ROYAL OAK – “WHERE TARRIED THE DUKE” (October 10/03)

It was the first real hotel in this area, claimed a nameless feature writer in a 1930 special edition of The Advertiser, and “to it can go credit for Kentville’s name.” If the inn hadn’t existed, the writer said, “it is extremely doubtful (that) the Duke of Kent would have stayed here, and today Kentville would in all probability have been known by some other name.”

The inn was the Royal Oak, then only four years old when the Duke of Kent “perchance tarried there overnight” in 1794. The occasion for mention of the Royal Oak was the grand opening of the Cornwallis Inn in 1930. One of the articles marking the opening was a history of hotels operating in Kentville since the late 18th century; the Royal Oak was singled out as being the first.

For Royalty to grace the premises, the Royal Oak must have been the 18th equivalent of today’s Old Orchard Inn. The Royal Personage was Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, and when his carriage stopped in Kentville it was a “small, picturesque hamlet in the Land of Acadie then known as Horton.”

True or not, the feature writer claimed that the Royal Oak gave Kentville its start. Along with other hotels, the Royal Oak made the town “one of the principal stopping places in the Valley and in general contributed to the commercial growth and prosperity.”

The Royal Oak certainly was worthy of mention in Eaton’s Kings County history. Eaton placed the inn on Wickwire Hill in Kentville’s east end. The inn was the residence of an early “Kentville grantee,” Cyrus Peck. The Peck house was destroyed by fire in 1881, long after it had ceased being used as an inn, and the property was purchased by Frederick Wickwire.

Eaton mentions a couple of small inns or hotels in Kentville that were operating at the same time as the Royal Oak. These were identified in The Advertiser feature as the Bragg Inn and the Angus House; Eaton refers to them simply as “Angus’ farther west near the corner where the Red Store is, and Bragg’s still farther west. Oddly, Eaton mentions that for a time Bragg’s Inn was the site of a private school.

The Kentville Hotel was the next major inn situated in the town. Eaton’s history tells us this became the “headquarters of stage travel between Halifax and Annapolis,” and left it at that. However, The Advertiser feature fills in the gaps. “About 1815, Caleb Handley Rand and other citizens of the town and county organised the first community enterprise ever undertaken here. They formed and built the Kentville Hotel. This building, which later came into the hands of the Lyons family, is still (1930) in excellent condition.”

The Kentville Hotel had another Royal honour bestowed upon it. James Lyons bought out the hotel in 1830 and operated it until the late 1880s, during which period he entertained a Royal guest. “It was at this hotel,” notes The Advertiser, “that the present King George stayed while on a shooting expedition in Kings County.”

In was in this period, The Advertiser continues, that the Mulloney (later the Victoria) Hotel opened. In 1855 William Redden built the Revere House next to the Kentville Hotel. The American House, with James McIntosh as the proprietor, opened in 1868. A few years later J. R. Lyons built the Lyons House on Aberdeen Street.

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