Some North Mountain streams flow along old fissures in the bedrock and their “narrow ravine-like valleys” are locally known as vaults, notes the Natural History of Kings County; given as an example of this geographic feature is well-known Sheffield Vault near Glenmont.
Sheffield is probably mentioned in the Kings County natural history because it’s a local landmark. People often speak of the Sheffield Vault area as if it were a community and at one time there was a highway sign informing drivers there were in its vicinity; this and the fact that the municipality uses the Vault as a boundary line for several polling districts tells me that it is more than an unusual geological feature of the North Mountain landscape.
Curious about the possible relevance of Sheffield Vault I followed up a lead provided by Leon Barron. Leon told me that in addition to a government wharf on the Bay of Fundy at its mouth, Sheffield Vault once held a locally owned business, a water-driven lumber mill. Barron also said that possibly there was a second mill there or nearby that operated using steam power.
One of the people Barron directed me to was Harley Corkum of East Hall’s Harbour. Harley has been living on the North Mountain since 1938 and when he was a boy he heard talk about an “up and down sawmill” located in the Vault. “We called this the Walter Brown dugout and it was farther down the (Vault) brook,” Harley said. “I was told that the brook was dammed up and the mill was operated with water power.”
While he grew up in the Hall’s Harbour, Vault area over half a century ago, Harley never saw the mill in operation. “That was before my time,” he said. “When I was growing up there was little left of the mill.”
Leon Barron also suggested Derek Wood of Centreville as a possible source of information on Sheffield Vault and its old mill. Mr. Wood told me that his great grandfather, Stephen Brown operated the mill. While he was unable to recall how long the mill operated in the Vault or when it first began operating, he was able to date its demise.
Wood was told by a relative, Charlie Brown of Kentville, that the mill “washed out in a freshet, a spring thaw, in 1912.” The mill was never replaced after being destroyed by flood waters, but Wood say some of its timbers were used later to build a barn for his grandfather.
Wood tells me the mill was situated on a waterfall near the Bay of Fundy. “There’s a little falls with a five or six foot drop abut three-quarters of the way down the Vault to the shore,” he said. “This made the headwaters for the mill.”
Wood also remembers that his great grandfather “dug a road into the Vault so they could come haul lumber up from the mill and logs down to it. As kids, we called this the dugout,” Wood says, apparently because the road was “dug out of the side of the Vault.”
A government wharf was once located at the mouth of Sheffield Vault and Wood remembers seeing the old pilings. The wharf was accessible by a road that Wood believes ran “through the old Munro place” and traces of it are still visible.
That a wharf was once required in this area is puzzling. Did it serve the Vault mill or was it a fisherman’s wharf? Apparently there were several roads leading to the area of the Vault wharf and possibly the area thrived commercially a century or more ago. Perhaps future research will turn up proof that Sheffield Vault was more than a geological quirk on the North Mountain.