Portland cement, now a staple in today’s building industry, first hit the markets with a bang in the late 1800s. Composed of marl and clay dredged up from the bottom of the lakes, it was much harder and more durable than the old lime variety.
The product was unquestionably far superior to its predecessor. In short, it was an instant success and immediately captured worldwide attention. Not surprisingly, everyone wanted to jump on to the bandwagon. As a result, it seemed like a natural transition for established builders to move into the brick and mortar trade.
In 1889, the Rathbun Lumber Company built a huge Portland cement plant and company town. At that time, the Rathuns were a local success story, besides being a major employer. In addition to their extensive lumber holdings, they also owned the Bay of Quinte Railway and Navigation Company. The cement plant was located on the west side of the present day village of Marlbank. Demand was fierce and the plant was wildly successful, so much so, that they enlarged it in 1903. As was common in the early 20th century, most of the workers lived right on site. To that end, the company provided both worker houses and boarding homes.
The Marlbank plant was an early victim of two 20th century phenomena, namely downsizing and the mega merger. By then the Rathbuns were in serious financial trouble. In 1909 the Canada Portland Cement Company, after quietly taking over most of the cement industry in Ontario, not surprisingly purchased the Rathbun plant. They immediately consolidated operations, shut down the plant and abandoned the area.
Although, the town of Marlbank itself is not a ghost town, the extensive ruins just outside the town have a ghostly appearance. Comprised of buildings, shells, and silos, they remain just as the company left them over 100 ago when they abandoned the site. A young forest is slowly growing around them.
Today only three original structures remain; an office, one home and a bunkhouse. The structures sit on privately owned land, which contain several newer and older buildings. You require permission to enter the former townsite.