Ferguson Falls and the Stumble Inn

Photo: “A History of Drummond Township”, by John Ebbs, 1999, p. 21.

Stumble Inn of Ferguson Falls

“It was a little shack very close to the old Mississippi, just across the bridge, coming down from the church; probably not room for more than twelve Irishmen at a time, if they could get along, and if that didn’t work, some would be out in yard ,or in the river.”

Thomas Joseph Stafford (1921-2018)

A view of the Stumble Inn from the Mississippi River

“The Stumble Inn was operated by Billy McCaffrey. He was a very, very, short man, with a curved back. His bar was located right beside the river, when you crossed the old bridge, across the Mississippi River, coming down from the Catholic church. I remember it around 1927 to early 1930s. The horses were stabled across the road in an open shed at Charles Hollinger’s, the auctioneer. We walked across the bridge up to church for mass. After mass the Catholic brethren would stop in at the Stumble Inn. You could get a shot of something for the trip home. There was also a lot of Poker played there, which was frowned on in the community. There were also lots of ghost stories told there.”

quote from 2012 by Thomas Stafford (1921-2018) 

Thomas Stafford, son of Thomas Patrick Stafford and Margaret Doyle Stafford

“There would be music at the Stumble Inn. There was always music where the Irish gathered. I remember Jimmy (Richards) playing the fiddle. I spent quite a few days at Richards’ visiting with your dad ,Tib (Tobias Stafford). Clara (Richards Carberry) would feed us cookies. Jimmy thought we were a pain in the ass, I think. Peter (Stafford) was a great fisherman of mud pouts from the old Mississippi. In Ferguson Falls they were all related, either before or after they arrived in Canada from Wexford.”

(quote from Thomas ‘Tom’ Stafford 1921-2018)

(James ‘Jimmy’ Richards was Dad’s uncle on his Mother’s side. Clara Richards, Dad’s aunt, was Jimmy’s sister. Clara Richards married Thomas ‘Tom’ Carberry, a descendant of one of the ‘Seven Irish Bachelors’ of Ferguson Falls. The Richards homestead was next door to the Stafford homestead on the 11th concession of Drummond Township. Dad’s parents – Anastasia ‘Stacy’ Richards married Michael Vincent ‘Vince’ Stafford – the boy next door) Peter Stafford was Dad’s brother) ‘Wexford’ refers to County Wexford, Ireland. Jimmy Richards played his fiddle at the Stumble Inn on a regular basis. His fiddle was passed down to Dad, then to me.)

Billy McCaffrey, owner of The Stumble Inn

William Henry ‘Billy’ McCaffrey, (1869-1940), was the son of Joseph McCaffrey, and Ellen McGarry McCaffrey. Billy’s ancestor, Thomas McCaffrey was the first settler and resident of the village of Ferguson Falls, arriving in 1815.

Billy’s mother, Ellen McGarry McCaffrey:

Ellen McGarry McCaffrey 1837-1917

Ellen McGarry McCaffrey and her husband, Joseph McCaffrey had ten children:

  1. Mary McCaffrey 1861-1944 – was a tailor
  2. Julia Ann McCaffrey 1863-1944
  3. Thomas McCaffrey 1866-1913. Thomas married Margaret Doyle and they lived on the McCaffrey homestead on the 8th concession of Drummond Township. Thomas died age 46 of tuberculosis
  4. Peter McCaffrey 1867-1895 – died age 28 of dropsy
  5. Wm. Billy McCaffrey 1868-1940 – saddler by trade, owned a hotel in Ferguson Falls, and later, owned the Stumble Inn
  6. Margaret McCaffrey 1874-1917 died age 43 of pernicious anemia
  7. Loretta McCaffrey 1872-1941 was a dressmaker
  8. Gertrude McCaffrey 1875-1918 died age 38 of pernicious anemia
  9. Josephine McCaffrey 1877-1931 trained as a nurse and worked in New York, died age 52 of cerebral hemorrhage
  10. Teresa McCaffrey 1879-1935, married Martin Sylvester Grace. Their children: Harold Francis Grace, Ursula Grace Kehoe Bent, Helen Grace Butterworth, Kathryn Grace Daley, and Reverend Sister Anna Gertrude.
Ellen McGarry McCaffrey, daughter of Peter McGarry, niece of pioneers Elizabeth McGarry Stafford and Tobias Stafford

After operating his successful and much-loved community gathering spot, the Stumble Inn, Billy passed away in 1940.

“The late Mr. McCaffrey was a man of sterling qualities, and possessed the good-will and esteem of all who knew him.”

Billy McCaffrey’s obituary from “The Perth Courier” Aug. 2, 1940, p.3
Billy’s and some of his siblings, St. Patrick’s cemetery, Ferguson Falls

Ferguson Falls

(sometimes written as Ferguson’s Falls, or Fergusons Falls, depending on the era)

Originally known as Milford, Fergusons Falls was renamed in honor of the early settler Captain Ferguson when a post office was established there. This was the closest village to the Stafford farm and was a source for supplies, postal services, blacksmith services, social activities, and later St. Patrick’s Church.

Thomas McCaffrey was the first settler coming in 1815. McCaffrey was a close friend of Tobias Stafford and Betsy (McGarry) Stafford. Thomas was one of the witnesses to their marriage ceremony in St. John’s Church in Perth. He also signed his name as witness to one of Tobias’ later land transactions, and was present at the baptisms of some of the Stafford children.

Other early Ferguson Falls residents were John and Patrick Quinn, Patrick and Martin Doyle, James Carberry, James Power and William Scanlon. Two Stafford girls married into the Quinn family. The Hollinger family was also among the first settlers. By 1857, Ferguson Falls was booming. John Doyle was the Innkeeper, James McCaffrey was listed in the business directory as a Wagon Maker, and John & Michael McCaffrey were the local Blacksmiths. John Stafford, Tobias Stafford and Elizabeth McGarry’s son, was the area Shoemaker, and would later open a shoe store in Almonte, then in Perth. There was also a saw-mill, and a grist mill owned by Robert Blair and a hotel owned by Charles Hollinger.

Some history of Ferguson Falls:

1884 Farmers’ and Business Directory
1904 Business Directory for Lanark County

1916 Farmers’ and Business Directory for Lanark County

A note on the local school:

“In 1894 Miss Mary Stafford taught, and then in 1901-1909 Miss Maggie Doyle of Drummond Twp (who later married Thomas Patrick Stafford).

In 1901 the teacher’s salary was $240.00 dollars a year. In 1905 it was $250.00. 1943-1946 Miss Mary Phelan of Lanark was the teacher. Her salary was $1000.00 a year and she had 9 pupils.”

(quote from Gail McFarlane, taken from the Tweedsmuir history of Ferguson Falls)

S.S. # 15 Drummond Township School, class of 1928-29, with our cousins, Thomas ‘Tom’ Stafford (1921-2018) , Patricia ‘Pat’ Stafford, and Nora Stafford, (children of Thomas Patrick Stafford and Margaret ‘Maggie’ Doyle Stafford) Original photo at the Lanark Museum.
“The Perth Courier”, August 10, 1934 part 1 of 3
“The Perth Courier”, August 10, 1934 part 2 of 3
“The Perth Courier”, August 10, 1934 part 3 of 3
“The Perth Courier” Sept. 13, 1962, p.3
“The Perth Courier” Sept. 13, 1962, p.3
“The Perth Courier” Sept. 13, 1962
James ‘Jimmy’ Phelan (pronounced Whelan) Local lore says his lost love wanders in Ferguson Falls, along the Mississippi River at night, searching for Jimmy. The Phelan farm backed directly onto the Stafford homestead on the 11th concession of Drummond Township. Tim Doyle of Lanark village is said to have written the song.

Ballad of Jimmy Whelan

All alone as I strayed by the banks of the river
Watching the moonbeams as evening drew nigh
All alone as I rambled, I spied a fair damsel
Weeping and wailing with many a sigh.

Weeping for one who is now lying lowly
Mourning for one who no mortal can save
As the foaming dark water flow gently about him
Onward they speed over young Jimmy’s grave.

She cries, “Oh, my darling, please come to me quickly
And give me fond kisses that oft-times you gave
You promised to meet me this evening, my darling
So now, lovely Jimmy, arise from your grave.”

Slowly he rose from the dark, stormy waters
A vision of beauty more fair than the sun
Saying “I have returned from the regions of glory
To be in your dear loving arms once again.”

“Oh, Jimmy, why can’t you tarry here with me
Not leave me alone, so distracted in pain.”
“Since death is the dagger that’s cut us asunder
Wide is the gulf, love, between you and I.”

“One fond embrace, love, and then I must leave you
One loving farewell, and then we must part.”
Cold were the arms that encircled about her
Cold was the body she pressed to her heart.

Slowly he rose from the banks of the river
Up to the heavens he then seemed to go
Leaving this fair maiden, weeping and mourning
Alone on the banks of the river below.

(local Irish legends told of the ‘gates of glass’, where one could pass between this world and the next, through the water of a lake or river, at dusk)

“The Perth Courier” continued from article above
“Perth Courier” article – continued
“Perth Courier” article continued
“The Perth Courier” – article continued
“The Perth Courier” – article continued
“The Perth Courier”, Sept. 13, 1962, p3, end of article

A Return to Our Roots in 2012

Archives Lanark celebrated their 10th Anniversary in October of 2012, at the Ferguson’s Falls Community Hall.  There were local dignitaries from Drummond Township, and Doug Bell made a presentation of a 200 year old artifact, – an original settler’s trunk from pioneer Sutton Frizzell, and his land documents that were found in the trunk. 

Sutton Frizell’s trunks presented by Doug Bell to Archives Lanark
Sutton Frizell, one of the first elected Councillors in Drummond Township in 1850, along with Thomas McCaffrey, Murdock McDonald, Patrick Dowdall, and John Thompson

There were also displays showing some highlights of the work that the Archives has done, and the variety of resources available for local researchers. 

Ferguson Falls Community Hall, Oct. 12, 2012
Archives Lanark 10th Anniversary – Arlene Stafford-Wilson at the book-signing table
Archives Lanark 10th anniversary 2012 – entertainment by ‘Memory Lane’, Mark Labelle on guitar on far left, Leo Scissions on guitar, with Heather Johnston on fiddle, and Jack Greer on banjo. (thanks to Stacey Horne, Arlene Quinn, and others who provided the names of the band members)
Archives Lanark 10th anniversary – with Elaine Morrow, from DeWitt’s Corners

Archives Lanark 10th anniversary 2012, with Lanark County Genealogical Society members,
Arlene Stafford-Wilson (left) and Irene Spence (rt)
Archives Lanark 10th Anniversary in 2012, with Lanark County Genealogical Society President Janet Dowdall (left) , and LCGS member, Arlene Stafford-Wilson
Arlene Stafford-Wilson at the Authors Corner, Ferguson Falls Community Hall, October 2012

Autumn in Ferguson Falls

quote from “Lanark County Connections: Memories Among the Maples”

Picturesque Ferguson Falls, along the Mississippi River

Stafford family Sunday drives in the 1960s and 1970s began on the Third Line of Bathurst, often involved detours though Balderson and Lanark village, but they always seemed to end up at Ferguson Falls. Our father was born and raised on the 11th concession of Drummond Township, on the ancestral Stafford farm, settled by pioneer, Tobias Stafford in 1816. Our ancestor spent his first year on what became known as Stafford Island on the Mississippi River before building a home.

In the earliest days of the settlement, priests would travel to these small communities, and Sunday mass would be held in someone’s home. Once St. John’s Church in Perth was built, the pioneers travelled by horse and buggy, or horse and cutter, to attend services, until 1856, when St. Patrick’s Church was established, along the river.

St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church, and my brother, Roger Stafford, in Ferguson Falls

…And so, we returned again and again to Ferguson Falls on our Sunday drives; to the pretty village in Drummond Township. We listened to our father’s accounts of the glory days of the Prestonvale ball team, and the long walks to school in snowstorms. We always stopped at St. Patrick’s church, and walked up and down through the rows of the graves of our ancestors. Dad’s parents were buried there, and his grandparents, and the oldest ones, who had come from Ireland. The old families were all connected by marriage – Quinn, McKittrick, Richards, Carberry, Carroll, Ryan, McCaffrey, and the rest; and he pointed to the headstones as we walked through the rows.

There were always stories of the infamous Stumble Inn, across the bridge from the church, and the card-games, and the drinking, and the fighting. We heard about Billy McCaffrey and how he sold whiskey at all hours of the day and night from his modest establishment. We learned of the Hollinger family and the generations of local auctioneers, and their busy hotel that catered to loggers. The loggers danced in their spiked boots and old Charlie Hollinger had to replace the floors once a year. We heard about the McEwen family and visited their popular maple shack in the spring. We heard the local names over and over: Blair, McFarlane, Horricks, Rathwell, Cullen and Kehoe.

We learned that the Irish Roman Catholics were a devoted bunch, loyal to their church, but also possessed an entirely different belief system that included ghosts and fairies, and the little people. We heard about Jimmy Whalen, a neighbour to the Stafford family, and how his lover could still be seen late at night walking along the banks of the Mississippi River, searching for her long lost Jimmy.  We listened to stories about the lumber wars in the old days between the McLaren and Caldwell families, and the yearly cattle drives to Carleton Place.

The Sunday drive always ended the same way, with a visit to Lloyd and Evelyn Dickenson’s store for an ice cream cone and a bottle of Pure Spring pop.  Dad and Lloyd talked about the old days, and walked together along the shore, near the cottages, recounting tales of catching bullfrogs, and fishing in the river.

I miss our drives to Ferguson Falls, and stopping for a bag of curd at the Balderson Cheese Factory along the way, visiting the graves of our ancestors, walking where they walked, and hearing the stories of the good old days.  Dad, and his cousin Tom are gone now, but their stories live on. I often wonder if they told the same stories again and again so that we would remember; remember the place where the ancestors settled, remember the customs and legends from the old country, remember so that we could tell their stories, of this special place, called Ferguson Falls.

The old families of Ferguson Falls: Badour, Bennett, Blair, Byrne, Byrnes, Carberry, Closs, Craig, Cooke, Cullen, Cunningham, Cuthbertson, Dickenson,  Donnelly, Doroway, Doyle, Ebbs, Ferguson, Finlayson, Forrest, Giles, Gommersall, Grey, Haley, Harrington, Hartney, Hicks, Hickey, Hogan, Hollinger, Horricks, Ireton, Keefe, Kehoe, Kenny, Little, McCaffrey, McEwen, McFarlane, McGarry, McIntyre, McIlquham, McLaughlin, McLenaghan, McNaughton, Montgomery, Moran, Moulton, Murphy, Murray, Nagel, Neville, O’Connor, O’Keefe, O’Sullivan, Phelan, Poole, Power, Price, Quinn, Rathwell, Robinson, Rothwell, Richards, Ruttle, Ryan, Scanlon, Spence, Stafford, Sullivan, Traill, Tullis.

For more information on Ferguson Falls and St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church: https://arlenestaffordwilson.wordpress.com/2012/07/06/st-patricks-church-fergusons-falls-lanark-county/

For Thomas Stafford’s account of the “Cattle Drives in Ferguson Falls” in “Lanark County Chronicle: Double Back to the Third Line”

For the legend of Jimmy Whelan, – “The Ghost of Ferguson Falls” – “Lanark County Calling: All Roads Lead Home”

The story of “The Stumble Inn of Ferguson Falls”, from the book “Lanark County Collection”

Books available at:

The Book Nook in Perth, Ontario


Spark Books in Perth, Ontario


Mill Street Books in Almonte, Ontario


Arlene Stafford-Wilson

For more information about the author and the books:


3 comments on “Ferguson Falls and the Stumble Inn

  1. Robert Edgar Duford says:

    Great stuff. Are there any shots of the old bridge and people fishing and shooting the rapids. Also does anyone know who owns or shots of Pine hill on the other side of the river. The Hollingers owned that side and Loyd Dickenson owned many cottages and a store on this side. Great memories in the 50’s and 60’s

  2. Dianne (Crosbie)White says:

    I am going to get these two books. I need a good read in these COVID times.

  3. Perry Keitel says:

    very interesting history. My sister lives on the 10th line

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