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January 2, 2023

Irondale from Above

By Guy Scott

The hamlet of Irondale was born at the spot where the Monck Military Road (now #503) crossed the Irondale River. The earliest settlers farmed along the valley of the Irondale branch of the Burnt River and worked in the lumber industry. The first Post Office was called “Devil’s Creek” after the local lake, now called Salerno Lake. Peter Barr was the first postmaster/general store keeper. Two taverns soon followed, catering to the thirsty loggers along the watershed. The original Monck Road ran on the east side of the Irondale River (today it is on the west side) and is just a memory today.

Devil’s Creek received its big break in the 1870s when iron ore was discovered in the area. Various mining speculators swarmed the area in the search of the ‘mother-lode.’ At first it looked like Furnace Falls was to be the big boom-town, but the last and most famous of the iron magnates (Charles J. Pusey) made Devil’s Creek his mining centre. Pusey surveyed a townsite on Lot 27, Concession V, Snowdon Township and extended the railway from Furnace Falls to the newly christened village of Irondale. The selection of the name is obvious, and the whole area braced for the mining boom.

By 1886, the great IB&O Railway (that’s Irondale, Bancroft & Ottawa: the big 3 towns) reached Irondale. Eventually the IB&O was extended to Bancroft, but it never made it to Ottawa. Several small scale mines were opened along the road between Irondale & Furnace Falls. The ore was loaded on railway cars and shipped via Howland Junction to the markets of the world, especially the Pusey Smelter of Cleveland, Ohio. Although most town lots in Irondale were never built upon, at its zenith in 1891, the village contained a busy railway station, 2 general stores, a blacksmith shop and Sam Hancock’s hotel. Unfortunately, the motherlode never materialized and the mines disappeared. The lumber industry lingered for a time, buoyed by the railway.

The Standard Chemical Plant in Donald created a sporadic demand for wood, but soon the best timber was but a memory. Locals also employed some creative ways to earn some extra cash. In winter, blocks of ice were cut from Devil’s Lake, and lowered by slide down to the railway station. Here they were loaded on box cars and sent to Toronto to chill the ice-boxes of Torontonians, in the days before electric refrigerators.

The hamlet of Irondale languished until modern times, when urban tourists began to appreciate the natural charms of the area. The IB&O Railway was torn up in 1959, but improved roads made access easier and soon the local waterways were alive with summer cottages. But even the modern ‘tourist rush’ did not prevent Irondale from being included in the Ghost Towns of Ontario book. However, as any local resident will testify, it is far from a true ghost town today.

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