In 1907 a former Kentville resident living in Chicago figured he was too far along in years to ever visit the town again. Henry L. Ross, age 90, decided instead to write the town newspaper, describing Kentville as he remembered it about 50 years before the town incorporated. Following are excerpts from the letter he wrote to The Advertiser in 1907.
“I first became acquainted with Kentville in the 1830s. There was only one street, commonly called the Post Road. The merchants were Caleb Rand, James D. Harris, James E. DeWolfe and Dan Moore. The village lawyer (was) John C. Hall, the village harnessmaker Cunningham, the village blacksmith Silas Masters, the shoemaker Beech, the sheriff (George) Chipman.”
Before he described the Kentville of his youth, Ross mentioned a ship built on the Cornwallis River by James E. DeWolfe. “The residents can scarcely realize that 60 years ago from that spot was heard the sound of the carpenter’s axe and maul and the ring of the caulker’s mallet.” This was the barque, The Kent, built in 1846 and mentioned in Eaton’s Kings County history. The site of the shipyard was just across the bridge from the town library. Two ships were built there. Ross apparently worked on The Kent, noting it was launched in 1847 with a large crowd in attendance, “many coming by ox teams.”
Getting back to the letter, Ross says all the stores in town sold rum “with the exception of J. E. DeWolfe,” and all the farmers had “a little brown jug (of rum) in their closets.” Given its availability, rum must have been important in those days.
Describing Kentville in the pre-railroad days, when the stagecoach ran from Halifax through the Valley two or three days weekly, Ross says the “great event of the week was arrival of the Mail Coach from Halifax. It brought the farmers in and served as an excuse for a trip to the village, the purpose of which was to patronize the Crown Inn and the Kentville Hotel (to) replenish the ‘little brown jug’ than to get mail which they did not expect.”
As Ross says, Kentville had its share of “characters” in the time of which he writes. “There was John Hall’s father, a walking encyclopedia. There was old Dr. Webster, father of the late Dr. Billy, an old fellow who swore like a man o’ war’s man. There was old George Bear, the coloured orator who used to spout to the crowd from his rostrum, the scales at the corner of the Red Store.”