Tara Ontario's Mill Started the Village Economy 

Tara Ontario's mill started the village economy and with the entrepreneurial and inventive genius of one man the community prospered!


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One of the first commercial ventures to appear throughout Grey and Bruce counties was a mill. Around these mills, communities grew. The prosperity and size of the community often was a direct reflection on the abundance of power to run the mill. 

In Tara, a mill was founded in 1851 by John and James Tobey. In later years, under different ownership, the Tara mill would be the site of important innovations. 

The man behind the innovations at the Tara mill was W.A. Gerolamy, who arrived in Tara in the 1850s from Prince Edward County with his family. His father, George Gerolamy, opened a small fanning mill shop in Tara. In 1857, young Gerolamy purchased the mill from the Tobey brothers. 

Gerolamy quickly proved his genius as an inventor. To improve the family’s fanning mill operation, he invented and patented a perforated zinc sieve process that led the Tara fanning mill to become one of the best in the county. 

His interest in inventing and the success of the zinc sieve process spurred Gerolamy on to new heights. He developed his original shop into a foundry. During the next few years he expanded this operation to include the manufacture of more than 50 different farm implements. By 1900, the Gerolamy company catalogue listed fanning mills, a dozen different models of plows, hay loaders, side delivery rakes, straw and root cutters, crushers, speeding jacks, seeders and many other implements. 

What made Gerolamy's implements so popular were the innovations that he added to existing models. His inventive genius led to international recognition. On three occasions, at international expositions in Chicago, Paris and Philadelphia, Gerolamy’s inventions were awarded gold medals. Gerolamy was more than an inventor. He was also very adept at marketing. Not only were his catalogues intricate in their description of products, they were produced in large numbers to reach markets far beyond the Grey and Bruce region. As well he created a phenomenon called "general delivery days", a version of which would decades later become a standard in the automobile industry for promoting new car models. 

General delivery day was held each spring. At this event, buyers from regions far beyond Tara descended upon the small community. They were feted at a dinner hosted by Gerolamy and later they attended a parade featuring products produced by the company. As the entourage wended its way from the factory through town the crowd was serenaded by the citizens' band. 

Gerolamy was also responsible for another well-known Tara commercial institution. A few years after he bought the fanning mill in 1857, he purchased the general store from John Tobey. He changed its name to the Golden Lion. Like the wide success of Gerolamy’s other interests, The Golden Lion achieved recognition as a progressive shopping centre far beyond its immediate neighbourhood. 

With his death, the Gerolamy "empire" in Tara ceased operations in 1914. 

The information used in this article came from files held in the Grey County Archives.

A version of this article originally appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times on October 5, 2001

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