Glenville was once a small but thriving neighbouring village of Newmarket in 19th-century pioneer York County that, due to the fickleness of historical fate, eventually declined and completely disappeared.
Glenville’s fate was similar to other villages, like Newmarket’s Bogarttown, that disappeared, leaving nothing but crossroad signs and sometimes a millpond to mark their existence.
Glenville, set in the rolling hills of northern King Township on Highway 9 at Dufferin Street, was 1-¼ miles west of Newmarket's present boundary. Now, it’s a historical sign on the highway as we drive by on our way to and from Newmarket, but it has quite a past.
In my article about the history of Highway 9, I spoke of how its construction brought newfound prosperity to the village of Newmarket, but there is a flip side to that story. The construction obliterated the old road through the area that sustained Glenville with its mills, distillery, stores, hotels, and other businesses, all of which have now disappeared without a trace.
The only features to survive are the mill ponds around which the old village once flourished. The new and improved highway is now many feet higher than the old road, making it hard for us today to visualize the old gravel road that once clung to the side of the pond, a few feet above the water. It is on this old gravel road that I used to bicycle out from Newmarket for a nice summer swim.
I learned recently that a group of entrepreneurs offered swimming lessons there for Newmarket residents before the Gorman Pool opened.
In her book, Early Settlements of King Township, Elizabeth Gillham devotes a whole chapter to Glenville. A sawmill was built on the south pond back in 1807 (there were at one time two small ponds south of the highway separated by a marsh) by an emigrant from Pennsylvania, William Lloyd.
He used an old up-and-down saw to rip through the large pine logs taken from the surrounding countryside. This mill was to burn down in 1898.
Newmarket businessman William Cawthra, whose home and place of business is still standing on the northwest corner of Main and Water streets, built a big frame flour mill on the north pond in 1836. This one burned down in 1916.
A third Glenville mill was operated by Fred Webster, a descendant of the Webster family, early settlers in the Glenville area who arrived during the first years of the 19th century. In 1934, Webster's mill was also a victim of fire. Fire was a period problem everywhere.
When William Roe, a Newmarket merchant and fur trader ran for a seat in Parliament in 1841, he was the owner of the Glenville Distillery, which at that time was selling whisky for 25 cents a gallon. He was defeated, despite the access to cheap whisky, a key election ingredient it seems back then.
In addition to the numerous mills and distilleries, Glenville also possessed blacksmiths, a blanket-and-carpet-making establishment, a store that became renowned locally for the felt hats it produced, two hotels, the Sand Bank and the Central Hotel, a school, and even a thriving Temperance Society.
Ethel Trewhella, in her book on the history of Newmarket, tells us that the community was not big enough to have its own minister. The Glenville Methodist Church was part of the Holland Landing circuit. The church was white framed, with no basement, and had a large shed for stabling horses. It was located on the north side of the road (old Highway 9).
In 1902, it became part of a circuit along with Kettleby, Pottageville and Snowball. In 1925, it joined the United Church of Canada, but by 1952, the congregation had dwindled and it proved difficult to find a minister to serve the four churches on the circuit and services were discontinued. The church was then sold in 1959.
Just west of the church, on the south side of the highway, stood a Temperance Hall. It was taken down in 1932. The first Glenville school was built in 1839, but in 1885 a new brick school was built on the hill, west of the old milling centre. It remained there until 1953, when it was eventually sold. I believe it is now a private residence.
In 1900, Glenville was granted its own post office, usually a sure sign that you had made it big. Prior to this, its residents went to Newmarket for their mail. The post office was in the old gristmill, and it would remain there until rural mail delivery came to the area in 1914.
Today as you drive past the pond, you will notice not much is left of the old milling centre of Glenville. As I indicated in my article about Highway 9, the westerly extension of Davis Drive, it was repeatedly rebuilt over intervening years, and the level of the road has been raised up.
Now as we speed by on our new improved four-lane thoroughfare, there are few clues that remain of the old valley. There is the pond, well below the highway. All traces of the mills, hotels, stores, in fact all businesses, have disappeared along with most of the homes.
I will leave you with a few interesting facts about the village of Glenville. Due to John Cawthra’s substantial involvement in the milling business there, the village was known as Cawthra Mills in 1856.
Cawthra inspired the confidence of the settlers of this early hamlet struggling to establish themselves. He assisted in the promotion of business and according to his advertisement from December 1856, he “had recently refitted his store and opened with a superior stock of Dry Goods, Groceries and Liquors.” Liquors were a staple article of commerce in nearly all pioneer trade.
Glenville was also mentioned in early writings. On a trip to Lake Simcoe on July 29, 1832, William Lyon Mackenzie noted, “Mr. (Peter) Robinson has built a large handsome grist mill (the Red Mill at Holland Landing); Mr. (John) Cawthra has built another not far to the south and Mr. (Mordecai & father Timothy) Millard has erected a third” in Newmarket.
I mentioned the new church being built in 1856. From its opening ad in the local newspaper, we learn a few interesting facts. They had worshipped in the original pioneer building for 30 years. We learn that Highway 9 was called Main Street locally. We learn that John Collins was the contractor and carpenter for the new church, built at a cost of 355 pounds, 15 shillings, 7 pence.
In May 1857, the membership of the church was 77. On June 20, 1860, a letter was received from the Glenville church asking to be admitted as a branch of the Newmarket church. This was granted. J. W. Collins was appointed clerk, which office he held for 30 years. B.W. Howard was the treasurer.
This was not unusual, as several other churches in the area were built as missions of Newmarket churches: a Christian Church in Holland Landing in 1843 and a Trinity Church in Aurora in 1846. St. James in Sharon was an offshoot from the Christ Church and was built in 1870.
For some years, services were held in the house of Magistrate Sharpe at Glenville by the incumbent of St. Paul’s, but this work never developed.
I hope the next time you drive by the former settlement of Glenville, this article will come to mind, and you will realize that what we see now in front of us is not representative of what was once there. York Region is littered with quaint stories of hamlets and old settlements, each with their own stories. My advice, explore the area and soak in all our history.
Sources: The Newmarket Era; Early Settlements of King Township by Elizabeth Gillham; Stories of Newmarket – An Old Ontario Town by Robert Terence Carter; The History of Newmarket by Ethel Trewhella; Sections from a Presentation entitled Lost Pockets of Community in Old York County 2007 by Richard MacLeod
NewmarketToday.ca brings you this regular feature about our town's history in partnership with Richard MacLeod, the History Hound, a local historian for more than 40 years. He conducts heritage lectures and walking tours of local interest, as well as leads local oral history interviews. You can contact the History Hound at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit him on his History Hound Facebook page.