To say that Richard Skinner has an interest in old maps could be a bit of an understatement. After talking with him recently about an old map of Cornwallis Township, one of the original divisions of Kings County north of the Cornwallis River, I’d say his interest is close to being an obsession.
Skinner has been studying old maps for decades, and his interest in them started when he was a youth. “I found an 1864 Kings County (Ambrose) Church map in a dump and took it home,” he said in effect, “and that started it all.” He found the details on the map fascinating, since it showed the old county roads – “some that no longer exists” – and the people who lived along them.
After he developed an interest in genealogy, Skinner found that the Church map was an important tool in tracing families. However, his interest in old maps of the county really heightened when he came across a Cornwallis Township map that predated the Ambrose Church map of Kings County by over half a century.
Ambrose Church began producing maps of the various counties of the province around 1864. Church was commissioned by the provincial government and one of the first maps he produced was of Halifax County in 1865. While the map of Kings County is dated 1864, it actually wasn’t released publicly until nearly a decade later. In 1872, Church received a grant of $584 for the provincial government for completing the Kings County map and this usually given as the year it was published.
As mentioned, Church wasn’t the first to produce county maps. Early in the 19th century, well before Ambrose Church appeared on the scene, the government had a series of county maps produced by the Surveyor General, Charles Morris. Working with the surveyor Charles Harris, Morris produced a Kings County map with an inscription indicating it was “made in the month of December A.D. 1818 and January 1819.”
Richard Skinner discovered the existence of this map over a decade ago and he found so many errors, misspellings and roads that don’t exist today that he set about updating and correcting it.
“It was incomplete and difficult to read,” Skinner says of the Cornwallis Township section of the map “and this was what really got me into researching maps. Canaan was spelled ‘Canan’, Canard was ‘Cannar’, Pereau is spelled ‘Piereau’, and so on. The map even shows a continuous road along the foot of Black Rock mountain that I’m sure doesn’t exist.”
Skinner is still working on updating the Cornwallis Township area of the old map. Mainly he’s reset the place names and corrected the spelling. “It’s a work in progress,” Skinner says. “The purpose of my work is not to replace the historic township map but to have a good copy to use in conjunction with it. That’s why I’ve spent so many hours pasting on words that are easier to read.”
At the same time, Skinner is on the lookout for other old maps. He’s heard of an old map of Berwick but hasn’t located a copy of it yet. “Every old map tells a story,” he says. “They show where the original churches stood, where the original Kings County courthouse was located, the old names for our roads and rivers.”
This is what’s so fascinating about old maps,” Skinner says. “There’s so much historical information that can be gained by studying them.”