Monsell is another one of those ghost towns that existed deep in the middle of nowhere and that has been reclaimed by the forest. In 1876 James Gregg opened a post office with the name Monsell at the northern side of the bend in the road (where Taylor Rd. meets Monsell Rd.). Soon the community had a church, school, a store and a population of about 50. By 1903 the postmaster was James Clark.
Most of the homes were scattered on the ragged roads. By 1929 it had become a ghost of its former self with only a few remaining stalwarts willing to persevere.
Today in Monsell what was once fields of hay is today reclaimed by the forest. All that remains are some foundations of farms (owned by James Clark and Peter Jones, etc), school and barn footings, some loose stone fence walls and a former stone gate.
Post Office- The 1st store and post office belonged to James Gregg in 1876. Gregg kept the store until 1900s, but Richard Byers got the post office contract in 1882 and operated from the same property. Then in 1886, James Clark, the most famed name in the hamlet, got the postal contract. He also owned a store. He moved to Monsell in 1869 and he took lots 26 and 27 Concession 1. He held the post until 1929 when the post office closed forever. He died in 1932 and had a large funeral due to his belonging to the Orange Lodge and also the Anglican Church in Purbrook. He was 93.
The Schoolhouse SS5- The first school was a frame schoolhouse and was on the south side of Taylor Rd where Sharpes Creek passes at Lot 22, Conc. 2. This is a hill and I am guessing the school was located up the hill since the lowland is marshy. It was erected in the early 1870's. A better location was found at the bend in the road on Haley's property at Lot 26 in 1877, which was more central for the school section. The school was taken from its original location and "skidded" in the winter by horse to its new location by James Clark and W. Hicks. By 1903 a new brick school was built in its place. It lasted until 1925. Almost no traces of it remain since it was demolished in the 1940's. However, if you know where to look you can find the rock base just below the surface with a large white pine growing where the front door once stood. Photos included below.
Teachers included from 1911 onward: 1911-1912 school closed, Mona McQueen 1913, 1914-1915 school closed, Gladys Cronyn 1916,Beatrice Hillman 1917, Gertrude Crozier 1918, Edna McMurray 1919-1920, Nora Fraser 1921, M Fraser 1922, Dalton Kirk 1923, Bernice Ellis 1924, Irene Wiley 1925. A photo of a an earlier famed teacher is showcased below.
Take Fraserburg Rd. east from Bracebridge toward Fraserburg but before you get there turn left up the Monsell Rd. up a steep grade. Across the road is Purbrook Rd. Follow the Monsell Rd. north for a km or more until you see 2 campers on your left on a grassy hill. This was the hamlet's southern end. Here, you can see home foundations to the left with trees growing from within, and a barn shell on the right. This is the Clark farm. Just north you can see broken rock walls beside the road. As you head further north into deeper and deeper forest you will then turn west. This was the centre of the village where there was a school and post office, but good luck finding where they would have been exactly. Imagining that the area was once cleared with crops flowing in the breeze is unfathomable. Old B and W photos are included below.
Murder in Monsell?-
The year that shooked the remaining residents of Monsell was 1936. During the depression tragedy struck the small hamlet deep in the backwoods of Muskoka.
Orma Jones was a 21 year old young woman whose father had passed away 3 yrs prior. She was left to tend for her family along with her mother, Mrs. Jones. One day Orma went missing. Mrs. Jones started a frantic search with the help of John Clark, who lived 3 kms away. They couldn't find her, so the police were called in from Bracebridge, and they decided to check the Jones' house. When the officer opened the door he saw blood on the floor. He went upstairs and found Orma on the bed out cold with a severely fractured skull. A freshly cleaned axe was found in the basement. Who could have performed such a crime? Amazingly, Orma was still alive. She was brought to the hospital.
Orma's mother became suspect number one. A detective was brought in from Toronto and all of Muskoka wanted revenge on the cold Mrs. Jones. Mrs. Jones must have been insane and forgotten what she had done. Still, there was a trial and over the years the whole horrid charade had been forgotten. The outcome? Unknown.
For other murder stories check out: Uffington, Lewisham, Monsell, Horncastle, Reesor Siding, Mowat, Redwater and Dalton Mills. Check out Falkenburg for a decapitation story.
Murder Story Truth Revealed (courtesy of C. Fraser):
"Yes, one of the Plewis girls from Barkway Ryde Township married Charles Jones..this is what I have on Orma....
8. Lavina/Levinah/Livina Plewis b. Mar 16 1885 d. Saturday, Sept 7th 1946 She had a child with Frederick Dedlow out of wedlock: Minna Catherine Plewis born Ryde Twp. Sept. 16 1903. A child was found dead between the Plewis home and Coopers in the ravine and I believe it could have been Minna. My Aunt Dora told me that it was a child born out of wedlock to a Plewis girl. We have been unable to find a death for Mina, neither has Jackie or Anne Marie. She married Charles Sewart Jones b. Oct 12 1874 (1901 Census) s/o Peter Jones McCauley Twp.still with his parents age 26 d. 1931 on June 15 1910 at Bracebridge they lived in Macauley. Granddaughter Anne buried in St. Thomas Cemetery Bracebridge
Mrs. Levinah Jones widow of Chas. Swerberton Jones, her death having occurred in Toronto the previous Saturday after a lengthy illness. Interment was in Bracebridge Anglican Cem. Among thos left to mourn her loss are her sons Peter and Francis and daughters Mary and Lorna, all of who attended the funeral at which there were many beautiful floral tributes.
Children of Lavina & Charles:-
a. Peter Joseph Jones b. April 9, 1911 died Sept 14 1994(owned home farm off Fraserburg Rd at McKay Lake )
b. Francis Robert Jones b. May 21 1916 d. Jan 23 1983 lived in Timmins then Fergus Ontario . Daughter:- Anne Marie (email@example.com)
c. Lorna Jones b. 1922 d. Dec 22 2000 lived in Ziska Road
d. Mary Jones b. 1915 d. 1959
e. Orma Rita Jones b. October 6 1912 d. Sep 27 1985 [Girl found at farmhouse with severe head wounds) Bracebridge citizens particularly those who knew the family, were shocked to learn of the very serious wounding of Orma Jones, aged twenty, who was brought to the Bracebridge Memorial Hospital Monday afternoon from her home near Monsell. She had 6 or 7 deep wounds about the head, supposedly caused by blows of an axe. The skull was fractured and the brain pierced, and the young woman had lost a great quantity of blood. Though her life was despaired of, Miss Jones is still living, her condition as reported by the hospital still critical but without much change.
Her mother Mrs. Charles Swib Jones is being held at the District gaol here on a nominal charge, pending complete police investication. Inspector Ward of Toronto arrived yesterday to assist in the inquiry in Magistrate's Court yesterday morning for a week.
If Mrs. Jones was responsible for the attack on her daughter, then she apparently left sometime afterwards to go to the farm of Mr. John Clark, two miles distance by road. Mr. Clark told The Herald that Mrs. Jones came to have them telephone to her daughter Mary in Bracebridge and other relatives to ask them to come to the farm to search for Orma, who had been lost since daylight.
Mr. Fred Sander, chief of police sent his son Raymond and other young men to look for the girl. The farm is about eight miles from town. The boys could not find her on the property, and it was suggested that they look in the house. Raymond sanders went in and found blood on the floor. He went upstairs and found Orma in the bed it is reported with terrible wounds on the head. They rushed Miss Jones to the hospital.
Provincial Constable Hardwick went out to the house. He found that only Mrs. Jones and Orma of the family had been staying at the house Monday the rest of the family being away. Mr. Jones died three years ago. An axe recently washed was found in the cellar. He brought Mrs. Jones back to Bracebridge. It has been surmised temporary insanity, for she is said not to be able to remember very much about Monday, August 20 1936
"I have come across some new info on Lavina. On the front page of the Toronto Daily Star dated Aug. 18 1936, Lavina allegedly hit her daughter (Orma) in the head with an axe. Next I find in the Toronto Daily Star dated Dec. 9 1936 that Lavina is going before a grand jury for it. I never did find the outcome of the trial. In the paper it said that Lavina always denied that she did it. This is a huge thing to my family as we have never heard anything about this before. I still am searching for all info on Lavina whether good or bad I need to know. This could all be why my Dad never spoke very much of his mother. And I could never figure out where Lavina was in her later years. Do you think this event would have been in the Bracebridge paper of that time? I still find it hard to believe even as I write it." Anne-Marie Plewis
Hi Carol: Yes I found info on Orma.She was born Orma Rita Jones on Oct. 6 1912 and passed away Sept.27 1985 at a nursing home in Port Hope Ont. She is buried there. My uncle Peter Jones looked after the arrangements. As I mentioned to you, Orma sustained head injuries from an attack. After reading papers and documents I can come to a conclusion the attack was not from my grandmother (Levina Jones). Levina being of slight structure could not have possibly carried Orma (who was obese) and unconscious up the stairs to the top floor. Plus Levina had no blood on her and Orma's head would have been profusely bleeding. Upon arriving at the house Levina (living at the Plewis's at the time) could not find Orma and called the police. The police (related to Charles Jones) searched the surrounding farm land THEN looked in the house. Which I found odd. My aunt told me that Charles brother Frank sustained a chest wound (trying to defend Orma) in the attack. He quickly left the farm (before police arrived) and never was questioned. Actually he just plain disappeared afterward. I have therefore wondered if he was trying to attack Orma (teen home alone) and Orma hit him in the chest (with axe) and he retaliated. Your guess is as good as mine."
Orma's Burial Location Found and Now She will be Remembered with a Headstone (thanks to the help of a Port Hope historian named Peter Bolton):
"She was buried in St. John's Anglican Cemetery in Port Hope (range 17, lot 53) along with three other people from the nursing home. It would appear that this lot comprised of single grave for indigent burials, which is sad.
Orma Jones (06 Oct 1912: Bracebridge - 27 Sept 1985: Port Hope). Br/o Peter. (Cemetery records)"
* We did find the location where Orma was buried in 1985 in Nov. 2011, and unfortunately there was no marker or headstone for her or the 3 others that were buried beside her from her nursing home. However, there is a good ending to all of this sadness: Orma Jones now has an official headstone marker in the Port Hope cemetery as of Dec. 2011, thanks to my persistence.
Orma did live into her 70's but suffered from schizophrenia. She was a large, lonely lady and luckily there was a nurse who recalled her and gave us more details. She often heard planes fly over the old age home in Port Hope and thought it was the Germans coming to attack. I do now believe that she had this condition when her mother or brother attacked her in her early 20s as that is when the disease starts (late teens). We assume she was incapacitated even further after the axe attack and must have lived in homes all her life. It seems that only her brother Peter came to look after her at her funeral arrangements in the 1980s.
Here is a letter I received from the cemetery advisor for Port Hope about the matter a few weeks before the headstone was put in place, "Clay,
An eventful day! While the Community Nursing Home only keeps the records for 20 years, one of the employees who has been there for 35 years remembered her.
It seems that the Ontario Hospital, which dealt with mental disorders, placed patients wherever there was was space. Orma, suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, was placed in Port Hope. She is remembered as a large woman who tended to keep to herself. One trait that stood out with this employee: whenever Orma heard fireworks, she became panicky that the Germans were coming. I've contacted the Administrator again to see if she can tell me when Orma was admitted to the nursing home, but nothing back yet.
The owner of Simpson Memorials has offered to provide a marker for Orma at no cost, and the cemetery Superintendent will form a cement collar for it. She'll finally have a monument - albeit humble. One of the advantages of being on the Cemetery Board for 12 years...
Thank you for bringing her alive with your story. I'm glad to have been able to help out.
I'll notify you when the stone is in place.
I just did the math:
If Orma was born in 1912 then she would have been 8 yrs old in 1920 and should have been going to school at that time..She is missing from the photo. She would have been 24 in 1936 when the axe event took place.
The boys in the school photo are about 12 yrs old average. So if the photo date of 1920 is accurate then Frank was born around 1908, meaning he was about 29 years of age in 1936. They certainly were not teens. However, above we see a Francis Jones born in 1916. If this is the same Frank Jones then that means the school photo below was dated incorrectly and is likely closer to 1925 when the school closed. If Frank is Francis, which I suspect, then in 1936 he was 20 yrs of age. This would make more sense.
* There are two books by Gary Denniss showing the school and kids. In the 1970 book it states the photos are courtesy Mrs D Fraser and in the 1972 book it says they are "by and from" Edna McMurray who taught 1919-1920