The Square Mile was the original Town plot surrounded by Cornwall Township.
It ran from the north side of Water Street to the south side of Ninth Street and from the east side of Cumberland Street to the west side of Marlborough Street. It did not include the waterfront nor the far side of the perimeter streets. Even today with expanded City boundaries, the north side of South Branch Rd / Cornwall Centre Road is not in the City, nor is much of the east side of Boundary Road.
Until the 1930s very little north of Fifth Street was developed. A notable exception was Pitt Street which connected with the former St. Andrews Road; today St. Andrew’s Road is the north end of Pitt Street.
In the late 1700s and early 1800s Water Street was a key area as it afforded limited travel and trade via the river and was where the seat of regional government was housed, including the County Jail and Courthouse. Initially it was virtually impossible to speak of the Town other than in reference to the district / county and later the United Counties. Gradually more and more of Pitt Street became the primary business district, eventually spilling over onto Second Street, making the junction of Pitt and Second Streets as the heart of the downtown.
In 1853-54 a survey of the Town north of Fourth Street was conducted due to the number of residents who had unlawfully extended their properties. Subsequently stone markers were erected at all of the intersections along Pitt Street as well as at some other junctures. One resident’s encroachment was so severe that his house was found to have been erected on the opposite side of the street.
The Market Square
On July 14, 1819, L50 was granted to Archibald McLean and Guy Carleton Wood to construct a market house. On May 8, 1820 a market house was erected in the Market Square (Lots 10 and 11 on the north side of Water Street). Tuesdays and Saturdays were the Magistrate approved days of operation. The Market House was a failure for its intended purpose of selling farm produce and became occupied primarily by a number of butchers. The Market continued at that location prior to relocating to what is now the site of City Hall at Fourth and Pitt Street in 1843. In 1882, although to a different building, the Market returned to the Water Street site due to expansion at the Town Hall. On January 18, 1887 a disastrous flood brought an abrupt end to the Market resulting in the merchants fanning out through the business section of the Town. The vacated Market House was leased for manufacturing purposes and was demolished several years later when it became vacant. Later the Central Park swimming pool would occupy that original Water Street Market House spot. In 1824 Judge Pringle also recorded the presence of William Duesler’s house on Lot 12.
The Earliest Churches
The congregation first came together in 1787 and the original St. John’s Presbyterian Church opened ca. 1831 located at (what is now numbered 159) Pitt Street – now the site of a Bank of Montreal branch (LINK). As a consequence of the Disruption in the Presbyterian Church, the Free Church was spun off in 1846, forming the foundation of what would become Knox Church just around the corner. The original Trinity Church (Bishop Strachan Memorial) (LINK) was a much simpler structure which opened in 1806 on the same site as the current church on Second Street West between York and Augustus Street. The original St. Columban church (LINK), built in 1829 for Irish immigrants and transient canal workers, was the first of three consecutive churches to be constructed on that same general site, although the first church faced Augustus rather than Fourth Street as was the case with the second and third structures. The Baptist Church first organized in Cornwall in 1882 with the first church erected in 1884 on Sydney Street, moving later to Third and York.
The Earliest Schools
In 1798 Crown Lands were set aside of Grammar Schools. John Strachan came to Upper Canada in 1799 and in 1803 took charge of the Church of England congregation at Cornwall. It is believed that he first taught boys in his home prior to opening the wooden structure on August Street south of the southeast corner of Second and Augustus Streets in 1806. The following year it became the Eastern District School. In 1856 the drafty wooden building was replaced by a two classroom brick structure in the vicinity of Fourth and Sydney Street; the exact location is not certain. 1871 saw the passing of the High School Act and the creation of Cornwall High School. A new style structure replaced that building at Fourth and Sydney Streets in 1877. The school would evolve into Cornwall Collegiate and Vocational School and see many expansions and replacements of sections of the school.
1816 saw the creation of the “Common Schools”. In 1850 a two storey brick, four classroom structure was erected on Second Street East. in 1884 the school had grown to 12 classrooms and a southern extension was added in 1931. 1950 saw the renaming of Cornwall Public School to Central Public School. It also served as Cornwall’s Model or teaching School. Renovations took place between 1962-64 and the two old sections were demolished. The school was entirely rebuilt in 2002 with the exception of the 1931 facade being converted to the new school library entrance.
In 1872 the first Catholic school was opened by Fr. Charles Murray in a house that would later be known as Corbet Hall, on the site of St. Columban Parish’s first cemetery, immediately west of the church. The building was owned by Jan Ban MacLennan. The first teacher was Helen MacDonald, daughter of Alex. E. Macdonald. The school was behind MacDonald’s residence. The parish would go on to create what evolved into St. Columban’s West School, St. Columban’s East School, Gonzaga Catholic Boys’ High School (later elementary) and Bishop Macdonell School.
An Early Racetrack
A four block area from Second Street East to Fourth Street East and from Sydney Street to Adolphus Street was a track for horse racing. The bounding streets formed a track of about one mile in length. The track, which included a grandstand and judges stand, existed for several years ca. 1820 according to Judge Pringle. Only the public school and a few houses hampered the view. The track eventually closed due to declining interest and the cost of maintaining the horses.
Privilege not just for Cats
In 1834 the Cornwall Board of Police passed a bylaw which allowed hogs to run at large through the Town provided that the owners placed rings through their noses and yokes around their necks.
Prior to 1833 only a few private sidewalk existed in the Town, making walking in both spring and fall very difficult. Beginning in 1833 and progressing very slowly, sidewalks made of rough flagstones were installed on a few streets. It began with the north side of Second Street between Pitt and Augustus Street. Although solid and almost four feet wide, these proved unsatisfactory and began to be replaced by planked sidewalks starting in 1838.
The first wharf had been made in the former “commodious bay” near the foot of Pitt Street during the days of the steamboat. Of necessity it had to be quite long and had to be renewed annually, which led it it being abandoned. In 1844 a new wharf was built at the river bank opposite the canal bridge.
Select areas within the Square Mile:
- Pitt Street (300 block)
- Whitham Lawn Bowling Club (6th St E)
- Miller’s Scrap Metal (513 Pitt St)
- St. Columban R.C. Parish (4th St W)
- Gonzaga Boys’ Catholic High School (3rd @ York Street)
- Methodist Manse (1st St E)
- Trinity Church (2nd St W)
- Navy League / Sea Cadet Early History
- YM/YWCA Early History
To return to our main post on Historic Cornwall neighbourhoods, please follow this LINK.