If you look upstream from the bridge spanning the Gaspereau River in White Rock, you can see the area once occupied by Benjamin’s grist and feed mill. The late Raleigh Eagles recalled many details about the mill when I interviewed him for this newspaper in the early 70s. I kept the notes of the interview and they are incorporated in the following two-part story on the mill.
During the latter part of the 19th century, White Rock was the site of a bustling enterprise known as the S. P. Benjamin Grist and Feed Mill. The mill was built along the banks of the Gaspereau River in 1885 and operated for 15 years.
Little trace remains of the mill today. The site where the mill sprawled along the Gaspereau River just above the highway bridge has filled in over the years and there are few signs to indicate that a major industry once operated there. Mr. Eagles recalls that for a decade or so after the mill closed one or two small buildings remained to mark the site but these were swept away during a spring flood.
While time has erased most traces of the Benjamin mill, many long-time residents of the area remember it well. Eagles, who was 80 when I interviewed him, recalls walking past the mill when he was a schoolboy in White Rock. His father and brother worked in the mill.
Bert Young, New Minas, recalls that when he started school at White Rock in 1917, parts of the dam and the mill’s cribwork were still visible. Young said that two bridges spanned the Gaspereau at the mill site when he was a schoolboy. Mr. Young recently completed a book about his early days in White Rock – as yet unpublished – and while he says it’s “mostly reminiscing,” the Benjamin mill is mentioned.
When I interviewed Raleigh Eagles he showed me two photographs which had been in his possession for over 50 years. One was of the mill, an imposing array of buildings along the south bank of the Gaspereau. The second photograph, a group shot, indicates from a head count that at least 50 men were employed at the mill when the picture was taken. While there’s no way today of determining how accurate this figure is, there’s no doubt that the mill was an important industry at the time. Eagles told me that as well as offering year around employment, the mill drew heavily on the countryside for supplies. Men and draft animals had to be fed and the lumberjacks supplied with the tools of their trade. “As a result, there was a flourishing trade in the area around the mill,” Eagles said.
According to Eagles, the mill was “nearly a self-contained community.” At the top of the hill was a boardinghouse with a full-time cook – where the cook used a barrel of flour a day making bread for the lumberjacks, Eagles recalls. Tucked into the bank at the bottom of the hill was the company store which supplied tobacco, clothing, and other basics. Bert Young tells me the store was located in the parking area just over the bridge looking south while the boardinghouse was on the old Messom property.
Also on the site was a blacksmith shop. In Eagles’ photo, this is shown snuggled up against the bridge with adjacent stables for horses and oxen. Above the stables stood the grist and lumber mills, the latter standing on the right bank of the river looking upstream. (Continued next week.)