WYLIE ROCKWELL STILL HERE IN SPIRIT (October 1/13)

Working late at night in the old Rockwell Home Hardware building on Main Street, Collette Schaller-Beaton says she often heard thumps and bumps she couldn’t explain.  Colette claims – tongue in cheek maybe – that it was Wylie Rockwell’s spirit come back to visit his old store.

If this is so, what was Wylie’s ghost doing in the store he built in 1910? Nearby, a few minutes walk up the street at 432 Main Street, is the house Wylie lived in after he married into the Calkin family.

This would have been the natural site for Wylie to haunt.  Especially since Wylie’s old store at 253 Main Street, which evolved into Rockwell’s Home Hardware and then into Kings County Home Hardware, had recently moved into the building next to his old house.  But more later on the hardware store. Here’s a short bio on the man who started Rockwell Ltd.

Wylie Rockwell was a 5th generation Planter, descending from Jonathan Rockwell who received a grant in Cornwallis in 1761. Around the time of his marriage to Nellie Calkin, Wylie was a partner in the firm of T. P. Calkin & Co., and there’s a note to this effect in Eaton’s History of Kings County. Wylie had worked with the Calkin firm for several decades before becoming a partner.  A write-up and photograph of Wylie can be found in Calkin’s 100th anniversary booklet published in 1947.  Here it’s noted that Wylie entered the Calkin firm as a clerk under its founder Benjamin H. Calkin.  Wylie became a partner when Benjamin’s son Thomas Pennington Calkin took over the firm.

No doubt marrying T. P. Calkin’s sister Nellie advanced Wylie’s career and likely made it easy for him to start his own retail hardware store.  Kentville historian Louis Comeau, in his book Historic Kentville, writes that Wylie started the hardware store with Calkin’s blessing.  Calkin’s anniversary booklet write-up on Wylie treats him kindly, so it appears he did have the Calkin family’s approval when he set out on his own.   After all, he was one of the family.

Wylie struck out on his own in 1910.  In that year he built the hardware store on Main Street, a business he first called the “Red Brick Daylight Store.”  Wylie advertised the store under this unusual business name in various newspapers and other publications, using the motto “The Store of Light and Service.”  The store’s façade was red brick and it stood on the south and supposedly sunny side of town, hence the name and the motto.

Wylie Rockwell’s store has the distinction of being one of the oldest businesses operating continuously in Kentville.  With the move of the hardware store to the site where the Calkin house once stood (next to Wylie’s old house as mentioned) the firm he started is now well into its second century of continuous operation.   At the same time he was operating the hardware store Wylie was also involved with another Kentville business, a small manufacturing firm that made liniments of various sorts.  This firm was called Nearys Liniment. Co.  In newspapers advertisements published in 1916, Wylie is mentioned as the liniment firm’s manager.

Looking at the Rockwell family files at the Kings County Museum we find that Wylie’s operation of his store was short lived.  Wylie died in 1921, just over a decade after he opened the hardware store.  Rockwell was born in Kings County (probably in Canard) but to date I’ve been unable to determine exactly where his parents lived at the time of his birth.  Wylie is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery in east end Kentville.  His tombstone gives his birth year as 1865 (some sources have the year as 1855) making him 56 when he died.

The Rockwell name has disappeared from his old business but Wylie’s spirit still lingers in Kentville.  In his heyday he was a prominent Kentville businessman, the likes of T. P Calkin and Fred Wade, two Kentville men who were among the elite in the business world.  His obituary from The Advertiser in May of 1921 hails him as a prominent business leader and outstanding citizen.  Here’s a partial quote:

“In the passing away of W. Wylie Rockwell, Kentville loses one of its best known and most prominent business men.  He was 56 years of age and a son of William A. Rockwell of Canard.  Mr. Rockwell started his life work as a clerk for the late B. H. Calkin, about 40 years ago, remaining with him four years.  He then continued the same business as partner with T. P. Calkin until 1910, when he built the imposing Rockwell block on Main Street, where for 11 years he conducted a prosperous business, his integrity and sterling qualities gaining him the confidence of the public.  In the acme of success, on account of failing health he was obliged to retire from business in 1920, selling out to Rockwell Ltd.”

(Note: Some sources have Rockwell’s name as Wylie W. Rockwell but his obituary likely has the correct order.  Wylie was probably christened William Wylie Rockwell.  Since his father’s name was also William, Rockwell probably started signing his name as W. Wylie Rockwell to avoid confusion with his sire.)

W. Wylie Rockwell

The once prominent Kentville business leader, W. Wylie Rockwell. (From the Louis V. Comeau collection.)

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