In his history of Kings County, Arthur Wentworth Hamilton Eaton writes that the honour of having the first steam mill in the county goes to Steam Mill Village.
This is about all Eaton has to say about the village. He tells us nothing of its history, if it was important economically, or where it was located in relation to the larger villages and towns of the county. As far as I’m concerned, Eaton let us down here. Perhaps the village was of little significance, but Eaton could at least have told us something about the pioneers who brought in and operated that first steam mill; after all, by his own admission it was a historic first in the county.
At this late date it may well be impossible to unearth any facts about that first steam mill and the village pioneers. However, a few tantalising clues exist in county folk lore, the stories people passed down from generation to generation. Also, there’s a brief overview of the village in files at the Kings County Museum which I’ll mention later.
Occasionally, I run across references to the early days of the village. Recently, for example, I interviewed long time Steam Mill resident Harlan Adams who mentioned that the old name for the North Aldershot Road was Garrett Road; Adams said the road was named for the man who once operated a mill in the area, most likely around 1900. From what Mr. Adams told me, Garret logged on what is now Camp Aldershot, so this mill may not have been the one that gave the village its name. I’ve been told the namesake mill was located in the main part of the village near Oak Grove cemetery.
In his book on Nova Scotia place-names, Charles Bruce Fergusson speculates that Steam Mill Village probably was settled as early as 1761, right after the Planters arrived and set up townships. If true, this would place the village among the first areas in the county settled by New Englanders. Located well away from any main waterway, the area couldn’t have had any special attraction for the settlers that followed the Acadians. However, the Planters that took up land in this area may have been among latecomers who had to accept grants away from the much-favoured dykelands.
When the Cornwallis Valley Railway line was laid out in 1889, Steam Mill Village was important enough to be a stop on the line that ran from Kingsport to Kentville. The station was maintained when the Dominion Atlantic Railway later took over the line and it was shown on the DAR’s timetables as Mill Village. Fergusson says the village had a postal way office which was opened in 1860; he also tells us that farming and milling have been the basic industries, confirming that the village was named after steam mills operating there in the 19th century.
A profile on the village, in files at the Kings County Museum, lists one house still standing that is said to have been built in 1775; if this is correct, this would be one of the oldest homes in the county. The profile also lists several homes existing in the village that were built around 1800 and 1900. As well as the carding mill located at Killam’s Pond, the profile mentions three lumber mills, one of them Garretts on Camp Aldershot property, another on Lakewood Road, and the third at an unknown location.