In the early 1800's a
group of German speaking Mennonites arrived from Pennsylvania. As
with the other major communities which make up Cambridge, the land
upon which they settled was acquired from the Six Nations Indians
through a land speculator named Richard Beasley.
Among the first settlers to arrive in what was later to become Preston was
John Erb who acquired 7,500 acres including land at the confluence of the
Grand and Speed Rivers. Mr. Erb and his wife settled on his
Speed River lands in 1805 and built a sawmill on the banks of the
river in 1806. A grist mill followed in 1807. The sawmill has
long since disappeared but the grist mill was the beginning of a
flour milling business which has operated continuously on that
spot to the present day. The site is recognized as the oldest
continuously operating industrial site in the region.
It was around Mr. Erb's mills, known locally as Cambridge Mills, that the
settlement that grew into Preston began. It was not Mr. Erb's intent to
create a town. He consistently refused to sell land for commercial
development and it was not until after his death in 1832 that his lands to
the south of the Speed River were surveyed and divided into lots.
The task of surveying the land
fell to William Scollick, a surveyor, conveyancer and Justice of the
Peace from Preston, Lancashire, England, who completed the survey
of Mr. Erb's lands in 1834. The linear shape of the survey with
virtually all the buildings in the settlement stretched out along
the Great Road from Dundas is said to have reminded Mr. Scollick of
his native town in England and he gave the name of Preston to the
The sale of the newly surveyed lands
immediately attracted a significant number of tradesmen,
artisans and craftsmen - primarily young German immigrants who
had recently arrived in North America. These men saw a place
where German was spoken, much of the land was cleared and there
was an acute shortage of skilled artisans and craftsmen. The
population grew rapidly from about 250 inhabitants in 1836 to
about 1,600 in 1855. Of these, approximately 70% were German
in origin. Preston's location on the Great Road into the interior
of the province made it a natural stop for travellers and with its
eight hotels and taverns attracted more Europeans than any other
village in the area.
By the mid-1800's these
European travellers were being joined in increasing numbers by people
who were attracted to the town's mineral springs which were thought to
possess remarkable curative powers in the treatment of a variety of ailments.
These springs were discovered accidentally in 1837 by a member of the Erb
family while drilling for salt. Instead, they found instead "stinky water".
The water, with its high sulphur content, was well named and was
initially thought to be worthless. It was not long, however, before
some enterprising businessmen and medical practitioners let it be
known that the mineral springs, while not heated like those of some
European health spas, could offer relief if not an outright cure for a
number of ailments including arthritis and rheumatism. Soon three major
hotels, first the North American, later the Del Monte and finally the
Sulphur Springs, sprang up to serve the well-heeled clientele which
began to arrive in Preston from all over North America to "take
While the town became an
important destination for those seeking to renew their sometimes
fragile health, the well-being of the town itself was in question.
Between 1861 and 1871 Preston's population declined from 1,539 to
1,409 and showed only a marginal increase to 1,419 by 1881. It
was not until 1891 that the population once again begin to increase
and it was not until 1900 that the population broke the 2,000 barrier.
Part of the reason for this turnaround can be traced to the coming of
the electric railway systems that began to serve the community in 1894.
The idea of an electric railway
connecting Preston with Galt, its larger neighbour to the south-east,
was first proposed in 1890. At first, Preston's town council was not
eager to get the town involved in a potentially hazardous railway
scheme and it was not until 1893 that Preston council decided to enter
negotiations. In many ways, the building of the electric railway
marked Preston's emergence from its well earned identity as a
"sleepy German town".
A steady growth followed and the
decades of the 1950's and the 1960's saw continuing growth of Preston's
industrial base and the gradual expansion of the town toward the borders
of its nearest neighbours, Galt and Hespeler. By the late 1960's a move
was under way to institute a new level of local government which would
see the creation of a new Regional Municipality of Waterloo. Including
a plan for the formation of a new city through the amalgamation of
Preston Galt and Hespeler.
The plan, proposed by the Provincial
government in the name of administrative and economic efficiency, was
not met with universal approval. In the end, it was common interests
and the long standing relationships between the communities that
finally prevailed. It was noted at the time that despite the
municipalities' long standing rivalries, there was very little
difference between them in areas such as type of labour force,
newspaper circulation, ethnic origin and religious affiliation.
In addition, problems resulting from the continued growth of all
three municipalities were better solved with the pooling of resources.
Thus, on January 1, 1973, City of Cambridge, Ontario came into being.
This union is symbolized in the City of Cambridge