Interview with Mrs. Annie Robinson conducted on 25 July 1973.
Mrs. Robinson, who recently moved to Brantford, had lived in the village of Harrisburg all her life. She has always been interested in the history of the village and has done quite & bit of research in that area. This interview includes much about the early settlement of Harrisburg along with many of her own memories of her life there.
Interviewer: Approximately when was Harrisburg formed?
Mrs. Robinson: Harrisburg, at one time was really two towns — Dumfries and Vroomania. I’m not really sure of the year but I know that its in the township records. I think it was up until 1855 that there were two millages. The land was owned by Admiral Vrooman. As it first started out as a railway centre they needed many workers. It happened that there were a lot of Irish immigrants. Most of the population was from Ireland, that's where all of the hotels and things came from.
Interviewer: The town was at one time a very industrious and busy place wasn't it? What was along the Main street area at this time?
Mrs. Robinson: There were three hotels built at that time. One was where the present general stories. Norman’s store. There were two others up along the Vain Street. They were very popular because of the railroad. The first post office was on the south side of the bridge, that’s where I remembered it as a child. It was in Norman's Store.
Interviewer: What about early industry and business?
Mrs. Robinson: They tell me that there was a blacksmith in the village, and a feedmill, as well. There were also beautiful stock yards where they took their stock to be transported on the trains. There were three big industries. Of course CNR was the biggest. Then there was the clay pit. That was down east of the village and you can still see the mounds where they dug the clay out. I found out that a lot of that clay went to the gypsum mill out at Blue Lake. It came up through St. George there right through to Blue Lake. Also, there was a brick yard. The house closest to the school there was built out of same bricks they made there. The brick yard was in the back area there behind that house. There is a pond there, its all grown up in weeds and bush, but that's where they used to cool the bricks. The man who owned the brick yard was Nick Card and as far as I know he was the only owner. He lived right next to the school where Victor Smith lives now.
Interviewer: What facilities were available for the strains?
Mrs. Robinson: As the trains came into the village there was a turntable to turn them around. The trains went from Harrisburg through to Alfred Junction over on Lynden Road. There was a big bridge that they had to go over, back between Harrisburg and Highway # 99. It was called Sutherland’s bridge. My mother said that it was a lovely big bridge — bigger than the St. George Bridge. I'm not sure when that was torn down.
Interviewer: I’ve been told that the first railway station had ho upstairs. It was long and low and contained a restaurant and a baggage and express room. They say that it was really a beautiful place. It was very big, it must have been to toke up the area that it did. As far as the railway is concerned, there was a tower as well as the station and the roundhouse. There were also stockyards and all of these things were there in the valley. I bet 95 % of the people in the village worked on the railway.
Interviewer: Were there ever any wrecks in Harrisburg?
Mrs. Robinson: They tell me that there was quite a big train wreck in the millage. I guess a circus train went over the banks. I heard that quite a few ponies were killed. I didn’t get anymore information on that, though I heard it from several different people. That would have been about 1849, shortly after the railway first started to thrive at all.
Interviewer: Who were some of the prominent families in Harrisburg?
Mrs. Robinson: The Burt family has been in the township business a good deal. Daniel Burt was a member of Parliament for a while. Ken, is still living in Harrisburg, and I think that Archie is living in Paris.
There was a Brennan family. Mike Brennan worked in the tower. He had two girls. One, Miss Isadore Brennan, ran a general store right across from Norman’s store. It was long with a restaurant in the end of it. It had big, old fashioned windows. That would be right when the village started to grow. She used to live in the house where Freddy Barton lived now. Miss Isadore stayed in the village and gave piano lessons to most of the village children. My brother took lessons from her. She also played the organ in the church — a very active person.
Then there were the Beemers. Seorge Beemer had the hotel before Mr. Cherry had it. That would be Norman's store. It went from Mr. Cherry to his children, Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Cassidy. It went out of the Cherry family about 1944. That was really a busy place. I can remember it as a child. The store overlooked the railway, and there were steps right up from the railway into the store. It was beautiful. The woodworking on the verandah was something that you really don’t see anymore. I hated to see all of that go.
The McCarthey family used to live in the house where I lived in Harrisburg. They were a Catholic family, and they built the first part of the home. A lot of the homes in the millage were built in pieces and as the families grew up they added on.
This McCartney family were very strong Irish Catholics, and living beside them were very strong Protestants. The story goes that they used to shoo each other’s chickens in the others garden. This feud went on and on. You talk about over in Ireland, well that religious feud went on right here in Harrisburg. I remember my mother saying that a good many battles went on in the village.