EARLY HISTORY OF PLASTER ROCK

By Mrs. Alice M. Wright

 

            Plaster Rock some seventy years or more ago had only two families. The first family was three brothers by the name of Day. One brother had a house on the east side of the Tobique River where now stands the Fraser Co. main office. The other two had a house near the present site of the Primitive Baptist Church. At this time there was very little cleared land, the area being covered by small trees and scrub growth. The second family to settle here was the family of Henry Ridgewell, who arrived in 1882. He procured land for a farm extending from the present Lloyd Everett property to the north, to the present Hathaway Garage property to the south. There was only a small field of cleared land on the east side of the road (main highway now), and the road was little better than a trail extending from Linton Corner to Weaver Corner, a distance of four miles. The main road at this time from Perth went back to Plaster Rock by Linton Corner around to Sisson Ridge where there were six families living, namely Lintons, Gallops, Briggs, Burgoynes, Margisons, and Rollins’, coming back to the river at Weaver Corner.

            Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ridgewell were parents of the late Arthur and  George Ridgewell. Their first home was a log house on the bank of the river near the present site of the new Regional High School. After four years or more, they got lumber and built a frame house near the corner, where the taxi stand is situated. This house was only torn down recently by the owner, S. C. Campbell. Soon after Mr. Ridgewell came, a road was cleared through but only the settlers used it, and it was strictly a wagon road with grass growing in the center. Mr. Ridgewell’s oldest son Stephen and his wife came later and settled near the Primitive Baptist Church site. A few years later this family moved to a farm near Presque Isle, so that the Ridgewells and the Day’s were the only families for some years.

            The next settler was a man by the name of Fox who built a shanty were Grey’s house now stands. He made the first shingles, hewing them by hand of cedar blocks. These were very good shingles and would last for many years. The only work here besides clearing land was at the rock quarry located at the cliffs on the east side of the river. This rock was crushed and hauled by teams of farmers from as far away as Maine who used this powdered rock as fertilizer for the land. After the arrival of the railroad, which was built by John Stewart of Andover, Victoria County, N.B.,the rock was shipped out in flat cars.

            Before the mill was built, the settlers along the Tobique had to travel to Perth and Andover for their supplies. They would take a team and a farm wagon and bring back a three month supply consisting of three or four barrels of flour, a barrel of pork, two bags of sugar, etc. This trip would take two days. There were a few peddlers who came up along the river carrying shoes, groceries, dry goods and literally everything from a paper of pins to a grindstone, loaded on a high wagon. It was a four or five day trip to Nictau and back. The peddlers bought butter and eggs in return for the groceries. The price of eggs in the summertime was as low as seven cents a dozen, twelve cents being a top price. Butter was fifteen cents a pound, eighteen cents being a top price. Among those peddlers were John Friffis of Lower Perth and Seth Salmon of Kilburn. There were a few pack peddlers who carried dry good, linen, thread, laces, etc. on their back. Some times these pack peddlers were accompanied by their wives who also carried packs. These people were mostly Italians.

            People didn’t have to go to Perth for their mail as has been stated. It was delivered from Perth to Nictau by a mailman with a team and express wagon. He also carried passengers. This was done previous to 1877. The mailman was then a James Inman of Lower Perth, who traveled the road for over thirty years, first twice a week, then three times, a two day trip. When winter roads were impassable by team, he could leave it behind along the way and go on by horseback, snow shoes or on foot, and somehow the mail always got through. Later, this route was taken over by Barney Armstrong of Perth. These men were very generous in carrying extra parcels back and forth for the settlers.

            Previous to 1898, Fred Hale and his brother Judson, of Woodstock and others carried on lumbering operations on the head of the Tobique, and after traveling the river they decided that this would be a good site for a mill with its high banks and would save rafting and running their lumber down the river to Fredericton, the nearest mill. The first saw mill was built then in 1898-99 by the Hale brothers, and along with the mill, a cook house, boarding house and store. Later they built several houses on the east side of the river, near the mill, for the families of their employees. Among these families were Charles Thomas, Woods manager, Glazier Dickinson, Bookkeeper, and Walter Shaw and family, all from Carleton County.

            The post office was kept in the store where it stayed until the winter of 1927 when the store burned. The next store was built on the west side of the river, now the main part of town. The main road through town was completed after the mill was built and many new houses sprang up along the roadway. The railroad was already near completion and the first bridge was built. This first bridge was taken out in 1934 in the spring freshet by the heavy ice jams, but was shortly replaced only to meet the same fate in 1950, some sections landing now below Fredericton.

            In the year 1904, two Fraser brothers from Fredericton purchased the Hale property. These were Archibald and Donald Fraser and it was the latter who was to have such an influence on the growth and expansion of the town. They brought several families with them from Fredericton to operate the mill. A year later, Archie moved to Edmundston to build a pulp and paper mill there.

            Shortly after the mill was completed, around 1900, James McNair, father of former Premier J. B. McNair, built a general store on the west side of the river, the town’s first commercial venture other than the mill enterprises. This store was later bought by Alfred Green of Perth who ran it for some years and then sold out to the  Farmer’s Co-operative Company. This is the present United Farmers Store.

            The first church erected in Plaster Rock was the Presbyterian (now the United Church of Canada) which was completed and dedicated in 1907. Donald Fraser was a member, worker and large contributor for this church, and was vitally interested in the welfare of the mill families and the town in general. The second church was the United Baptist Church which was built and dedicated in 1908, on the present site of the Alexander Fraser grocery store. This church was burned in May, 1920 when the roof was ignited by a spark from the Orange Hall burning in back of it, along with the parsonage on either side of it. This present United Baptist Church was erected soon after and dedicated in 1923. Before these churches were built, services were held in the mill and later the school building which was soon built were used. The first Sunday School was organized and led by Fred Hale, a returned missionary, with Miss Ida Dickinson as organist.

            The first school was built on the site of the present Elementary School. This was a one room school with only one teacher who taught up to sixty pupils. The first teacher was the late Mrs. Wesley Crone (then Miss Gertrude Flanders of Maple View). Later a second building was erected back of this school, with two rooms and another teacher added. A few years later these buildings were sold for residences and a large two story building was completed, known as the Plaster Rock Superior School in 1917. This building served the community until 1949 when it burned, being replaced by the modern Donald Fraser Memorial School of brick for the elementary grades. The Tobique Valley Regional High School was built in 1947, and the schools have a teaching staff of thirty teachers.

            So, whereas in 1893, there were only three families in Plaster Rock, we now have a population of 1500 with some 400 homes and public buildings, including six churches, a modern hospital of brick, new Post Office (built in 1955), also of brick, two fine doctors and excellent nurses, twenty-three up to date stores and five garages and service stations.

            Among the first native settlers to move into Plaster Rock other than those brought by Hale and Fraser Co.’s after the mill was built was Wash Turner and family from Reid’s Island, who built a small place and operated a meat store. A few years later (two or three) he built a large building of two and one half stories on the East side of the main highway near the bank and on the corner where the road branched to go over the river. This was used for a hotel and boarding house which he, his wife, a son and two daughters carried on until years later when he took ill and his wife had passed on. Charley Beny of Fredericton came along around 1906 and rented a large room in the front of the building and started a grocery store. When he became too ill some years later to attend to it others took it over and it is now used as a clothing store by S. C. Campbell who has also purchased the building.

            Another well-known family was Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Wright of Three Brooks, a farmer and a woodsman, who left his farm in charge of his son, Charles, and moved to town. He and his were well known and highly thought of as woodsmen and sportsmen’s guides. They also entertained in sports camps along the Wapske stream and others. Another member of the family was Norman Wright, who also moved into town and built a large house soon after the Fraser Co. took over which was in 1904. He was also a well known sportsman and guide, who had been entertaining sportsmen for some time before. He was also a fish and game warden for fifteen years or more before going into the employ of the Fraser Co. as woods manager in 1905, which job he held for twenty-five years before becoming ill and not able to carry on. His family are still living in town here in business for themselves. The sons are S. L. Wright who owns and operates a large grocery store and Malcolm Wright, who with his partner, Harold Everett own and have a large hardware, furniture, electric stove and garage business.

            Another early settler was Arthur Ridgewell and wife who had been living in St. Stephen and who also built a large house opposite the Turner Hotel on the west side of the highway and kept boarders.

 

 

Notes on Alice M. Wright

 

Mrs. Alice Wright was born Alice Maude Flanders in Saint John, N.B. on Oct. 20th, 1875. When she was just 17 months old, her parents, John & Elizabeth Flanders, moved their family from Saint John to Maple View, Victoria County. Alice married  Norman Wright, who died in 1940, and then later in life, she married his brother, Marshall Wright. Alice died Dec. 26, 1965, at the age of 88. This article was written shortly before her death in 1963.