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Harow: Hopeful Beginnings, Strong Traditions

by Elaine Weeks

Issue #16: Summer 2001

See also: Hiram Walker's Influence on Harrow- click here

In a densely wooded area about three miles from the southern shore of Lake Erie, the stirrings of a new town were felt nearly 180 years ago. In 1824, a townsite (Plan 202) was drawn in that area for James Woods Senior. Christened "Hopetown," each farm lot in the site was subdivided into eight town lots of 25 acres.

By the 1840s, the community had become known as Mungers’ Corners after a local pioneering family. Around 1860, its name changed once again to Harrow, for Harrow-On-The-Hill in England (now part of greater London).

In "Essex County Sketches" published in 1947, Neil F. Morrisson wrote, "Inland, isolated and often mired in mud of the pre-railway, pre-highway era, the development of Harrow was for years, inevitably slow." As a result, transporting goods was tricky — to get pork to Amherstburg, it was shipped from Colchester (south of Harrow on Lake Erie) to avoid a tedious journey through the mud.

From Backwater to Boomtown

When Hiram Walker put through his railway from Walkerville to Harrow, Kingsville and Leamington in the late 1880s, Harrow was released from its isolation (see story opposite). By the middle 1890s, it had become an important shipping centre for corn and other grains, dressed and live hogs. Harrow boasted two saw mills, a hub and spoke factory, carriage and wagon industry, two flour and gristmills, and a cheese factory, all long gone. In addition, a boot and shoe making industry once flourished while blacksmithing and harness repairing continued into the middle of the 20th century.

The need to clear land for farming and supply lumber for building created another industry early in the development of Harrow and area. Sawmills sprang up in several spots including three east of Harrow in Pleasant Valley, Oxley and Colchester and in Hiram Walker’s bush two miles north of Harrow at Marshfield.

In the early twentieth century, logs were rafted from Colchester to Chatham by steamboat. The Harrow Lumber Yard and Planing Mill, owned by S. C. Zimmerman, opened for business in 1890 — a lumberyard continued on that spot until 1991 when it was known as Beaver Lumber.

The Harrow-Kingsville-Leamington farms with their early season and quickly warming light soils meant early crops such as tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, cabbages, and so on brought another source of revenue into the area.

Favourable tariff legislation and higher prices greatly stimulated tobacco growing in South Essex and brought the Harrow tobacco station into being in 1909. In 1923, it became the Dominion Experimental Station and then the Harrow Research Station in 1959.

The current Research Station is a far cry from the early days when horses were the chief source of power and fertilizer was produced at the station farm by horses, cattle, pigs and poultry. The animals are a memory and the Station has become a state-of-the-art laboratory, allowing scientists to study living plants year round in an effort to improve agricultural techniques.

Harrow attained official town status in 1930, relatively late in the history of Essex County.

Hiram Walker’s Influence on Harrow and Area

excerpted partly from "Harrow and Colchester South: 1792-1992", Harrow Early Immigrant Research Society, (HEIRS) 1993, (available at The Walkerville Times for $35 + gst.)

Not only did Canadian Club founder Hiam Walker create his own town of Walkerville, he stimulated the development of South Essex and the towns of Harrow, Kingsville and Leamington. Walker initially purchased land at Marshfield and hauled marsh hay for his livestock via land to Amherstburg and then by water to Walkerville. As roads improved, he used steam-powered locomotive tractors, but they damaged the roads and bridges so he decided to build a rail line — the Lake Erie, Essex and Detroit Railroad (LEEDR). (‘Essex’ was later dropped and it became the LEDR.) Just the mere mention of the plans for this line resulted in growth to Harrow.

In August 1888, track was laid south from Walkerville to Harrow by nearly170 Italian immigrant workers, who put down nearly a mile a day. On September 21st, the local paper announced: "The rails will reach Harrow tomorrow — the engine whistle was heard in Harrow from Walker’s marsh."

The Amherstburg Echo’s September 28th edition reported that: "The rails crossed the road at Harrow on Tuesday, and are now rapidly approaching Kingsville, which they will reach by Monday next if the bridges are completed on time." Then, on October 12th: "Bridges on the railway between Harrow and Kingsville are completed except the one across Cedar Creek, which is well under way."

The line was extended to Ruthven by November 1888. As 1889 dawned, the Lake Shore stage connected with the morning train. Passengers going to Windsor could connect with the Windsor Electric Street Railway at a nearby station at the Walkerville Bridge (Peabody Bridge), paying a five cent fare to go to Windsor; four passenger trains made regular trips to Harrow.

In 1890, track was re-laid at Marshfield in anticipation of the cultivation of Walker’s cranberry crop. Although Walker spent $250,000 developing his cranberry farm at Marshfield, and hired an expert from Massachusetts to oversee the operation, the crop was an abysmal failure — a rare misstep for a man who seldom made poor business decisions in his later years. He did manage to extract oil of superior quality from Marshfield, however!

Excursions to Harrow from Windsor were popular — in 1892, over 300 people travelled in 14 cars for May 24th celebrations! By 1893, Walker extended the railroad east to St.Thomas, and the movement of goods from Essex County to Detroit and Ontario was in full force. The quantity of grain, livestock and produce shipped from Harrow and environs steadily increased; the railway boom enjoyed by Harrow became a source of amazement for locals.

In 1904, the LEDR was sold to Pere Marquette. The personal attention Hiram Walker had given to his railroad was sorely missed — people were soon complaining of old engines and delayed services. In 1910, the Marshfield Station burned to the ground and was not rebuilt.

In 1991, the last train came through Harrow and the old rail line built by Hiram Walker was abandoned. Recently, it was converted into a Greenway with support from Chrysler Canada. It is now possible to bicycle or walk from Oldcastle to Leamington along Walker’s old railway line.

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