Early Erin

EARLY ERIN: That drum roller seems almost too familiar. Here’s a photo from the Wellington County Museum and Archives of road work on Main Street in Hillsburgh from around 1921. Abraham Rodgers and William Cox are the teamsters in the photo, with road superintendent Joseph Benham in the centre. According to the Book Hillsburgh’s Heyday, by Patricia Kortland, Benham was the first road superintendent appointed to serve Erin Township in 1925 and was succeeded by Henry Wheeler, who served until 1970. Wellington County Museum and Archives photo


Here’s a photo from the Wellington County Museum and Archives showing snow piled in front of the Globe Hotel in Erin 120 years ago. This photo, included in Main Street: A Pictorial History of Erin Village, by Jean Denison, shows the front of the building after “the storm of 1904.”

Here’s a photo of the Ballinafad General Store from 1905 from the Wellington County Museum and Archives (#2807). Check out this second photo (#2567), taken 64 years later of the exact same store, which still stands today. Erin’s first settler arrived in Ballinafad in 1820, from Pennsylvania. The hamlet is named after a village in Ireland.

According to Steve Revell, author of A Brief History of Erin Village, this building was one of five mills built by Daniel McMillan, who is one of the founding fathers of Erin.
At just 18 years old, he bought the first sawmill in the area for $700, before erecting the first home in the village, an oat mill and more.
In 1849, he started work on this building, a grist mill, which was supposed to be the crowning glory of his career. Near the end of the construction, he got a splinter, which festered and turned gangrene.
McMillan, 38, died three days later and was buried in the Erin Pioneer Cemetery. The village, which was called McMillan’s Mills, was renamed Erinsville. This Mill was purchased by the County of Wellington in 2022 to become the Erin library branch, which is expected to open spring 2025. A Brief History of Erin Village was printed by Porcupine’s Quill in 2007, just steps from this very building.

Did you know that many of the villages and hamlets in Erin had different names over the years?

Orton used to be called Little Chicago, but was renamed to honour a beloved physician from Fergus who made trips out to care for the rural residents in the area. This photo is from the Wellington County Museum and archives (Photo number 5994) showing Orton’s Main Street in 1910.

Cedar Valley used to be Slabtown, honouring the Tarzwell family sawmill that ran in the area.

Brisbane was named Bristol, originally and the village of Erin was called McMillan’s Mills before being changed to Erinsville and later shortened to Erin.

Hillburgh’s name also has a storied past. The village was originally named Howville after William How, an early settler who ran a store in the village. He was blinded in one eye after a keg of gunpowder caught fire, blowing up the entire store. It was later renamed Hillsburg, after Nazareth Hill who built the first hotel. The ‘h’ was added on the end around 1899 when the area was incorporated into a police village.