St. Marys, A Brief History
The first settlers arrived in St. Marys in the early 1840s, attracted by the area’s natural resources. At the new town site, the Thames River cascaded over a series of limestone ledges, providing the power to run the first pioneer mills and giving the community an early nickname: Little Falls.
In the riverbed and along the banks, limestone was close to the surface and could be quarried for building materials. Many 19th century limestone structures survive: churches, commercial blocks, and private homes. They have given St. Marys its current nickname: Stonetown.
The coming of the Grand Trunk Railway in the late 1850s spurred growth and soon St. Marys became a centre for milling, grain-trading and the manufacture of agriculture-related products. The railway connected the town to the rest of the world and framed the local landscape with its two large trestle bridges on limestone pillars across the waterways.
In the late 1800s as the town prospered, social, educational and cultural facilities expanded. The established churches built beautiful new places of worship, their steeples visible for miles around the countryside. The Opera House opened in 1880. A new Town Hall was built in 1891 and a beautiful Carnegie Library in 1904.
St. Marys today retains its 19th century flavour while offering all the attractions of a modern and friendly small town. In the downtown area, the streets are flanked with century-old buildings. Although the old mills have vanished, a community walkway follows the old millrace along the river. Limestone is no longer quarried for building blocks but it is still an essential to production at the St. Marys Cement Company, a major local industry. A limestone quarry abandoned in 1930 is now a municipal swimming facility.
St. Marys residents are proud of their community’s heritage and look confidently to the future.