Excerpts from mini-histories of Kentville by Leslie Eugene Dennison and E. J. Cogswell have been featured here off and on since last autumn. The original Dennison article, a review of Kentville in the 1870s, ran in The Advertiser in 1932; Cogswell’s article first ran in the predecessor of The Advertiser, the Western Chronicle, in 1895.
As mentioned before an unknown history buff typeset and edited the Dennison and Cogswell articles, adding footnotes and indices. Thanks to a reader, I have copies of these edited manuscripts. Of the two, Cogswell’s provides the earliest glimpses of Kentville. As can be seen from following excerpts from Cogswell, the Kentville of which he writes was little more than a few streets and a few stores.
“Kentville for a long time consisted of nothing but the old Horton Corner, and was composed of nothing but Main Street or the old military road, and the street from Cornwallis running into it,” Cogswell wrote, adding that the centre of business was DeWolfe’s corner.
Cogswell tells us in his manuscript that he first visited Kentville when he was a boy. “The first time I was in Kentville over 50 years I went with my mother to this old fulling mill,” he writes. This would be around 1845 and the military road Cogswell refers to was undoubtedly the original Acadian road that ran towards Port Royal. The Acadians that settled around Grand Pre and New Minas started this road, which followed an Indian trail, but they never completed it.
Cogswell suggests that Kentville owes its existence to a ford on the Cornwallis River, a ford first used by the Micmacs and later by the Acadians. Kentville had no “Indian name,” Cogswell says, “but it was important even to them as being situated at the principal ford of the Cornwallis River, and the Indian roads or trails seem to converge to, and diverge from that place.”
Cogswell says that Kentville was once the site of an Acadian village. “The first French bridge over the Cornwallis was here near the present (bridge) and not far from the old ford,” he says. If this is true, this would make the area around the Kentville bridge an Acadian historic site; perhaps it is only of minor historic importance but it is a site that should be marked.
Cogswell also mentions an Acadian mill near Kentville. “There was an old French mill here also on the river on what is now Mrs. Lyon’s dyke,” he writes. “The old race can still be traced.”
On the Acadian name for Kentville, Cogswell says that it “must for the present remain in obscurity, for although I have a list of French villages, I can locate but few.”
As well as the ford on the Cornwallis, another factor may have played an important role in Kentville becoming a commercial centre. Cogswell speculates that when Parrsboro was separated from Kings County “by a statute in 1846,” the centre of the county “was thrown farther to the west.” This had the effect of making Kentville, or Horton Corner as it was then called, the geographical centre of Kings County, and supposedly lead to it becoming the shire town.
It seems that Cogswell was a history buff of sorts since in his manuscript he refers often to his research. On the original owners of land in the centre of Kentville, for example, he writes that “the earliest information I can procure (indicates it was) in possession of a Phillis family, and Allisons, Hunts, Dennisons, Biards and others.”