MEDFORD: A MEADOW AND A FORD (December 18/98)

A meadow and a ford, the ford a crossing on Bass Creek, the surrounding land an expanse of meadow wrested from the wilderness by the early settlers.

In 1855 the residents of Bass Creek decided that the meadows and ford should be combined to change the name of their community to Medford. Besides, Bass Creek was a common and unimaginative place-name and in the early 19th century there were more than a dozen or so Bass Creeks, Bass Rivers and Salmon Rivers in the province. Something more dignified and fitting was called for.

This explanation for the origin of Medford’s name was given in a history of the community compiled by the Women’s Institute and published in this paper in 1951. The explanation is suspect, however. Watson Kirkconnell’s study of place-names in Kings County, published as a booklet in 1971, suggests that Medford isn’t of Nova Scotian coinage; it was a place-name familiar to the New England Planters, Kirkconnell said. There are eight Medfords in the U.S., Kirkconnell noted, and the name probably came from Massachusetts.

Kirkconnell most likely is correct, but I prefer the Women’s Institute explanation for Medford’s origin. One of the first areas where land grants were given to the Planters, Medford may have been settled as early as 1770 or 1780, and the origin of its name really doesn’t matter. What is more interesting is how Medford has changed over the years, changes that can be linked to the demise of sailing ships as vehicles of commerce and the decline of the Minas Basin fishery.

The early settlers of Medford carried surnames that will be familiar to anyone who has studied Annapolis Valley history after the expulsion of the Acadians. There were Eatons, Harringtons, Huntlys, Bigelows, Cox’s, Parkers and Weavers among the first Planter and Loyalist settlers in Medford. The Institute history tells us that Jason Huntly, Ebenezer Eaton and a “Mr. Harrington” were the first to receive land grants in Medford. Their grants appeared to comprise most of what today is greater Medford.

Like many of the early settlements along the Minas Basin, Medford’s principal occupation was fishing along with some shipbuilding. The building of ships may have become a major industry early in the community’s existence. “Shipbuilding was carried on quite extensively and a number of ships large and small were built here in 1800 and later,” the Institute history says.

As was typical of the Planters and Loyalists wherever they settled in Nova Scotia, education and religion were priorities in early Medford. Land was granted to post-Acadian settlers as early as 1760 and by approximately 1775 Medford had its first school.

Because of its proximity to the sea, (and obviously because it was the era of sail) marine navigation was taught in the first school and a number graduates became sea captains. The Institute history mentions that early Medford captains were David Loomer and Abraham Coffin. Other sea captains turned out by the Medford school were James Lombard, Frank Barkhouse, Edgar Bigelow, James Burns, Lyman Parker and Clement Barkhouse; most were descendants of Medford’s early settlers.

You won’t find Medford indexed in Eaton’s History of Kings County and I was unable to find evidence that a wharf existed there. But according to the Institute history, the now sleepy community of summer homes briefly held a place of prominence along the Minas Basin. Eventually overshadowed by Kingsport and Canning in shipbuilding, Medford was forgotten by would-be developers with the arrival of the railroad.

However, Medford was one of the first communities to have telephone lines erected – which say the Women’s Institute was still owned by the residents in 1951.

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