History of Woolwich Township

Woolwich Township was one of the earliest townships secured for settlement in Waterloo County. However, compared to that of other townships, the process of settlement was slow to begin. The earliest settler may have arrived in the Township as early as 1807, but the majority of settlement did not begin until the 1830s. Although Woolwich Township settlers came from a variety of origins, in the early years the majority were of German-Mennonite heritage, most of whom came from Pennsylvania and Waterloo Township. In general, they tended to settle west of the Grand River, while English (many of them Methodists) and Scots-Presbyterians settled to the east. A large number of Woolwich Township settlers were farmers and small trades workers. The village of Elmira eventually grew around the farmlands, with settlement by immigrants of a variety of professions, trades, and businesses. 

The German Company, originally formed for the purchase of the land in Waterloo Township, also bought a large area of forfeited land. They purchased 45,195 acres in the Township’s western portion in 1807. This German Company purchase was led by Augustus Jones (a senior government surveyor), and John and Jacob Erb of Waterloo Township. German Company land was surveyed by Jones into 130 lots of about 350 acres each. In 1821, William Crooks purchased the 7,000 acre area of land which Wallace had forfeited after the War of 1812. This area of land became known as Crooks Tract. Crooks divided the land and resold it in small parcels to incoming settlers, many of them from Scotland.

From the early 1830s, settlers began to spill into Woolwich Township. Communities were formed first nearest the Waterloo-Woolwich border and later in northern areas. The population of the township increased steadily. In 1841, its population was 1009; and by 1850, it had reached 3501. By 1891, including the population of Elmira, the Township reached a population of 5907. By the early twentieth century, a wide variety of communities existed throughout the whole of the Township.

The first known immigrant to have settled in Woolwich Township was an English military man named Captain Thomas Smith. Until the mid-1830s, little is known about him or his dealings in the area. However, he was a British Loyalist who arrived in the Township from Vermont State as early as 1807, squatting along the east bank of the Grand River on William Wallace’s property in the area of Winterbourne. Smith was the founding member of that community. He established a stage service there by the mid-1830s that ran to Berlin and Preston until about 1850.

Although the Township would continue to grow and develop into the twentieth century, especially the incorporated village of Elmira, in general its development was relatively marginal. Essentially, from the 1860s to the end of the century, the majority of communities in Woolwich Township including Winterbourne, Conestoga, and St. Jacobs had grown none or little at all. For the most part, they remained small trading centers for the surrounding farms. In fact, other than continual growth in Elmira, the population of Woolwich Township remained relatively stable until the middle of the twentieth century.

Above information from the Woolwich Township website.