Some sixteen miles northwest of Kingston, on the banks of the Napanee River, is the town of Yarker, nestled in a wooded valley. The site of the village was part of a 1000 acre parcel granted to Governor John Graves Simcoe in 1796. The land was probably chosen at least in part because of its excellent water power potential. The lovely waterfall was twenty-six feet in height before logging drives and deforestation caused its decline to a mere fourteen feet by the early twentieth century.

As was the case with many of the grants to the aristocracy, nothing was done with the land. His heirs sold the property in 1840 to Sydney Warner, a merchant from nearby Wilton. He immediately divided and sold the property, the part north of the river to George Miller and the southern part to David Vader. (We presume he was no relation to Darth).

Vader erected a sawmill and the place became known as Vader’s Mills. Miller, meanwhile, erected grist and carding mills on his property, and the village began to grow. Garrett and Anthony Miller built a tannery, and Joseph Connoly built a foundry on the south bank to manufacture ploughs.

In 1851, John A. Shibley opened the first store in the village, which by then had become known as Simcoe Falls (to the great relief of George Lucas). E. W. Benjamin moved to the town and by 1856 was operating a hub and wheel factory in partnership with Connoly. This factory became noted throughout Ontario for its light buggy wheels. By the 1890's, the Benjamin Manufacturing Company employed 60 workers who worked an 11 hour day for up to $1.75. One of its largest customers was the McLaughlin Carriage Company of Oshawa, which went on to make automobiles before being bought by General Motors.

The village received a Post Office in 1859, with instructions that the name was to be changed as another Ontario town was called Simcoe. Villagers sent in a list of possible names, Peking being the most popular, followed by the somewhat less popular Rockburg. Yarker was seventh or eighth, but it received the government’s sanction for reasons that were never explained. The name belonged to two Sydenham mill owners, James and George Yarker, who donated a bell to the village school upon the adoption of their name.

At the turn of the century, Yarker was flourishing with a population of 600 and three different trains stopping frequently, with rail links from Tweed, Napanee, Tamworth, Deseronto and Sydenham.

John Wright built a furniture store where the main street crosses the river in 1904. The distinctive belvedere, or balcony, became a local landmark and is prominently featured in photographs of Yarker’s main street. The building is lovingly preserved by its current owner, Eric DePoe, who operates an antique store and tea room on the premises.

Merchants Bank of Canada opened a branch in Yarker in 1905. By 1913 the village boasted two electric light plants, two grocery stores, two general stores, two blacksmith shops, a hotel, a jewelry store, a hardware and tin shop, a barber shop, a livery, and a community hall. It soon added its own telephone company.

Unfortunately, this prosperity was short-lived. The Benjamin Manufacturing company converted to making boxes, then burned down in 1928. Traffic declined on the rail lines, and with the loss of the major employer, the population began to shrink. Today many residents work in Kingston, or Napanee.

The Wright family continued to operate their furniture store until 1988.

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