The town can be accessed by way of the former Highway 16 and Leeds and Grenville Road 43, the former Highway 43, which links Perth and former Highway 38. It is now accessed by the Veterans Memorial Highway, Highway 416, which was completed in 1999, with an interchange in the east on the old road to Alexandria.
Kemptville is the largest community in North Grenville, holding about 27% of North Grenville's population. Four elementary schools are located in the two - Oxford-on-Rideau Public School, Holy Cross Catholic School, Kemptville Public School and South Branch Elementary School -, two high schools - St. Michael Catholic High School and North Grenville District High School -, three parks, and two hotels. The residential area is generally located in the south and east parts of the town. The main streets are Rideau, Prescott, Clothier and Van Buren streets. A creek named Kemptville Creek divides Kemptville in the southeast, where the least part of Kemptville is found. The creek begins southwest of Kemptville and empties 4 km NE into the Rideau River. Much of Kemptville is forested, especially east and north of the community. Farmland covers the rest of the area, especially the west and the southern part of the community, with some exceptions. There are some homes lying next to the farmland.
The small town of Kemptville began to emerge from the forest in the township of Oxford when Lyman Clothier, a resident of New England, bought 100 acres of land from a John Boyce, for the price of a yoke of oxen, and a fusee (i.e. here, a flintlock rifle). Mr. Clothier had lived in the general area since 1804 or 1805, and in 1812 he made the afore-mentioned transaction with Mr. Boyce, to establish a lumber mill. Mr. Clothier began construction of a saw mill with the assistance of his 4 sons, and they built two dwellings in what is now present-day Kemptville. This mill was extremely important for the settling of the community, as in order to construct a crude dwelling, lumber was required - and so, the mill began to facilitate the construction of dwellings for settlers all over Oxford Township.
The village location chosen by Mr. Clothier was a location that became a point on the Ottawa - Prescott road. As a result, and as a direct consequence of the many travellers passing through the settlement, one of Mr. Clothier's sons, Asa, made a habit of opening his home to these travellers as a resting place and as a meeting place. Thus, the "Clothier's Hotel" was born. The next major industry to be established was that of a grist mill in 1821, when the Clothiers placed some grinding stones in the lower part of their saw mill. As a result of this, rather than taking their grain to a site on the St. Lawrence River, which would be a daunting hike in the best of conditions, or grinding the grain in an extremely ineffective and crude fashion, the settlers could now take it to this grist mill. After this was established, a blacksmith's shop was established, run also by the Clothiers. A schoolhouse was established in 1823, which served the surrounding communities for many years. The first physician arrived in the community the year after the school was established.
The small village was fast expanding - and the residents of the region were beginning to think about officially giving a dignified name to the location in which they lived. Initially, the community was known as "The Branch", and later, for obvious reasons, "Clothier's Mill". So, during a public meeting at this time, the name "Kemptville" was suggested, to honour Sir James Kempt, the Governor General of Upper Canada in 1828 who was said to have camped on the banks of the Rideau River near the settlement. The name was adopted in the late 1820s and the first map with the name "Kemptville" was produced in 1830.
A weekly newspaper is published in Kemptville, called the Kemptville Advance, and has been published since 1855. The Kemptville Advance celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2005.
Oxford-On-Rideau was first surveyed in 1791, incorporated in 1850. It includes the following communities: Acton's Corners, Bedell (Kempton), Bishop's Mills, Beckett's Landing, Burritt's Rapids, Christies Corners, East Oxford, Kemptville (inc. 1857), Millar's Corners, Newmanville, Oxford Mills, Oxford Station, Patterson's Corners, Swan Station. This is the first known complete survey of this and the surrounding area by the government of England.
The original owner of the land encompassing Kemptville was John Boyce. Lyman Clothier was the man who purchased 100 acres from Mr. Boyce for "a yoke of oxen and a fusee" which in today's terms would mean a pair of oxen and a flintlock rifle (approximate cost at that time was $14.00). Mr. Clothier would make the greatest impact for growth in the area by setting up a saw mill and later a grist mill.
Lyman Clothier was born in 1762 in Connecticut and moved to Canada around 1804-05 even though his family was still living in upstate New York. Aroun 1814 the purchase of the land around Kemptville went through and the chore of building a dam to harness the power of the Kemptville Creek (actual name was changed to the South Branch of the Rideau River) began so that a saw mill could be built. The saw mill was opened around 1815 and followed by a grist mill in 1817; these two factors allowed the area to expand and grow as people didn't have to travel out of the area to get lumber and have their grain milled.
In 1819, Asa Clothier (Lyman's son) opened the first hotel in the area which soon became a welcome stop on the highway between Ottawa and Prescott. The first schoolhouse was built in 1820 and would serve for 23 years until Anthony House was built and opened in 1843-4.
The name Kemptville was adopted in 1829 as a tribute to Sir James Kempt who was the Governor of British North America and was appointed to review changes to the Rideau Canal and toured this area in 1828. It is rumoured that he did spend and overnight in this area. Before the name change this area was known as The Branch and Clothier Mills after the mill that was located in the little town. Population of Kemptville around 1829 was 125 people and was substantial considering that the population 14 years earlier was just one family: the Clothiers.
By 1830 Kemptville had all the amenities that a rural farming community needed in Ontario and was soon a centre for the whole area to shop and trade goods. There was a school, a doctor, two blacksmiths, a general store, a wagon shop, and a hotel.
Lyman Clothier Sr. died in 1839 at the age of 77. He fathered 15 children and founded this great "little" town. He was buried at St. James Anglican Church on Clothier Street almost opposite the house that his son, Lyman Jr. built in 1842.
Born in Scotland 1765 and died in London 1854.
Kempt was a career soldier who was chosen to head up a committee of military engineers appointed in 1827 to look into proposed changes for the Rideau Canal. Kempt toured the Rideau in the spring of 1828, and quite possibly did camp near the town of Kemptville, making recommendations in June, 1828 that the lock side be increased from 108 x 20 to 13x 33.
He was appointed Governor of British North America in 1828 and held the post for only two years. He was well liked and respected throughout Canada.
From 1830 to 1857 Kemptville would see expansion in its business base that would be rivaled by any growing small community in Canada. Already established were the basics required to draw people to the area to trade and barter, but it was the potential for success in this area that would lure new businesses to set up shop and move here with their families.
This is a listing of the businesses that we know existed in Kemptville at this time though there are doubtless more that were within the vicinity. The list is only as accurate as records can establish. It is interesting to note most establishments were located north of the Kemptville Creek and that the southern half was referred to as "across the river" or "that hole in the woods." In fact, Asa Street was the last real street in Kemptville, as beyond that was pure pasture and farmland.
As you can well imagine, with the arrival of steamships at Beckett's Landing and Kemptville itself, trade routes allowed the town to flourish and prosper. It would do so even more when in 1854 the first train would arrive linking Kemptville with Ottawa, Prescott, and the world.
Between 1830 and 1857 the following businesses were established in Kemptville:
2 saw mills
3 grain mills
4 carriage makers
2 brewers/distillers (at least)
3 carding mills
1 private banker
2 furniture makers
2 saddle/harness makers
3 cabinet makers and furniture dealers
3 doctors (1 specialized in natural remedies)
3 tanners/harness makers/shoemakers
3 barrel makers
7 dry goods merchants
Three churches with actual buildings were located within Kemptville before 1850. Some have been remodeled and some completely rebuilt and a few have even moved from their original location. Churches were perhaps as important in rural Canada in those days as having a general store and a hotel in the community since most people of the day did attend the church of their faith. Today most of the churches are still around with many more choices than back in the early 1800s yet they are still important when reviewing the history of the area and even the architecture.
The Anglican church on Clothier Street West and Harriet Street is the earliest in the area opened in 1829 and updated in the late 1870s. The Methodist church, was located at Clothier and Lydia street (the cemetery is one of the few reminders of the old church and can still be seen at the entrance to Curray Park). Holy Cross Catholic church was first erected in mid 1833 consisting of a small stone structure, enough to allow for services until the new church would be built some 56 years later. It too is located on Clothier Street West with quarters built next door to house the priests and visiting guests.
In 1847 the Baptist church was built uniting two congregations: Kemptville and Pelton's Corners. In 1851 the Presbyterian church was built on Prescott Street after being housed in many different locations in and outside of Kemptville. Many churches are within the area yet at the same time they were all considered part of the Kemptville area drawing from the townspeople and the surrounding countryside.
The first railroad in the history of Ottawa was started in 1850 with the forming of the Bytown and Prescott Railway Corporation which would build and run the rail line between the two towns. It would take over four years to reach Kemptville but would play an important role in unifying the soon to be Nation's Capital with the rest of Upper Canada and the United States. By August 9th, 1854, the track has reached Kemptville from Prescott and the first regular service started in the week of Christmas that same year. Return trip to and from Ottawa (or Prescott) was $2.00. The opening of this line was one reason as to the formation of the Village of Kemptville as the township of Oxford-On-Rideau had given money for the building of this line and the people of the village thought they might escape their portion of the financial commitment. They also wanted more control over political and social matters believing that their population was enough to warrant the granting of the title "Village." Three years after the arrival of the railroad, they would get the distinction "village" but would retain their financial obligation - the days of moving freight and people by ship were numbered.