Settlers were attracted to the area by the farmland, and creeks for water mills, first (including one still standing, now called Vanstone's Mill) at Bowmanville (originally Barber) Creek, at the present-day intersection of King and Scugog Streets, from which businesses and housing spread east, and later on Soper Creek (including another mill still standing but now the municipality's Visual Arts Centre).
The lands which would later become Bowmanville were first purchased by John Burk, who later sold it to Lewis Lewis. Lewis opened the first store in what was then called Darlington Mills. The store was purchased in about 1824 by Charles Bowman (for whom the town was eventually named) who then established the first post office. Its first postmaster, Robert Fairbairn, ran the post office from 1828 to 1857.
The success of the Vanstone Mill, fueled by the machinery of the Crown's land grant program, led to the rapid expansion of the Bowmanville settlement in the early years of the 19th century. Under the generous yet discriminate eyes of wealthy local merchants such as John Simpson and Charles Bowman, small properties would often be sold to promote settlement and small business. The town soon developed a balanced economy; all the while gradually establishing itself as a moderate player in shipping, rail transport, metal works and common minor business (including tanneries, liveries, stables and everyday mercantile commodity exchange).
By the time of Confederation, Bowmanville was a vital, prosperous and growing town, home to a largely Scots-Presbyterian community with all manner of farmers, working, and professional class making the town their home. With local economic stability and accessible and abundant land available for the construction of housing, the town soon built several new churches of various denominations.
At present, St. John's Anglican Church. St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, St. Paul's United Church and the impressively ornate Trinity United Church (site of an old Auld Kirk church) still serve the community. All of these edifices, appropriately, lie on or are in close proximity to present-day Church Street.
Local business organized and modernized in the 20th century, with the Dominion Organ and Piano factory (owned by J W Alexander), the Specialty Paper Company, the Bowmanville Foundry, and the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company (1910) all providing steady work for Bowmanville's ever-growing working populations. Goodyear even went so far as to provide affordable housing for its employees, and present-day Carlisle Avenue (built by its president, W C Carlisle, in the 1910s) still stands as one of Ontario's best preserved examples of industrial housing.
As the town grew and prospered, so arrived Bowmanville's grand era of architectural building and refinement. Many excellently maintained specimens of Italianate, Gothic Revival, Colonial Brick and Queen Anne architecture remain in Bowmanville's older central neighborhoods. Much of Bowmanville's residential and commercial architectural heritage was either lost or threatened by demolition and modern development from 1950 to 1980, but a 25-year renaissance in appreciation and awareness (led largely by local historians) helped to preserve the precious remnants of days gone by.
The primary source for basic documents (vital statistics, land records, wills) for people who lived in the Province of Ontario is the Archives of Ontario, 134 Ian Macdonald Blvd, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M7A 2C5.
Civil registration did not begin in the province until 1869. Before then there may be church records of baptisms and burials. For the most part these are still held by the denomination who recorded them. Copies of marriage records made pre-1869 had to be sent by individual clergymen to the registrar of the county in which the marriage took place. These marriage records are available through Ontario Archives, on micorfilm through LDS libraries, and on paid and unpaid websites, but because they were copied at the registrars' offices, they cannot be considered a primary source.
Vital Records after 1869
Birth, marriage and death registrations are not open to the public until a specific number of years after the event occurred. Births to 1915 are now available [October 2014]; dates for marriages and deaths are later. Birth and death registration was not universally carried out in the early years after its adoption. Deaths were more apt to be reported than births for several years. The more rural the area, the less likely it would be that these happenings were reported to the authorities.
Land Records and Wills
Information on how to access land records and wills is best sought on the Archives of Ontario website. An ancestor's land holding might be found on Canadian County Atlas Digital Project if he was in occupancy circa 1878.
Association for the Preservation of Ontario Land Registry Office Documents (APOLROD). A list of Land Registry Offices for all Counties of Ontario.
The original censuses are in the hands of Library and Archives Canada, known to Canadians as "LAC". Copies of original microfilms are online at the LAC website for all censuses up to 1911. Each census database is preceded with an explanation of the geographical area covered, the amount of material retained (some census division material has been lost), the questions on the census form, and whether there is a name index. Census divisions were redrawn as the population increased and more land was inhabited. The 1921 census is only available through Ancestry.ca, but it is free-to-view.
E-books and Books
Some websites with more local information on Durham County