In a booklet published by the Board of Trade in 1979, Heather Davidson asks how Kentville became the shiretown of Kings County.
Why Kentville, why here? Davidson asks. Eventually the question is answered, but only partially. Davidson writes that besides the railroad setting up headquarters there, the town’s prosperity at the turn of the century (circa 1900) attracted several major government institutions; these institutions further solidifying Kentville’s already established status as a major commercial and financial centre.
There’s more to it than this, of course. If you read the histories of Wolfville and Kentville you’ll find that for a time the former was the leading town at one time and it contained the law courts and county jail. In the History of Kings County Eaton explains why this eventually changed. Basically, some of it involved politics, some the result of major changes in county boundaries.
At one time Kings County included most of Hants County, a piece of Lunenburg County and considerable portions of Cumberland and Colchester County. Hants County was created in 1781, diminishing the size of Kings County by almost half. Then, in 1840 (or 1846 according to some historians) the Parrsboro area was eliminated from Kings County, mainly because Parrsboro residents felt they were too isolated from the law courts and county government. This had the effect of throwing the center of Kings County farther to the west. Kentville was near this center, on the old military road. Now, as well as being a major commercial and civic center, the town was, or appeared to be, at the center of the county.
Somewhere in the countless records stored in the Nova Scotia Archives is a document announcing the designation of Kentville as the shiretown of Kings County – shiretown, according to an old British definition, meaning capital or the main town. This designation must have been made official at one time, but when? Likely it was sometime after 1817, as the following will show.
For a time, after arrival of the Planters, Horton Town Plot was the judicial and social center of Kings County but it lost this position when the
courthouse burned down in 1817 and court proceedings were moved to Wolfville. Horton Town Plot was further isolated when major changes were made in the road leading into Kings County from Halifax, a road that became the main artery through the province. Soon after these changes Horton Town Plot, in effect, became a backwater.
Then, in 1829, the law courts and jail were moved to Kentville, Wolfville’s facilities apparently becoming inadequate. In the meanwhile, Kentville had become an important stop in the stagecoach line that ran from Halifax to Annapolis Royal. Then, in 1868, the railway headquarters was located in Kentville, further solidifying the town’s prominent position in the county and in the eastern end of the Annapolis Valley.
This is a guess but somewhere around this time or possibly soon after, Kentville must have been designated as the shiretown of Kings County. Both Wolfville and Canning came close to achieving this honour. For a brief period both these towns were the leading commercial and retail centres in Kings County, while Kentville at the time was a sleepy little county village on the Cornwallis River.
This has been a convoluted history of how and why Kentville became the shiretown. It’s an abbreviated overview. To tell the full story of the political manoeuvring and the economical and geographical changes that brought Kentville to prominence would probably need a book.