The Acadians are said to have operated two mills in Kings County but apparently little is known about them. Various sources that refer to the mills are vague as to their location and source of power, noting only that they may have been tidal water or wind driven.
Much more is known about the mills operated by the settlers that followed the Acadians. From what I’ve read, there must have been dozens of mills in this area alone; it appears that every major community had one, water driven at first, then steam and gas engine powered until the arrival of electricity.
According to Eaton’s history, a village immediately north of Kentville, Steam Mill, had the first steam-driven mill in the county This mill was operating before 1849. In Kentville and along the upper reaches of the Cornwallis River and its tributaries there were a succession of water-powered mills; one of the first on the Cornwallis was built by the Marchant family around 1840.
Recently I talked with Fen Wood whose family took over the Marchant mill over 100 years ago. Fen still lives at the mill site on Lovett Road in Coldbrook. The mill was located on a bend in the river immediately behind his residence. From about 1850 to 1898 the mill was operated by Nathan west; in 1898 the mill was purchased by Fen’s father, John.
“It was a water mill at first when Dad got it,” Fen recalls. “We had two water wheels and later a 25 horse gas engine was added. We didn’t have enough of a head, only six to eight feet, to operate only solely on water power, so we ran the water wheel and gas engine together.”
Fen recalls working at the mill after school as early as age 12 or 13 in the early 1920s. “We were a saw and planing mill at first, ” Fen recalls. We didn’t run too big a business but we made moulding, sheathing, siding and all that kind of stuff.”
Later the Woods began threshing grain at the mill. “We just ran the threshing mill at harvest time in the fall when the grain was on. In those days everything came in on horse and wagon, horse and wagon team, in late summer.”
Fen was in his teens when his father took steps to ensure the mill would no longer be at the mercy of Cornwallis River water levels. “When power came through in the 30s we hooked up to it and installed an electric motor.”
After graduating from university most of Fen’s working life was spent at the mill. He was in university when his father was hurt in an accident at the mill. This happened in the late 30s and Fen and his brother Don took over the operation. “Dad could still work but he wasn’t at full capacity after the accident,” Fen said, “so it was up to Don and me to keep the mill going.”
Woods Mill was one of the last lumber and threshing mills in operation on the Cornwallis River, and it probably ranks as one of the mills longest in operation in this area – over 130 years. Fen Wood shut the mill down 25 years ago. Most of the original mill property is still in his family but few traces of the old mill remain.
After the mill closed Fen worked in the woods “for a while” before retiring. At 89 he’s still active in the Kentville Gyro Club where he’s a 50-year member.