First day and introducing Charles Perry

Charles Perry
Charles Perry, photograph by William James Topley, © Public Domain
Source: Library and Archives Canada, PA 025623

Today was the first day of the 2017 field school. After a meet and greet at the Archaeology Centre, we were going to go walk around and point out the hidden world that exists on campus. We didn’t get very far—although archaeologists don’t melt in the rain, it helps to have proper rain gear and we were lacking some of that, so the tour will be tomorrow.

Instead, we spent some time looking at some amazing old photographs that show some of the past history of what is now Trent University’s campus. We’ll be featuring some of these in upcoming posts, so stay tuned.

So who is Charles Perry and why is he important?

Charles Perry was born December 7, 1818 in Cobourg to Ebenezer Perry, who was a meat-packer, merchant, and miller. Ebenezer Perry built a mill on the Douro side of the Otonabee River in 1847, and this launched Charles into the lumber business in Peterborough. He had great success in marketing square timber and sawn lumber.

Where this becomes directly relevant to us is because by 1851, Charles began buying up land in Smith Township, including a parcel that is now part of Trent University. In 1853 he was elected Mayor of Peterborough. In 1854 he completed construction of his sawmill at Nassau, directly across the river from Ebenezer’s mill. Charles’s mill was pretty distinctive in its heyday. Charles painted all his buildings red, so the big mill at Nassau is often referred to as the Red Mill. It had 130 saws, including two Yankee Gangs, a Slabber, Stock Gang, and an English Gate. Gang saws were saw blades used together in parallel to make the initial cuts to a log when cutting it into planks.

If you are interested in learning more about the types of saws in a sawmill, please consult page 177 of this exhaustive work, published 1870 by David Craik.

The Red Mill was ravenous for timber, and is recorded as able to cut 90,000 feet of lumber in twelve hours. Unfortunately, Charles Perry’s reach exceeded his grasp, and in 1860, he lost the Red Mill at Nassau as it was seized and sold at a Sherriff’s Auction to cover tax arrears.

At this point, Charles Perry drops out of his connection to our field site, but he lived a pretty interesting life after his crash. The forefeiture of his mill property didn’t seem to really affect his reputation too much as he was again elected Mayor of Peterborough in 1861, a position he held until 1864.

The time capsule found last summer at the Peterborough Jail was placed during Perry’s tenure as Mayor.

Following his stint as Mayor, he also was elected to the first Canadian Parliament in 1867 as a Conservative MP representing Peterborough West. He served until 1872. After that, he appears to have been a customs collector for Peterborough from 1873 until his death in 1876.

He lived at the French-Second-Empire-style house at 168 Brock St., Peterborough from its construction in 1870 until his death. His widow sold the property in 1892.

Nassau Mills 1896
The Red Mill at Nassau, about 45 years after construction.

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