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A banner with three black and white images and text. Images include a portrait of E.D. Tillson, a streetscape view of downtown Tillsonburg, and a photo of the Arlington Hotel with a horse and buggy in front. Text reads, "Tillsonburg 150: Celebrating Business and Industry."

  

Tillsonburg's Development & Incorporation

  

Originally known as Dereham Forge, Tillsonburg was first settled along Big Otter Creek in 1825 by George Tillson, Benjamin Van Norman and other immigrants from the United States. Iron ore in the vicinity led to the construction of a forge, and soon a sawmill was erected. Although the forge was only successful for a short period of time, new settlers continued to arrive in the area and new businesses and roads were built.

  

A portrait of George Tillson.

Portrait of George Tillson [courtesy of Annandale N.H.S. & Museum]

  

In 1836, the village was renamed Tillsonburg in honour of George Tillson. That same year, the main street, Broadway, was laid out to its full 100-foot width. As a predominantly logging and wood producing centre, it is said that, the road was designed to accommodate the turning of three-team logging wagons.

Industrialization of the community relied heavily on the waterways, with the establishment of sawmills, planing mills, grist mills, pottery factories, as well as tanneries, to either power their industries or to carry their goods to Port Burwell on Lake Erie. Many of these early businesses were either owned, started or financed by Tillson family.

  

A map of Tillsonburg from 1874, shows Tillsonburg's streets, Otter Creek, the mill ponds, and the railway.

Map of Tillsonburg from an 1874 atlas

  

A postcard with an image of the lower dam in Tillsonburg. Water is rushing quickly over the dam.

Postcard of the "lower dam" in Tillsonburg, Ontario

  

A postcard of the flour mill in Tillsonburg. The mill is white, sitting on the banks of a creek, surrounded by forest.

"The flour mill" in Tillsonburg, Ontario

  

An advertisement for John Smith's saw and planing mill in Tillsonburg. Advertisement reads: "John Smith. Tillsonburg. Saw and planing mill and door and sash factory. Plans & specifications. Prepared and contract prices offered for every description of building, in Town or Country. Frames doors, sash, mouldings, brackets. Stair Turnings, etc. kept constantly on hand at lowest cash prices. Planing and custom sawing done at the lowest prices."

Advertisement for John Smith's saw and planing mill in Tillsonburg from the 1881 directory.

  

In 1865, Tillsonburg was erected as a Police Village, though this status was only short lived. Soon members of the community were pushing for improved municipal status with the objective to secure incorporation as either a town or a village. In 1872, the bill to incorporate Tillsonburg as a town received third reading on February 23rd, and assent a month later, on March 2nd. Edwin Delevan (E.D.) Tillson was elected as the town’s first mayor.

  

Handwritten by-law no. 1 for Tillsonburg. Written on blue paper.

By-law no. 1 for Tillsonburg, "for the purpose of appointing Town Officers to serve in this municipality for the current year", 25 March 1872. [courtesy of Annandale N.H.S. & Museum]

  

  By-law number 111 to establish Tillsonburg as a police village. Handwritten on paper.By-law number 111 for Tillsonburg, establishing Tillsonburg as a police village. Handwritten on paper, a green seal stamped on the paper.

By-law no. 111, establishing Tillsonburg as a "police village", 13 October 1865.

    

By the early 1870s, the area had reached a population of about 1,000 and consisted of a number of general stores, grocers, boot and shoe shops, blacksmiths, grist mills, and a woolen factory, just to name a few of the growing businesses. A decade later, the population had soared over 3,000 with the introduction of new businesses, such as a Split Pea & Barley Mill, a large sugar manufactory, and a factory for the evaporation of fruit. E.D. Tillson was instrumental in many of these new business ventures.

Let’s explore some of these early businesses and the men and women behind them!

  

A note of thanks:

The Archives would like to thank the staff at Annandale National Historic Site and Museum for their assistance with research and for providing images. For those wishing to learn more about the history of Tillsonburg, please visit the museum’s website: https://www.tillsonburg.ca/en/Annandale-National-Historic-Site.aspx

Early Tillsonburg Business & Industry

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