Every week, I share an excerpt from my Great Aunt’s book, As the Story is Told: A History of Morpeth and Community, which was printed in 1986. Note, this is a historical text and I don’t necessarily agree with all of the authour’s views or turns of phrase.
Morpeth continued to add new businesses and its population even surpassed that of 1864. It reached its peak of prosperity in the late 1870s. During this period, however, it did experience difficulties and disappointments. In 1857 the good times that Canada was experiencing came to an end. A severe depression came as a result of over-production of goods and from adventuring too dangerously in the expansion of railroads.
At about this time the Southern Railway, planned to connect Niagara Falls and Detroit, was expected to follow the lake and pass through the Morpeth area. Morpeth was anxiously looking forward to this. Surveys were made and new lots laid out. Through the advocacy of some of Morpeth’s prominent citizens of that day, like Thomas McCollum, J. C. Nation, Matthew and William Wilson, Isaac Duck and others the county council passed a by-law granting 50,000 pounds to the scheme. The promoters of the railway (a Hamilton merchant and other supporters) were feasted and they in turn praised the Morpeth citizens for their efforts.
During the celebrations one of the promoters, a Mr. Thompson, in his speech became quite poetical:
“picturing Morpeth a hive of urban industry and commerce, the vicinity a scene of rural beauty and felicity, in the south a fleet of vessels marked against the horizon of the lake, and i the north, sweeping along the gentle eminence which fringed Morpeth, the fiery iron horse, the instrument of the transformation” (Romantic Kent – Victor Lauriston, p. 225)
This however was not to become a reality. The plan of the Southern Railroad did not materialize. In its place the Canada Southern Railroad was built in 1872, passing through Ridgetown, and thus led to the decline of Morpeth. Business at the ports along the lake suffered because of the competition of the railroads. Ridgetown now became the commercial centre of Howard while Morpeth still a busy community in the 1880s continued to decline.
Many and varied are the stories of how Morpeth got its name. The following are versions according to the historians.
By Victor Lauriston:
One faction wanted the place named Jamestown in honour of James Coll. Another faction preferred Morpeth in order of Lord Morpeth, who donated 25 pounds sterling to Trinity church. The rival claims were discussed. Eloquence flowed freely; so did the product of the local distillery. Naturally a free for all resulted and the issue was settled by main force. The Morpeth crowd captured the whiskey of the Jamestown bunch, stove in the casks and ran the booze into Talbot Road. And, after this demonstration of the superiority of the scion of British nobility to the hardy pioneer, the name of Morpeth was definitely and finally tacked on the map.
Lee, the original storekeeper of Morpeth, was determined to have the place called Leesport in honour of himself and the business he had already established there. James Coll, one of the other first settlers in the locality was strong for naming the village Jamestown to commemorate the early establishment of himself and family. Another name suggested was New Bristol. However the controversy was finally settled by the people of the village themselves.
The Talbot Regime – by C. O. Ermatinger
A notation in 1845 mentions Morpeth or Jamesville but says nothing about when the name was changed.