotdale, operated by Alex McCready. By the end of the decade he moved on to Harriston, where he saw greater opportunities.
More businesses came during the 1860s. Most important was a flour mill and sawmill combination, run by Alex Watt. Filling out the business directory were a blacksmith, a wagon shop and a shoemaker.
During the 1860s, Alex Watt expanded his sawmill business and produced materials for the continuing building boom in the area: shingles, lath, sawn lumber, and sashes and moldings. Everything was powered by steam, and the high iron stack on Watt’s boiler room became the local landmark.
Matthew Miller and his family, which ultimately swelled to 10 children, looked after the store, which stocked lines of groceries, dry goods, clothing, hardware and footwear. The Minto Hotel, a local institution since it opened, did a thriving business.
The second store continued as well, run in the 1860s by J.R. Hamilton. Sam North opened a shop making wooden pumps. And on the social side of life, the Order of Foresters put up a hall for their meetings and for community use. On many occasions, travelling entertainers put on shows there while passing through the hamlet.
Miller and the other local businessmen organized a monthly cattle fair in Teviotdale, beginning about 1863. It attracted buyers from Guelph, who would assemble their purchased cattle into herds and drive them to Guelph. Activity centred on the Minto Hotel, and Miller built a huge livery stable to accommodate the horses and carriages in proper style.
When surveyors for the Wellington, Grey and Bruce Railway prowled the area in 1869, they chose a route for the line to the southwest of Teviotdale. This allowed easier grades for the line, but bypassed Teviotdale and the other hamlets along the road. The new village of Palmerston and its station, not Teviotdale, would become the major trading centre for south Minto.
The railway doomed Teviotdale to crossroads hamlet status, but it did not kill the place. The mail stage continued to ply the road, and the Minto Hotel sustained its reputation as a popular watering hole for locals through the 1870s and 1880s. The wagon shop and blacksmith served a steady local clientele.
Decline soon came. Watt Bros. was the first casualty, in the 1880s. The firm could not afford the cost of converting to the roller process for flour, and was labouring in any case with slim margins. The sawmill operation suffered from declining supplies of local pine, and the collapse of new construction in the area. Eventually, they moved to Palmerston, though they continued to operate a chopping mill at the Teviotdale site. The Ratz family from Waterloo County took over the saw mill, and ran it as part of a chain that operated in a half-dozen locations.
The stage line continued to run on the road between Elora and Cotswold (about four miles north of Teviotdale) until 1891, when the post office pulled its contract and chose other methods of distributing mail to the offices along the route.
In addition to the various businesses, Teviotdale for a time boasted both a lawyer and a doctor. In the 1890s, the former went to Palmerston and the latter to Harriston.
Matthew Miller watched those developments in the early 1890s, and saw that there was little future in his village. An increasing share of business went to the larger centres, and temperance agitation was on the rise – it could, if successful, close his hotel.
After 40 years in business he sold out, packed up his belongings, and with several of his children headed for Saskatchewan and a fresh start.
There were further setbacks for Teviotdale after the Millers left for the west. First, the schoolhouse burned down. The trustees rebuilt, but on a new site almost a mile north of Teviotdale, to better serve the area following a realignment of school sections.
Further setbacks followed. A fire in 1900 claimed the old Miller store and the Minto Hotel. The store was then operated by a man named Rennie, and the inn did business as Armstrong’s Hotel. Though only about 35 years old, the block gave a solid impression to the Teviotdale corner, a timeless anchor that nothing could replace. Matthew Miller had replaced the original log buildings of 1854 with a large frame structure about 1865.
Business dropped to the point where no one was interested in maintaining the post office. Robert Douglas resigned as postmaster in 1902. George Hayes subsequently held the appointment, but resigned in 1908. Thomas Goodwin agreed to take over, but soon changed his mind. The Teviotdale Post Office closed forever on May 1, 1908.
Another loss was the Methodist Church. In the latter part of the 19th century, a circuit was based at Teviotdale. Following a restructuring, the circuit was moved to Kenilworth. By 1910 the Teviotdale Church itself could no longer support itself, and it closed. A few local residents hoped for a reopening, but in 1917 the church sold the building. It subsequently became a dance hall, to the horror of old time Bible-thumping Methodists.
(The Teviotdale story will continue next week.)
*This column was originally published in the Wellington Advertiser on Oct. 3, 2003.