Starting west along the Talbot Road, this tour will lead to the homes of the first pioneers to be located in the Talbot Settlement under Col. Thomas Talbot. The whole district is replete with history and fine homes, but reference will be limited to a few.
The Talbot Road - At the top of the west Talbot Hill, on the right, attention is drawn to the historic road, by a plaque erected by the Ontario Archeological and Historic Sites Board. This is one of the earliest pioneer roads of Upper Canada.
The Rolph Farm - About one mile west of St. Thomas, on the left, another similar plaque marks the former Rolph Farm, where Dr. Thomas Rolph was buried in 1814. His son, Dr. John Rolph, who lived here, became very prominent in the early history of Upper Canada. One of the first Medical Schools in Canada was founded in St. Thomas in 1824 by Dr. John Rolph and Dr. Charles Duncombe, and the former was also a founder later of the Medical School in Toronto.
Apple Grove Grange - At the curve in the road, just beyond the railroad in Middlemarch, the old hall of Apple Grove Grange 166, built in 1880, may be seen on the left. It was for many years used as the Middlemarch Women’s Institute Hall, and it was these Women’s Institutes of Elgin County that we owe for the Elgin County Pioneer Museum.
The Casey Farm - Nearly two miles farther on, the large house on the left, set well back in spacious, well-kept grounds, was once the home of George E. Casey, an early Member of Parliament for this district. Beautiful fireplaces are one of the features of this home.
Amasa Wood Home - Entering the village of Fingal, the large red brick house on the hill at the left is the former home of Amasa Wood, who began business in that village with a general store and a tavern in the early days of the village. He later moved to St. Thomas. The old section of the Memorial Hospital was an early general hospital and was known as the Amasa Wood Hospital.
Sutherland Home - The interesting architecture of the white frame house on the right near the Southwold-Dunwich townline shows it to be of the early days. It was for many years the home of Mr. Lawrence Sutherland, and a prized family heirloom there was a walnut sideboard which was a gift from Col. Talbot.
Burwell’s Corners - A cairn at the Southwold-Dunwich townline marks the site of the home of Col. Mahlon Burwell and the early registry office for the County of Middlesex. It was probably the first brick house in Dunwich and was a very large building.
St. Stephen’s Church - Next on the left is St. Stephen’s Anglican Church, built on land given by Col. Burwell and opened for service in 1872. Col. and Mrs. Burwell are buried in the churchyard there.
“Malahide Farm” - This extends through the valley on both sides of the road and up the hill. It was overlooking the lake on the west hill that Col. the Hon. Thomas Talbot built his home. This is the very centre of the wide-spread pioneer settlement which bears the name of the courageous, far-sighted son of a noble Irish family who came in 1803 to open up and to direct the development of this part of Upper Canada. Col. Talbot’s mill and Col. Burwell’s first home were situated in the valley and were destroyed by the enemy in the war of 1812-14. It is worth while to read the inscription on the cairn here.
Jeffery Hunter Farm - The next farm on the left was that of Jeffrey Hunter, who was Col. Talbot’s personal attendant for many years. Once part of Col. Talbot’s demesne, it was recently bought back into the estate.
The Bobier District - Proceeding farther west, the next hill is in the midst of a district settled by the Bobier family. The quaint cottage at the right on the top of the west hill is an early Bobier Home. The “John B.” mention in Mrs. Anna Jameson’s account of vist to Cal. Talbot as her driver from there to Chatham, was John Bobier. (“Winter Studies and Summer Rambles”).
William Pearce Farm - The tour follows the old Talbot Road up the main hill to the right and proceeds farther west. At the end (where and abrupt left turn must be made to go towards the lake) one may see in the distance ahead, at the end of a very long lane, the farm home of William Pearce, who as a little boy arriving with his family the original Pearce settlers, was carried up the hill by Col. Talbot.
John Pearce Farm - Arriving at the lake road, the John Pearce home, where the original pioneer of that name settled in 1809, may be seen ahead and a little to the right. It is now owned by his great-great-grandson, Mr. John S. Pearce. We have now reached the homesteads of the first settlers. At one time a large singing class was held in the loom house of the Pearce home, the teacher being Mr. Archibald Duncan, son-in-law of Col. Patterson.
The Storey Farm - Turning left, the farm on the left, was first settled by Mrs. Mary Storey in 1809. The present house was built in 1851 by Andrew Backus, eldest son of the eleven children of Stephen and Anne (Storey) Backus. Their grandson Mr. John E. Pearce, states that the brick was tramped out by oxen from clay in the ravine at the rear of the house.
Pearce Park - On the left, over the hill, is seen the spacious rectory of St. Peter’s Anglican Church. On the right is the John E. Pearce Provincial Park, named for the donor of this lovely piece of woodland, once part of Mrs. Storey’s farm, and given that it might be preserved for posterity.
St. Peter’s Cemetery - Across the road is the cemetery, where Col. Talbot, founder of the Talbot Settlement, was buried in 1853, and where are to be seen too the names of George Crane, the first settler, and those four families who followed in 1809 and 1810, as well as those of many other God-fearing, courageous pioneers.
Leslie Patterson Farm - The lake road next passes the farm of Leslie Patterson, who with John Pearce, his brother-in-law, came in 1808 seeking a suitable place for a homestead and found it here. They returned in 1809 with their families and with Mrs Storey and her family, Mrs. Storey being a sister of Col Patterson and Mrs. Pearce. The present home is believed to have been built in 1827 and it was here that the same year that the first Confirmation service in Elgin County was held by Bishop Stewart of Quebec. It is recalled that originally it was possible to drive under this house with a yoke of oxen to unload supplies from boats anchored at the beach, south of the house.
Stephen Backus Farm - The next house on the left is the fourth homestead of the family group of Cal. Talbot’s first settlers. It was here that Mrs. Patterson’s brother, Stephen Backus, settled in 1810, and here that he brought his bride, Anne Storey, shortly afterwards. This house was built about 1830. Mr. John E. Pearce’s mother recalled three of her aunts, spinning and weaving together here.
Conn Farm - The white cottage on the left on the brow of the next hill was formerly the home of Meredith Conn, a leading Methodist of the early days, and the first school in Dunwich was built here in the 1820’s.
George Crane Farm - It was to the right at the end of the next side road (Plum Point Road) which you pass on your right that George Crane built his early home. Having come with Col. Talbot in 1803, being the Colonel’s first settler when he was allotted a farm in 1806.