(Built on the banks of the Gaspereau River above the White Rock bridge, the S.P. Benjamin grist and lumber mill began operations in 1885. The late Raleigh Eagles reminisced about the mill when I interviewed him years ago. Part two also includes reflections by Bert young, New Minas, who has written a book about his early days in White Rock.)
The areas along the Gaspereau River and around Gaspereau Lake were the main sources of lumber for the Benjamin mill. S. P. Benjamin may have controlled thousands of acres of woodland when the mill was operating but it appears he wasn’t sure how much he actually owned. Raleigh Eagles remembers a story making the rounds when Benjamin sold his holdings to the Nova Scotia Light and Power Company. “Everyone was saying that when Benjamin sold out, the best he could do was estimate the number of acres he owned,” Eagle said.
Eagles also remembered the log drives down the Gaspereau River in the spring when the mill operated night and day. He told me about the teams of horses and oxen that hauled freshly milled logs through the Deep Hollow Road to Port Mills, “where they were loaded on schooners and shipped around the world.”
The haul through Deep Hollow, the most direct route to Port Williams, was made over a difficult and occasionally treacherous road. Before it was paved the road through the hollow was swampy and often had to be corduroyed – reinforced by laying poles crosswise – before horse and ox teams could traverse it. “At times even this didn’t help,” Eagles recalled, “and teams had to double up just to get through.”
Eagles said that ten teams of horses and “seven or eight yoke of oxen” were used by the mill at the peak of operations. Each team and yoke were expected to make two trips daily to Port Williams, a task that often took from dawn to dusk. These hauls, no more than one trip a day according to some, may have been made to Canning or Wolfville rather than Port Williams. There is some question whether lumber was being shipped out of Port Williams when Benjamin’s mill was in operation.
Lumber was hauled in what Eagles said the lumberjacks called “Dutch wagons,” so called perhaps because they were made on the South Shore. Eagles’ brother, Leslie, was a teamster with the mill and he often talked about the rigors of the daily hauls. The teamsters occasionally competed to see who could haul the largest loads. In one run, Leslie hauled 4,000 feet of finished lumber, a record that stood for years.
Dictated perhaps by a dwindling timber supply, S. P. Benjamin closed his mill after less than two decades of operation. In 1900 the mill machinery was dismantled and moved to Falmouth, a move Raleigh Eagles remembered as being unpopular at the time. “Those weren’t easy times,” he said, “and more than one family depended on the mill for their livelihood.”
Eagles told me there were other mills operating around White Rock besides Benjamins. This was confirmed recently by Bert Young who remembers that there were at least three small mills located along the Deep Hollow Road. In the 1920s Emery Schofield dammed the Deep Hollow brook and operated a steam mill on two sites. While he couldn’t recall details, Young said his grandfather Eagles operated a mill in the late 1800s at the northern end of Deep Hollow.