Settlement in the Preston area began in the early 1800s. Like Hespeler and Blair, the area’s first settlers were German-speaking Mennonites from Pennsylvania. One of the early settlers was John Erb in 1805. He built a sawmill in 1806 and a gristmill in 1807. The gristmill became the Dover Flour Mill, which is considered the oldest continuously operating business in Waterloo Region.
Mr. Erb’s mills were known locally as Cambridge Mills. It wasn’t until after his death, though, that a town started to develop. During his lifetime, Erb refused to sell any of his 7500 acres for commercial development, but after his death in 1832 his lands south of the Speed River were surveyed, divided into lots, and sold.
The surveyor responsible for this William Scollick, who came from Preston, Lancashire, England. It is said that the shape of the land reminded him of his English hometown, and so he called it Preston.
The new lots for sale attracted tradesmen, craftsmen, and artisans to the area. Many of these new immigrants were Germans, who felt at home in the already German-speaking community. Preston also had a shortage of skilled labour. Between 1836 and 1855, the population grew from 250 to 1600 people.
During the mid-1800s, Preston became well known for the mineral springs in the area, which were discovered on Erb lands by accident in 1837. Although the springs weren’t heated like some European spas, Preston’s mineral springs were marketed as a treatment or a cure for a variety of illnesses and conditions. The traffic brought into town by the springs established 3 major hotels in the area.
Although the tourist trade was booming, Preston’s local population began to dwindle between 1861 and 1871, and by 1881 had only rose again slightly. The arrival of the electric railway systems in 1894 helped renew Preston’s growth again, although at a slower pace than in the 1830s to 1850s. In 1900, the population finally reached 2000 and beyond, and over the next few decades Preston grew toward the borders of nearby Galt and Hespeler. In the 1960s, along with the creation of the Regional Municipality of Waterloo, plans were forming to create the City of Cambridge. On January 1, 1973, Preston joined with Galt, Hespeler, and Blair.