Millbrook is very lucky in having, and having retained, so many lovely buildings. The historically interesting buildings that immediately spring to mind are the Old School, several former hotels, and the former town hall, along with many other businesses and houses. Sadly, however, few people would think of the attractive monument to the west of the Old School. There, and almost hidden, stands a monument to James and Ann Deyell , the only reminder that a graveyard and church once stood here.
When you’re at the library the next time, take a few minutes and visit this lovely monument. This monument is the gravestone of two of Millbrook’s earliest settlers (more on the Deyells below). The following inscription is on the east face, with the other three faces blank: IN MEMORY OF ANN, wife of JAMES DEYELL; Died Dec.1859; AGED 57 YEARS. ALSO JAMES DEYELL: DIED July 1, 1863; AGED 67 YEARS.
After admiring the monument and sparing a thought for these long-dead settlers, look south and notice a copse of trees and bushes. This is where the first church in Millbrook stood. If you have time and the inclination, head into this grove and you will find a treeless depression which marks the foundation of this long-lost church. From several historical sources I have gleaned that this church was built around 1830, on land given by James Deyell, and affiliated to the Wesleyan Methodist/New Connexion denomination. If you’ve never heard of such a denomination, you’re not alone. In 1874 several denominations came together, amalgamating to form the Methodist Church of Canada. In 1925 even the name Methodist was lost, when a further amalgamation created the United Church of Canada.
This church, first erected as a wooden structure, was replaced by a more permanent brick building in 1850. North of the church, where the Deyell monument is, was a graveyard with many graves and headstones. But when churches of other denominations were built along with cemeteries, the families of the buried moved many of the headstones and remains to these new locations. I can’t find information on when the church ceased to be used, but reports tell of the church falling into ruins, with its foundations cracking and sinking, and the few remaining grave markers neglected and falling down.
If you still have a few free moments, take a very short walk towards Medd’s Mountain and venture down a slope towards the park. Here you’ll find a bridge over a brook. This brook runs winter and summer. It is pleasant at any time of year to stop and listen to the burble of its water. Historical references tell us that a flight of wooden stairs led down to the brook. They also tell us that those early worshippers used the brook for water for making tea and other drinks following church services. Imagine those women hiking up their long skirts to avoid getting them muddy and wet as they dipped their pitchers and kettles into the running water.
Many of us know stories of John Deyell and how, before he built the first mill, he carried his wheat on his back, walking the whole distance to and from Port Hope, to have it ground into flour at a mill there. But who was James Deyell? The sources that I had been consulting were of no help in understanding what, if any, relation James was to John. So back to the library. And there I found a 1988 publication by Gerald Deyell: “The History of the Deyell Family”. Yet even here the information on James is scarce. It would appear Gerald never visited the monument, because the family tree he provides for James leaves blank the name of James’s wife! We do learn though that James had no children of his own; instead he adopted his niece’s son, Thomas Harding. Interestingly, this book contains a transcription of James’s will. His will directed his executors to have a monument and vault built for his and his wife’s remains. The cost for this was stipulated as “a sum not exceeding four hundred dollars.” I would think that was a lot of money in 1863! As an aside, two other points in James’s will may be of interest to many people: the executors for his will were Richard Fallis and William Thorne; and one of the beneficiaries of his will was Patrick McGuire who was bequeathed $150. Like me, many of you will have laughed during performances of Robert Winslow’s/4th Line Theatre’s “The Cavan Blazers” at the mantra of the Blazers, “to hell with the Pope and Paddy McGuire *spit*. “
Many of us have often lamented that the beautiful monument and tombstone seemed so neglected. In an attempt to make the spot more welcoming and more suitable as the last resting place of two of our most important forbears, a small group led by Peter Ramsay has landscaped the area around the monument, installing planters, a bench, and a ramp to make access easier. The Township provided a small grant and the Peterborough Horticultural Society gave some funds for the building materials and plants. Our local Garden Club has taken it upon itself to maintain the plantings.
It’s a handsome monument in a lovely spot with an interesting history and do make plans to visit it.
By Glen Spurrell