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Historical Information - Evolution of Blair

Nicholsons Tavern in Blair

History of the Village of Blair:

The settlement of the area around what was to become Blair began in 1800 with the arrival of Samuel D. Betzner, one of a group of German-speaking Mennonites who originated in Pennsylvania. The land they settled on had recently been acquired from the Six Nations through a land speculator named Richard Beasley. Upon their arrival, the Mennonites immediately set about clearing the land and it was only by chance that their leaders later learned that Mr. Beasley had overextended his finances. This was of significance to the Mennonites because Mr. Beasley's creditors had placed a lien against the land the Mennonites had recently purchased, thereby calling into question the Mennonite ownership of the lands. Now in a precarious legal position regarding the land, yet unwilling to walk away from their new homes, the Mennonites created a land development company known as the German Company and, in 1803, purchased an additional 60,000 acres of unsurveyed land from Mr. Beasley. The money they paid for this land would be used to pay off Mr. Beasley's creditors, thus ensuring the Mennonites obtained clear title to their lands.

Although he was the first settler in Blair and Cambridge, Samuel D. Betzner had little influence on the development of the community. He purchased the block of land that would later hold the bulk of the village and cleared and farmed a portion of this parcel, but he sold the property to Joseph Bowman in 1817 and moved to West Flamboro. Rather than the Betzners, it was the Bowman and Bechtel families who are credited with initiating the development of the village of Blair.

Joseph Bowman built the first dam in the village, located on Bowman Creek, and erected the area's first sawmill, a business that represented the first industrial enterprise in the village. In 1846, Samuel B. Bowman, one of Joseph Bowman's sons, built a four-storey flour mill on the site now occupied by the Blair Flour Mill.

In about 1876 the Sheaves Tower, sometimes known as the Power Tower, was built by Allan Bowman to provide extra power for the flour-mill. The tower was erected on Bowman Creek and was located two hundred and forty feet from the mill. It was thirty-one feet high and had a twelve-foot square base. Inside was a water-powered turbine that turned a vertical shaft that ran from the turbine to a horizontal shaft mounted at the top of the tower. The horizontal shaft extended through the east wall where it was attached to an eight-foot diameter cast-iron wheel. The wheel was designed to permit installation of hardwood blocks around the rim. The blocks had deep grooves or sheaves cut into them through which ran a wire cable. This cable was connected to a similar wheel attached to the west side of the mill. To keep the tower from collapsing from the strain imposed by the cable, a brace cable was installed on the backside of the tower. The Sheaves Tower is particularly significant because it represents a unique method of the mechanical transfer of power and may be the only early example of this technology still extant.

Like many mills of its day, the Bowman Mill had a second identity and was also known as the Carlisle Mill. This name was extended, for a time, to the whole village, which was known locally as Carlisle until 1858 when a post office was opened there. Since a Carlisle post office already existed in Ontario, a new name was needed for the new post office. The name chosen was Blair, selected in honour of Adam Johnston Fergusson-Blair, the first judge of Wellington District and a colonel in the local militia. He won election to the Upper Canada legislature in 1850 and won re-election by acclamation in both 1854 and 1857.

The village of Blair had a number of other names in its early history. One was Durham or Durhamville, derived from the Durham Flour Mill built by Henry Bechtel in the early 1830s. Another name was Lamb's Bridge, which was used for a short time in the early 1850s in recognition of John Lamb's Tavern and store, located at the village end of the bridge that spanned the Grand River. The first recorded name for the settlement was Shinglebridge, from the shingle-roofed covered bridge that crossed the Grand River at the settlement as early as 1835. The covered bridge was severely damaged by ice in January 1857 and was replaced by an iron bridge that remained in use until 1957. This iron bridge was demolished in 1958, leaving only the support piers still to be seen in the river today.