Nestled between two of the more prominent hills of the lower Precambrian Shield, the Village of Westport began it’s existence as a milling location. The lakes to the west provided ample motive power as they drained through the valley to Rideau Lake. Sheldon Stoddard built the first mill at the foot of Sand Lake in 1828. A year later, the Manhard Brothers, William, Peter, and David built a saw mill where the water enters Rideau Lake. In 1830 the first retail store was established by David Sinclair and the village became know as Manhards Mills. The Rideau Canal was opened in 1832 and the village had access to Kingston on Lake Ontario, as well as Bytown (Ottawa) and Montreal.
New trade developed and new businesses followed. Aaron Chambers’ Mercantile Store, John McGregor’s Hotel and John Cheney’s Blacksmith Shop were built on the shore of Rideau Lake. The growing village needed a new name and tales handed down suggest it was named after Westport in County Mayo, Ireland. Because of the available water power and the shipping facilities, new industries began operation. Sam Weir’s Grist Mill, Joel Clark’s Woolen Mill, David Gowan’s Brickyard, Owen Martin’s Ashery, Matthew Scott’s Tannery, Conely and Truelove’s Boat, Furniture and Coffin Manufacturing (today the Museum) and W. H. Fredenburgh’s Furniture Factory provided employment for a growing population. The first Post Office in Westport opened in 1845, and the Town Hall was constructed in 1853.
The building boom of the 1850′s, caused by the arrival of new immigrants ( many of them Irish), created the need to build or rebuild the Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist Churches. By mid-century, many new businesses had opened to meet the demands of a population which had now reached 500. Signs above the stores on Bedford and Main Streets read: W. J. Webster Bank, Fredenburgh and Judd Merchants, F. A. Cameron Merchant, C. W. Boyce Merchant, Gardner Wing Groceries and Merchandise, J. T. Chambers Inn Keeper, Stephen McCathron Shoe Maker, Joseph McLane Tailor, Patrick Donelly Wheelwright and (up past Concession Street) George Kerr’s Cooper Shop. In 1864, Declan Foley built a large department store at 40 Main Street, and also construsted large docks on the lake where steam boats landed.
The major mills were in the hands of George Crawford who rented them to a series of different individuals. By 1875, Crawford sold all of the mills to William Fredenburgh who a year later built his new home at 21 Main Street. This home later became the Lexena Hotel, owned by Alex and Lena Brown. This facility is now a much expanded Cove Country Inn. The Village continued to grow and on February, 1888 the population was 700 when the first train on the Brockville, Westport and Sault St. Marie Railway arrived to the exuberant rejoicing of the inhabitants. The train brought to Westport an ever increasing number of tourists, of whom 23 had built cottages in the area by the turn of the century.
In 1904, the village voted for independence from North Crosby Township and has governed itself municipally for over 100 years. The population has remained at or around 700 since that time. Most of the buildings built in the downtown area in the 19th century are still present today as housing and a variety of retail stores. A Heritage Walking Map of Westport, containing a map of and information on the historic sights of the Village, can be obtained from the Rideau District Museum.
For further information, please see our Westport Heritage Committee Page