Extracted from: 1878 Illustrated Historical Atlas of Durham and Northumberland Counties of Ontario. Published by H. Belden & Co. - Toronto.
Cobourg, the County Town of the United Counties of Northumberland and Durham is situated in the Township of Hamilton on the northern shore of Lake Ontario, in a broad level valley, having the lake in its front, and a fertile, well settled county in its back. The town was originally settled by U.E.Loyalists toward the close of the last century, at which time the site now occupied by the town of Cobourg was an almost untraversable cedar swamp.
Some time in the year 1798, a Mr. Elias NICHOLSON took up his abode within the limits of the present town plot, and built a small cabin, which is believed to have been the first house erected in the neighborhood. This house has long since disappeared and it is not now possible to ascertain the precise spot where it stood.
Mr. Elias JONES, on the road, which subsequently became King Street, opened the first store in 1802. A great part of this thoroughfare was then a fonderous morass and there are people still living who can remember a time when its condition was not much better. This state of things has, however, long since passed away and for many years visitors to Cobourg have justly commended its dry clean well paved streets and the cozy air of comfort which seems to pervade its private residences.
In the early years of its history the place was called Amherst, after Jeffrey, Lord AMHERST, one of the commanders of the British army in America during the French war. The name of the village was subsequently changed to Hamilton, after the township in which it was situated. The more homely name of Hardscrabble was colloquially applied to it for many years -- owing it is said to the difficulty experienced by the settlers in gaining a livelihood. This name does not seem ever to have been sanctioned by authority, and in course of time ceased to be used. The place has been known by its present name for nearly half a century.
In 1837, the year of the rebellion, the village was incorporated under a Board of Police, by which its municipal affairs were managed during the succeeding thirteen years. In the month of January 1850, the place was incorporated as a town; whereupon the management of its municipal affairs was transferred from the Board of Police to a Mayor and a Board of Councilmen, and its government has ever since been thus administered. In 1859, Cobourg, like Port Hope, withdrew from the United Counties of Northumberland and Durham, and has ever since paid an annual sum to the County Treasury on account of the administration of justice.
A few years ago the Senate had three of its members resident of Cobourg: the Hon. George BOULTON, the Hon. Asa BURNHAM, and the Hon. E. PERRY. The late Hon. Andrew JEFFREY whose sterling uprightness of character made him a man of mark, was long associated with Cobourg. The first mayor of the town was William WELLER, the well-known stage proprietor (more here), who in his day was an enterprising and energetic citizen. Cobourg was indebted to the efforts of such men for its early progress. And though difficulties connected with the inception of its railway projects plunged it for years into financial trouble, these have been happily surmounted; and if prosperity should again visit the lumbering and mining interests of the country, few towns are in a better position to take advantage of them.
Thirty or forty years ago, Cobourg was relatively a place of considerable importance. This arose largely from the earlier settlement within its confines, and in its immediate neighborhood, of a large number of intelligent and educated persons.
The late Hon. George BOULTON at an early period practiced the legal profession here and in his office were to be found students who subsequently became known to fame -- Chief Justice DRAPER and Sir. John A. MACDONALD being of the number.
It is still a matter of congratulations to the inhabitants that the Hon. Chief Justice MOSS and Hon. Mr. Justice J.D. ARMOUR were both Cobourg boys. The present (1878) Judge of the County Court of the County of York, Judge MCKENZIE, was for many years a resident in their midst. The late James BETHUNE, Robert HENRY, Col. COVERT, the Hon. Zaccheus BURNHAM [County Judge of Ontario County], the Hon Henry RUTTAN, are still remembered by old residents as men who did their full share to promote the interests of the district.
Cobourg can boast of a number of fine buildings, several of which are of specially imposing appearance. The most conspicuous of these is the Town Hall -- called Victoria Hall -- the foundation of which was laid on Thursday, 18th December 1856. The building was completed and opened with appropriate ceremonies during the visit of the Prince of Wales to Canada in 1860. It is an immense white brick structure, fronted with Cleveland cut stone, and the cost of its erection was about $100,000. It contains a commodious courtroom and a large public hall, with seating accommodations for nearly a thousand people. Most of the municipal offices are situated in this building, which is centrally located on King Street, the principal thoroughfare of the town.
The University of Victoria College is the most important educational establishment in Cobourg, and the principal seat of learning of the Wesleyan Methodist body in the Dominion.
Cobourg is the southern terminus of the Cobourg, Peterborough and Marmora Railway, and it is also an important station on the Grand Trunk. It is a port of entry. Lately some $80,000 was expended on the harbor--the greater part a Government grant, and it is stated that it will take $80,000 more to make the harbor what it ought to be.
The direction of affairs is placed in the hands of the Commissioners of the Cobourg Town Trust. These are, Peter MCCALLUM, Thomas DUMBLE, W. GRAVELY, Andrew HUSTON, and D.E. BOULTON, and the Mayor of the town for the time being. The revenue during the three years has fallen from $10,000 to $6,000. During the opening of navigation a regular line of steamers plies between here and Charlotte [the port of Rochester], on the opposite side of the lake. The steamers of the Royal Mail Line also call here on their way up and down.
The streets are broad and clean and are generally laid out at right angles with each other. They have been lighted with gas for more than twenty years. The town plot covers an area of 3,500 acres. Its present population is about 5,000.
Of late, Cobourg has begun to come somewhat into vogue as a summer resort for tourists and pleasure-seekers generally. The reason for this, apart from the pleasant situation of the town and the delightful drives in its neighborhood, is to be found in the excellence of its hotel accommodations. In this respect the place is singularly favored, its principal hotel being incomparably the best to be found between Toronto and Montreal. The principal industrial establishments of the town consist of woolen mills, car shops, a matting factory, foundries, machine shops, knitting factory and breweries. A considerable quantity of iron ore, pine lumber and grain is annually exported.