The railway and the first textile mills (1851-1865)
The brief period between 1851 and 1865 saw the arrival of the railway in
Almonte, establishment of the first textile mills and the subdivision of large
landholdings into residential areas on both sides of the river. It gave rise
to many features that make up the cultural landscape of Almonte today,
including parts of the street grid, the railway bridge and right-of-way, the
Victoria Woollen Mill, the first land registry office, several churches and many private homes.
The 1850s were a heady time in Ontario, as investors rushed to establish
railroad companies and build railway lines, spurred on by generous grants
from a colonial government that was keen to see the area settled and
serviced. The first railroad in Ontario went into operation in Aurora in 1853, but dozens of others were built before the end of the decade and railway construction continued apace well into the 20th century. Construction of the Brockville and Ottawa Railway (BOR) began in 1853, with the intention of linking the two centres. By 1859 the BOR had reached Almonte, with stops in Smiths Falls, Perth and Carleton Place. At Brockville it connected to the Grand Trunk Railway line, providing links to American markets.
In 1864, the BOR was extended from Almonte northwest to Sand Point located at Arnprior on the Ottawa River, and in 1870 it connected to Ottawa via the Canada Central Railway from Carleton Place. In 1881, the BOR merged with the Canadian Pacific Railway, becoming part of that larger network of railways. The railway continued to play a large part in the daily life of Almonte until 1978, when passenger service ended and the Almonte CPR station 10 was demolished. The town library currently stands on the site of the former train station. The final blow was dealt in 2012, when freight service through the town ended and the rails were removed. Remnants of the railroad remain in the town, however, including the former railroad right-of-way which slices through the downtown, the re-alignment of the street grid along that right-of way, and the prominent railway bridges with its stone piers crossing the river.
Much of the local development during the 1850s was likely in anticipation
of the railway and the economic prosperity it was expected to bring to the the town. Hotels were built along Mill Street to serve the anticipated traffic from the new mills and railway. John Murphy’s hotel at the current site of 34, 36 and 38 Mill Street, later the North American Hotel, was destroyed by fire. With files from Mississippi Mills
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