Plaster Rock Parade
(Transcribed from a document on file at the Plaster Rock Public School Library - it appears to have been written in 1955. No author is credited on the typewritten copy available.)
Plaster Rock, some seventy-five years 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.'s main office. The other Day family arrived later. At this time there was very little cleared land; the area being covered by small trees and scrub growth.
The second family was that of Henry Ridgewell who arrived in 1880. He procured land for a farm extending from the present property owned by Miss Georgia Elliott to the north, to the lower side of H. C. Green's store to the south. Two years later Arthur Ridgewell, son of Henry Ridgewell took up land extending from the south boundary of his father's lot, as far south as the south boundary of the present Gordon Bernie property.
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 the Linton Corner to Weaver Corner, a distance of four miles. The main road then from Perth went back from Plaster Rock by Linton Corner to Sisson Ridge where six families were living, namely: Linton, Gallop, Briggs, Burgoyne, Marston and Hollins, coming to the river at Weaver Corner, a distance of 4½ miles.
Mr. & Mrs. Henry Ridgewell were parents of the late Arthur and George Ridgewell. Their first home was a log home on the bank of the river near the present site of the new Regional High School. After four years 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 C. Campbell. Soon after Mr. Ridgewell came, a road was cleared through out, only the settlers used it.
Mr. Ridgewell's oldest son, Stephen and his wife came along and settled near the Primitive Baptist Church site. A few years later this family moved to a farm near Presque Isle, so the Ridgewells and the Days were the only families for some years. The next settler was a man by the name of Fox who built a shanty where Wilfred Gray's house stands. He made the first shingles, hewing them by hand from cedar blocks. These were very good shingles and would last for many years. The only other work here besides clearing land was at the rock quarry located on the cliffs on the west side of the river. This rock was crushed and hauled by team by farmers from as far away as Maine who used the powdered rock as fertilizer for the land. After the arrival of the railway, which was built by John Stewart of Andover, 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 farm wagon and bring back a three month's supply consisting of three or four barrels flour, a barrel of pork, two bags sugar, etc. This trip would take two days. There were a few pedlars 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 days trip to Nictau and back. The pedlar bought butter and eggs in return for groceries. The price of eggs in summer was as low as seven cents a pound, eighteen cents being a top price. Among these pedlars was Mr. John Griffis of Lower Perth and Seth Salmon of Kilburn. There were a few pack pedlars who carried dry goods, linens, thread, laces, etc. on their back. Sometimes these pack pedlars were accompanied by their wives, who also carried packs. These people were mostly Italians.
People did not 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 previously to 1877. The mailman was a Mr. James Inman of Lower Perth, who travelled 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 would 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 Mr. Barney Armstrong of Perth. These men were very generous in carrying extra parcels back and forth for the settlers.
Previous to 1898, Mr. Fred Hale and his brother Judson of Woodstock carried on lumbering operations at the head of the Tobique and after travelling the river they decided that this would be a good site for a mill and would save rafting and running their lumber down the river to Fredericton, the nearest mill. The first saw mill was built then in 1898-1899 and `1900 by the Hale brothers, and along with the mill, a cook house, boarding house and a 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, Glazer Dickinson, bookkeeper, and Walter Shaw and family, all from Carleton County.
The post office then was kept in the store where it stayed until the winter of 1927 when the store burnt. The next store was built on the east side of the river which is now the main part of Plaster Rock. The main road was now completed and many new homes sprung up along the road way. The rail road was already near completion and first bridge was built in 1901. This 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 below Fredericton. In the year 1904, two Fraser brothers from Fredericton purchased the Hale property. These brothers were Archibald and Donald Fraser and it was the latter who was to have such an influence on the growth and expansion of Plaster Rock. They brought several families with them from Fredericton to operate the mill. A year or so later Archie Fraser moved to Edmundston to build a pulp and paper mill. Shortly after the mill was completed around 1900, Mr. James McNair, father of former premier Mr. J. B. McNair built a general store on the west side of the river, Plaster Rock's first commercial venture other than the mill enterprise. This store was later bought by Mr. Alfred Green of Perth who ran it for some years and then sold to the Farmers Co-operative Company. This is the present United Farmer's Store.
The first church erected in Plaster Rock was the Presbyterian, (now the United Church of Canada), which was completed and dedicated in 1907. Mr. Donald Fraser was a member worker and large contributor for this church and was vitally interested in the welfare of the mill families and Plaster Rock 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's store. This church was burnt in 1920 when the roof was ignited by a spark from the burner of the mill. The parsonage and orange hall on either side of the church also burnt. The 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 in the school building. The first Sunday School was organized and led by Mr. Fred Hale with Miss Ida Dickinson as organist.
The first school was built on the site of the present elementary school in 1901. This was a one room school with only one teacher who taught up to sixty pupils, all grades. The first teacher was the late Mrs. Wesley Crone nee Gertrude Flanders of Maple View. A second building was erected later back of the first school, had two rooms and another teacher added. A few years later these buildings were sold for residences and a large two storey building was completed known as the Plaster Rock Superior School. This school served the community until 1949 when it burnt, replaced by the modern Donald Fraser Memorial School for elementary grades. The Tobique Valley Regional High School was built in 1947 and now have a teaching staff of thirty.
So whereas in 1898 there were only three families in Plaster Rock, there is now a population of approximately 1400 with some 400 homes and public buildings, including six churches, a modern hospital, new post office built in 1955 and many up-to-date stores, garages and service stations.