The Clear Lake Road area started as a pre-canal settlement with mainly Irish-Protestant and some English settlers who were part of the Perth Military Settlements. Although not all the new residents had a military background, they did qualify for 200 acres as part of the British plan to populate Eastern Ontario with residents of the British Isles. One of the earliest settlers to arrive was John Rowswell from Shepton Beauchamp in Somersetshire, England. Rowswell was able to secure quite a bit of land along the shoreline of Clear Lake. Parts of this area had reasonable farming . Rowswell in 1824 wrote a letter back home to Vincent Stuckey, obviously a patron of his, asking for land grants for his sons. However, in the letter are pieces of fascinating information about early settlement along the Clear Lake Road area. To reach his plot of land he travelled several hundred miles on foot. In the next few years, although not accustomed to hard physical labour, he chopped down trees with the help of his adolescent sons, raked up wood chips, piled logs, and planted grain. Within 7 years, 40 acres were cleared of virgin timber and the farm was flourishing. He had a barn and log home. Rowswell, a passionate fisherman and hunter, wrote about the huge quantities of fish he and his boys caught in their bark canoe, sometimes a barrelful in one night. He also wrote about how they speared the fish by using pitch pine lights at night. Rowswell enjoyed the climate except in the depth of winter when frostbite could be an issue. His major complaint about spring and summer was a small biting fly called a mosquito. He appreciated the low taxes and the fact he actually owned his land instead of leasing. The clothing was provided from flocks of sheep and growing of flax. Rowswell concluded his letter asking that he obtain five more grants of land for his five boys in the area as the “old settlement” was rapidly running out of land. The letter ended with best wishes to Stuckey and his lady. However, Stuckey did not answer the requests. John had five sons who settled in the Clear Lake area. Henry, John Junior, and bachelor James did not have children, but William Hayward Rowswell and Robert had many descendants. Some of the older houses on the Clear Lake Road were built by the Rowswell sons.
Another early settler was James Stanton, a carpenter also from Somerset in England. Stanton and his wife, Sarah, farmed right on the shores of the lake. From many records it appears as if James used his woodworking skills to construct the Newboro blockhouse as well as other canal projects, but his main occupation was running the farm. The abandoned Clear Lake Cemetery is full of Stanton’s children and relatives. His original log home was replaced by one of the first stone houses (1850) in this area which still stands today. The property James owned is now in the hands of descendants and over the years has evolved into cottages and a campground. A nephew, Joseph, married the adopted daughter of Francis Stedman another nearby resident and resided on property just across from the family plot. Other Stantons came to South Crosby, all related to James, and all were superb carpenters.
Another Clear Lake family was the Stedman family. Unlike the Stantons and Rowswell, they were Irish in origin. Particularly notable is the stone William Stedman home built in 1860 to house a family of ten children. The intitials of the Elgin mason, Sterling Pennock, were pencilled with the date of construction in the attic. Another interesting find from this home was a pair of children’s shoes found in the walls, often considered a good luck charm when a new house was under construction. The home remained in Stedman hands until the mid-twentieth century. Other descendants of the Stedmans still reside in the Clear Lake area.
The William Leggett family home was an interesting structure which combined brick and stone into its construction, and dates from about the same period as the Stedman home. William had come to South Crosby with his widowed mother and brother from Ireland in 1817. There were various members of this family in the Clear Lake area. The Robert Leggett family (a cousin of William’s) have been on the same property near Crosby since the 1830s, although this family is better described in a history of the hamlet of Crosby.
There were three known schools in the Clear Lake area. The first school was situated closer to the Cataraqui Trail, but burned down in the 1870s. Eventually it was replaced by the Pine Grove School which provided schooling for the residents of Chaffey’s and surrounding farms until the 1960s. However, it no longer exists. The Independent School (also called the Woodchuck School) was located at the corner of Clear Lake and Garrett Road. It unfortunately burned down a number of years ago.
Clear Lake also had its share of cheese factories as dairy farms replaced the early subsistence farms. The George Stanton Kerr factory on Garrett Road is still standing, one of the few remaining in the geographic township of South Crosby. It dated from 1899, although it appears there may have been an earlier factory here. Another factory located near the Cataraqui Trail burned down in the 1970s, but was operated by Cook Rowswell for many years.
Today the shoreline of Clear Lake is dotted with cottages and campgrounds with only one or two operating farms in the area. However, it remains one of the earliest settled areas of the township . The Clear Lake Cemetery has been preserved by the Chaffey’s Lock and Area Heritage Society in conjunction with the Township and members of the family. You can read a storyboard telling something of the history of this family.