The new section of highway 15 providing a route around the south side of Carleton Place continues to be welcomed as this area’s outstanding public improvement of the past year. Its chief structural feature, in addition to a railway overpass, is the bridge across the Mississippi River near the outlet of the lake, at the old Indian campground known as Indians Landing.
When was the first bridge built across the river at Carleton Place? Over one hundred and thirty five years ago on an evening in the spring of 1823 and Irish emigrant named John Hays was crossing the river after nightfall in a canoe at the Carleton Place settlement, then known only as Morphy’s Falls.
There was no bridge and the river was at spring flood levels. He was carried over the falls to his death by the swift black current. For several more years, and apparently until the village growing around Hugh Boulton’s mills was approaching its tenth year of settlement, the crossings of the river continued according to the seasons to be by boat, by fording the shallows, or at points where the winter’s ice was secure.
First Town Bridge
Site of the first bridge here was that of the town’s present central bridge, last reconstructed in 1928. The first bridge builder a century earlier was Edmond Morphy, senior settler and first owner of a large part of the originally wooded area of the future town.
The district magistrates, in the General Quarter Sessions of September 1823 at Perth, had authorized the establishment of a Beckwith Township road to follow a prescribed route across the township along the general line of the present Highway 29, “crossing the Mississippi River above the bank of the Falls west of Boulton’s Mill.” Known for over sixty years as the Mill Road, it was laid out and in part opened in the following year by Owen Quinn of Franktown, “Surveyor of Highways for the Township of Beckwith” and ensign in the local militia regiment.
However the first bridge across the river here is not known to have been completed until about 1829. Search of records of the Clerk of the Peace which survived an 1841 County Court House fire might settle with authority the actual time of its construction. A series of several improved low-level timbered structures followed at the same location, built with township revenues and requiring frequent repair. These finally in 1887 were replaced by a substantial bridge with a super-structure of wrought iron on stone piers.
In 1829 the little hamlet at the south side of the falls had its recently built bridge and its new name of Carleton Place – to be called for postal purposes Carleton Place. In addition to its grist mill, and saw mill, a school, Caleb S. Bellows’ retail store, several lesser commercial and trade enterprises and a tavern or two, all established for several years, it had gained the arrival of an enterprising and capable young business man and future public figure in the person of Robert Bell of Perth. In the same year Mr. Bellows offered for sale a “commodious Distillery”, lately erected by him in Carleton Place, and operated for a dozen or more years in competition to the nearby distillery of James McArthur and his son Peter of the seventh concession of Beckwith. Mr. Bellows about this time became the first local postmaster, with the post office located in his store adjoining the south west corner of the bridge.
The Carleton Place bridge of 1829 was rebuilt not many years after Hugh Boulton, grist mill and saw mill owner, whose later enlarged stone home still stands on Mill Street. When the village bridge next became unserviceable the contractor for its rebuilding was Albert Teskey, lumberman, of the family which founded the village of Appleton, once known as Teskeyville. He died at Appleton at about age 70 in 1887, and had come to Ramsay township from Buttevant in Cork with this district’s sponsored Irish emigrants of 1823. On arrival the family consisted of John Teskey, his wife, a young daughter and eight sons. The Teskeys for two or three generations operated substantial woollen mills and other businesses at Appleton.
A railway bridge at Carleton Place a century ago was built to span the Mississippi at the location of the town’s present C.P.R. Bridge. Trains from Brockville, drawn by small wood-burning steam locomotives, began in the summer of 1859 to run as far as Carleton Place and Almonte. This was the same oldest railway line of the district that was surmounted last year by the new overpass on the south side of the town opposite the end of Napoleon Street.
William Moore, carpenter and builder, became the next contractor to replace the town’s Bridge Street bridge. At a price of less tha $1,400 (272 lbs), his was the lowest of five 1861 tenders to Beckwith Township Council for the contract to rebuild the bridge. Soon afterwards James Poole, prominent local citizen and editor, sought to promote a campaign here for the building of a durable highway bridge. Advancing a viewpoint which did not prevail until more than twenty years later, he wrote in 1865 :
“The bridge in this village was erected only a few years ago, has undergone repairs every summer since, and is now in a very shaky condition. The state of affairs exists in other villages, and it is high time for corporations to begin to study economy by doing away with such temporary structures and erecting good substantial stone structures. The Pakenham council intend building a new bridge at that place and are advertising in our columns for tenders. We have seen the plan of a stone bridge which Mr. J. S. Clark intends submitting to the council.”
If the once-recorded firing of a cannon from Carleton Place’s wooden bridge at a time of community celebration was a practice repeated on similar occasions, the need for frequent bridge repairs in that era becomes even more understandable.
Continuing down the years to the locally flourishing times of the 1880’s the Gillies Company added a third bridge site here when in 1884 at the lower rapids it buiilt a dam and surmounted it by a planked bridge at the location of the present private bridge of Bates and Innes Limited. The town’s old wooden bridge at the same time received its last major repairs, only to be shaken and damaged again by an unusual spring freshet of the following year.
The Iron Bridge
Litigation seeking to compel the County to provide a bridge here had proved ineffective. A Carleton Place bylaw to raise $10,000 to build an iron bridge across the river was voted approval in 1887. Tenders received by A. R. G. Peden, municipal clerk, led to contracts with William Willoughby of Carleton Place for its masonry piers and with Robert Waddell of Trenton, Ontario, for the iron work.
The foundation stones had to be laid in the water when seams in the rock bed of the river were found to prevent diversion of its flow by coffer dams. The wrought iron superstructure was ordered from Glasgow. During low water levels of the fall of 1887 the bridge was erected. While the rattle of its railings and the rumble of its planked surface or lower tierods may be remembered by those who travelled on it until its replacement in 1928, it served adequately as a community and highway bridge for over forty years.
Appleton Bridge Fatality
The last stand of the sometimes notably insecure local wooden bridges was reached before this town had come to a fatality similar to that which happened a few years later in the neighbouring village of Appleton. There in 1899 Abram Morphy, junior, had been in the course of crossing the bridge over the Mississippi while going to attend the funeral of his aunt, Mrs. Rachel Dulmage, who as Eliza Morphy was the first settler’s child born in Carleton Place. He fell to his death in the early spring roar of the mill falls when he was thrown into the river by a collapse of the township’s Appleton bridge. For the years of the eighteen hundreds this was the last of more than a score of locally recorded drownings in the river crossed at a new point in the Carleton Place area by the latest highway construction of 1959.