Much of Orangeville's early history can still be seen along Broadway. Buildings such as the Town Hall, Fire Hall, Jackson Block, Sun Office, Ketchum Block, Fead Block, Greystones, and Public Library.
Early Days in Orangeville
The history of Orangeville - as it can be traced from newspapers, assessment records, photographs, and census, church, and cemetery records - is one of early settlement that began in the 1830s, of steady growth to incorporation in 1863, and of economic expansion through the 1870s and 1880s. All this development culminated in the Town's being named the county seat for the newly incorporated County of Dufferin in 1881.
The Early Settlers
One of the earliest settlers we can identify is John Corbit who acquired land in the Brown's Farm area in 1829. Here Spring Brook, a tributary of the Credit River, provided water for these settlers and power for several mills located downstream.
In 1833 Seneca Ketchum bought 200 acres on the north side of what would become Broadway, creating a settlement on Purple Hill. Four years later George Grigg bought 100 acres on the south side and by 1844, when Orange Lawrence and his wife, Sarah, arrived from Connecticut, a well-established community called Grigg's Mill had taken root beside Mill Creek. (Mill Creek and Spring Brook were one and the same tributary of the Credit River.)
Orange Lawrence was just the type of settler this developing community needed - an entrepreneur! On his arrival he bought 300 acres. He laid out the southeast part of town, bought Grigg's Mill, opened a general store and a tavern, and built a second mill. He also founded the first school in Orangeville, and it was he who became the village's first postmaster in 1847. So strong was the mark he left on this community that everyone agreed Orangeville was a most appropriate name.
Immigrants from Ulster as well as other parts of the British Isles and Canada West arrived throughout the 1840s and 1850s. Some established successful mixed farms much like the farms they had left behind. Others settled in the villages and became the landowners, merchants, and tradesmen whose needs prompted the development of viable transportation routes.
The Arrival of the Railways
By the 1860s it was clear that the residents of Orangeville needed a dependable means of overland transportation. It was increasingly difficult to deliver and receive goods to and from the supply centres in the south. Mono Road, Centre Road, and Trafalgar Road were all routes south. The Toronto to Owen Sound Road had opened in 1848, but travelling any of these gravel roads by horse and wagon would have been extraordinarily difficult for much of the year. If anything, winter was the season when most goods were transported by sleigh over frozen roads.
In 1864, once the village of Orangeville had been incorporated, the merchants and business leaders began the process of promoting a tramway that would connect them with the Grand Trunk Railway that ran between Toronto and Guelph. As the result of the efforts of the town fathers, men such as Jesse Ketchum Jr., Samuel and Robert McKitrick, Johnston Lindsey, Thomas Jull, John Foley, and Dr, William Armstrong, work began on this enterprise in 1868. This was the same year that the Toronto, Grey, & Bruce Railway (TG&B) proposed a narrow gauge line that would run from Toronto to Owen Sound. This line would pass through Orangeville, which by then had become the most important town along this route.
The tramway was set aside in favour of the TG&B Railway, and in April 1871 the first train arrived in Orangeville with a full complement of dignitaries, all celebrating "the opening of an epoch in the history of the town." Regular service began in September of the same year, and by 1873 there were 117 miles of railway line between Weston and Owen Sound. When this railway and the Credit Valley Railway became part of Canadian Pacific Railways in 1883, Orangeville became an essential part of the line to Owen Sound. There even was a stagecoach that ferried visitors and businessmen to and from the railway station on Mill Street and the hotels and businesses along Broadway. Orangeville was the divisional point on the main line as well as the starting point for several branch lines to places such as Fergus, Elora, and Mount Forest. An interesting footnote here is the fact that passenger service to Orangeville ended in 1971, exactly 100 years after it began.
The Town Develops
Within six months of the railway's opening, Orangeville was shipping out as many as 16 loads of grain a day as well as timber, lumber, and fence rails. Its grain warehouses sometimes stored as much as a 100,000 bushels of wheat. At this same time Orangeville had eleven hotels, several law firms, three newspapers, a market twice a week, six churches, and handsome multi-storey buildings built of brick began to appear on the main street. The 1871 census tells us that the population had risen to approximately 1400, doubling in less than ten years.
By 1875 there was a foundry, three planing mills, two saw mills, a tannery, a carding mill, several carriage and wagon manufacturers, and a successful pottery enterprise all in operation within the town. Of the merchants on Broadway we can identify four grocers, three hardware merchants, two drugstores, three watchmakers, three bakeries, and three establishments providing boots and shoes.
It was the foresight of Orange Lawrence and Jesse Ketchum that had large sections of land on either side of the main street laid out for both commercial and residential building lots. In 1851 Orange Lawrence hired Chisholm Miller to survey the first business area in this growing community on the south side of Broadway east John Street. In 1856 Jesse Ketchum hired Charles J. Wheelock to lay out a commercial and residential subdivision on lands north of Broadway. Ketchum's plan was based on plans being developed for lower Manhattan Island. It established a regular grid pattern for the streets from First to Fifth Streets both east and west and north to Fifth Avenue, with a wide and inviting main street called Broadway. This 30-metre (100-foot) avenue was certainly not typical of Ontario towns of the time, but has proven its value to the town many times over the years.
Ketchum's plan was in distinct contrast to the existing development that lay south of Broadway. There a more organic pattern had evolved along the banks of Mill Creek. Now, however, there were businesses established on both sides of Broadway, and very rapidly this broad main street became the heart of the town. Joseph Patullo and Maitland McCarthy both opened law practices on Broadway in the early 1860s. The year 1875 saw the construction of the Town Hall, a clear measure of the kind of growth the town was experiencing.
In 1878 construction of a seventh church had begun, and in 1881 the population had doubled once again. By the 1880s the coffin factory was also producing steam-generated electricity for four streetlights on Broadway. In 1887 the first telephone exchange was established, and by November 1889 it listed 69 subscribers including many of the businesses along Broadway. At the same time as the business centre flourished, so too did the residential areas. Housing was needed for the many newcomers and for the railway workers who were moving to Orangeville as railway service expanded. Of houses built before 1920, for every one built after 1900, six were built before the turn of the century. People wanted to live in Orangeville.
By the end of the century, 40 of the early buildings on Broadway that we can still see today had been constructed. The architecture varied though much of it was based on the Italianate style. At this time, however, the town's development began to slow down. Of the original structures still on Broadway, only five were built between 1900 and 1925.
By 1901 the population of Dufferin County had begun to decline, 1000 fewer people in 1901, but 4000 fewer in 1911. This population decline in the surrounding areas meant a decreased demand for the services of Orangeville.
There are several reasons for this reduction in the population. By the end of the nineteenth century there was very little crown land left in Dufferin County. The children of these early settlers had to move away if they wanted to continue to farming. In addition, in many places the soil had deteriorated. For the most part the soil was quite light. As the forests were destroyed, erosion began to occur and water tables began to drop. Farming in certain sections became more and more marginal, and in response to the CPR's promotion of western lands, people began to move on. As water tables dropped, water-powered enterprises either invested in new equipment or went out of business.
In recent years, however, Orangeville has experienced enormous growth and regeneration. Today the population is approximately 26,925. Much of this growth is as a result of the town being a bedroom community for the greater Toronto area. Population growth has meant commercial growth, but today many of the businesses that serve the community are not located along Broadway. They are found on the outskirts of town in malls easily accessible by car.
The old town of Orangeville today is still very much alive. Some of the buildings on Broadway have been demolished, others have been renovated, while still others remain much as they were when they were built 120 years ago. The early days of a prosperous, successful county town are still there for everyone to study and consider.