• P.O. Box 392, Napanee, Ontario, Canada K7R 3P5 info@lahistoricalsociety.ca

History of the Town of Greater Napanee

The Town of Greater Napanee

The settling on any land is dependent on the topography of the land, water source being the most important. Water, is a gift to life, a means of transportation and a power to harness. The abundance of fertile soils, as well as forests and meadows, offers plenty of natural resources. The boundaries of the first townships started with Cataraqui (Kingston), were numbered and referred to as Town 1 (Kingston), Town 2 (Ernestown), Town 3 (Fredericksburgh), and Town 4 (Adolphustown) .These waterfront lots were three deep only to allow the settlers to be on the land quickly.


The waterways were the shorelines of the Bay of Quinte, Adolphus Reach, Hay Bay of Adolphstown Township and the Long Reach, Fredericksburgh. North Fredericksburgh was bordered by the Napanee River and the North Channel. The north land was Richmond Township, to the East, Ernestown Township and to the south Adolphustown Township.These precious shorelines were very coveted, as the land could only be traversed with great difficulty. From 1776-1783, 50,000 United Empire Loyalist (UEL) were assigned lots in Upper Canada. In 1812, the evicted Scots from the Highlands migrated to the new Canada.



UEL military leaders, such as VanAlstine, who lead some of the settlers, were accorded the more prime land. Therefore, all the water ways of rivers, streams and sheltered bays became pathways for people and goods. Initially used, were the bateaux that had carried them to their surveyed lots. Canoes or other watercraft obtained later was essential for additional food that fishing provided; water for drinking, washing, food preparation, putting out fires and watering growing gardens. It allowed necessary visiting among settlers, to pass along the latest news, helping with building shanties, log cabins or work bees for felling timber. After development progressed, early ferries became links the settlements and primitive roads. An early ferry was located from part of Adolphus Reach, on the most western point, known as Dorland’s or Young’s point.  It was just a mile over the protected waterway to North Marysburgh Township in Prince Edward County. The landing site in Marysburgh was the Van Alstine’s Mill. Mills were an imperative for survival to grind the grains for food essentials.



South & North Fredericksburgh McGill Map
South & North Fredericksburgh McGill Map

Fredericksburgh was surveyed in 1783 and markers for the lot lines placed in 1784. Due to the strong desire of the Loyalist settlers for each of the Loyalist corps to remain together (and not be split between townships) the eastern portion of Adolphustown were taken away and added to Fredericksburgh increasing acreage to 40,000; known as the Fredericksburgh Additional/Original.

“After years of disputing, Fredericksburgh was split in June, 1857, to create North and South Fredericksburgh. South Fredericksburgh comprised concessions I through III. North Fredericksburgh comprised concessions IV through VII and included the urban developments of Napanee which lay south of the Napanee River (Clarksville and South Napanee). Ironically, the two Fredericksburghs are united once again, as they are part of the 1998 County Amalgamation. Lennox & Addington Historical Society 2008.



In June, 1907, Peter Bristol presented to the Lennox and Addington Historical Society one of the precious few documents from the pre-Confederation period, a Fredericksburgh Assessment Roll from 1845. This lists all 508 people who were to pay property tax for 1845, either because they owned land, or because they had an agreement with the land owner that they would pay the tax. Not included are clergy, teachers, squatters, paupers and tenants who were not involved with property tax agreements. Also, not included are 255 adult males who were members of landed families but not obligated by property tax. Some of the names on the roll did not live in Fredericksburgh, but were what came to be known as “non-resident” property owners.


Richmond Township

The surveyed lots in Richmond Township were slower to be settled. Some UEL Fredericksburgh land owners were reallocated lots in Richmond, due to difficulties of the Fredericksburgh survey. Many disputes and violent behaviour occurred over boundary lines and duplicate ownership to lots. Sgt. William Bowen’s family was reassigned to the 3rd Concession, Richmond Township from Fredericksburgh Township after a hearing into ownership of his Fredricksburgh lot. Early Richmond lots, on the Napanee River were coveted for the transportation access. Lagging settlement behind other townships, were due to the heavy clay soil, swampy lands. Although the Salmon River flowed through the township, mills were established, but no navigable waters.

In 1786, at the 20 foot falls on the Napanee River, a grist mill was built by the Government. Surrounded by still dense forests, any grist or sawmills attracted further settlers. Richard Cartwright purchased the government gristmill and brought business acumen to develop the Napanee area, with fulling mills for cloth, tavern, and distillery. Cartwright bought potash and lumber from farmers, shipped down the St. Lawrence River, and brought goods back to sell in his stores. The population, in 1815, was settled on the south side of the Napanee River but when Allan Macpherson built an elegant clapboard house, on the north side of the river, it became the social centre of Napanee. By 1820, a post office had been established and mail travelled on the primitive road from Kingston to York (Toronto), resulting in increased traffic and the necessity of inns, stabling and hotels. In1831, the land on the north side of the River was surveyed by Samuel Benson, on land owned by John Cartwright (Richard’s son). With these advantages, more residents moved to Richmond Township. With the first train arriving in 1856, it brought prosperity to the Township.

“Napanee was a prosperous town in 1882. Following the depression of the seventies, the population had grown rapidly, and was well over 4,000. According to Lovell’s Directory, of that year, “the town was exhibiting marked progress” with a vigorous limber and barley trade with Oswego. No less than eight hotels reflected (and prospered from) this business boom. Lennox House, Brisco House, Campbell House, Tichborne House and the Queen’s Hotel, to name the most important. Two, now defunct weeklies, the Napanee Standard and the Express, competed with the Napanee Beaver. In addition, a weekly temperance sheet of the Grand Templars, The Casket, was published at the Standard office, while the Beaver Office published the weekly Dominion Oddfellow.

The number and variety of Napanee industries was truly impressive. Among them; the Napanee Brush Factory, Napanee Blanket Mills, Napanee Cement Works, Napanee Glass Works, Herring’s Implement Factory, as well as the Gibbard Furniture store…Many businessmen were turning their attractions – and surplus cash- to an ambitious railway venture, the Napanee, Tamworth and Quebec railway, which would hopefully, make Napanee, a major rail terminus on Lake Ontario for the interior of Eastern Ontario. Of the five churches in town, the Wesleyan Methodist was by far the most affluent. ” Napanee Area in the Early 1880’s, author James Eadie, Lennox & Addington Historical Society Secretary. Published in the Napanee Beaver May, 22, 1974.

Present Day Town of Napanee is a vibrant township offering diverse regions of agriculture, industry and community spirit.

On October 16th, 1983, A Memorial Window in the Grace United Church, Napanee was donated and unveiled by George I. VanKoughnett commemorating The Loyalists, especially The Kings Regiment of New York and their families who settled around Napanee 1784.