What was it like about 120 years ago, in the 1890s, along the old military road between Kentville and Wolfville, the section of highway designated today as Highway 1?
Well, with thanks to Edmond J. Cogswell, we do have some idea of what it was like then on that stretch of road, much of which today is taken up by the sprawling village of New Minas. In 1894, on a Sunday morning, Cogswell decided to walk to Wolfville after being detained in Kentville. Cogswell recorded what he observed on the walk and two years later in a regular feature he wrote for Kentville’s weekly newspaper, the Western Chronicle, he described what he saw.
But first, before he wrote about his walk, Cogswell tells us that Highway 1 began as an Acadian road that ran “near the dykes and intervals of the Cornwallis River,” and was eventually amended to merge with a military road running easterly to Windsor and south towards Berwick. “One of those long pieces of road was through what is called New Minas,” Cogswell concluded, adding that “where the present village was built” the road was altered many times as land was cleared and settled.
“I have often passed through New Minas,” Cogswell wrote of his walk, “but I never realized what a pretty little place it was until being detained in Kentville by business on Saturday. (Cogswell was a Judge of Probate and his “business” could have been his involvement in court proceedings. At the time he was 56 years old and he must have been in good condition for his age to walk 10 kilometres).
“I walked down to Wolfville (in the autumn of 1894) the following next morning. As I walked slowly along I carefully noticed the place (New Minas) and its quiet beauty impressed me very much. The next thing I noticed was that the people of New Minas had wisely turned their attention to apple culture, and had most shrewdly availed themselves of the proper localities, as the little runs and flats near the brooks were covered with luxuriant apple trees… I think one of the finest sights I saw was a perfect sea of red and rosy apples on a flat in Charles Turner’s land, and in one or two other places.”
There were few if any retail stores in New Minas at the time of the walk but this wasn’t the case with Kentville or with Wolfville; which makes one of the observations Cogswell made puzzling. As he walked along, Cogswell was struck by the “usual number of vacant stores. I do not think there is another country place of its size that has so many stores in it, vacant and occupied, as Kings County. They fairly swarm. But New Minas is too close to Kentville and there is too little back country and its stores are empty.”
As he left New Minas and strolled through Greenwich, Cogswell could see the railway line and the bridge on the Cornwallis River at Port Williams. The view inspired another puzzling observation regarding this bridge and Wolfville. “The building of the Cornwallis Bridge, destroyed the old shipping port,” he wrote, “and sent the trade down to Mud Bridge (Wolfville).”
The “old shipping port” could have been a reference to Kentville. However, the town was never known for being any sort of port and there are no records indicating it ever was a destination for ocean shipping. At best, one or two ships were built in a yard within the current town limits and this doesn’t appear to qualify Kentville as a port. Perhaps before the “Cornwallis Bridge” was built the occasional ship went up to Kentville on the tide and that likely was it. Of course Cogswell could have meant that the bridge eliminated Port Williams as a commercial port but this isn’t likely.
It’s interesting to note that Cogswell referred to Wolfville as Mud Bridge. Wolfville was adopted as the official name of the town in either 1829 0r 1830 (it depends on which source you consult) and it’s odd that in 1894 Cogswell was still using one of its old names – Mud Creek was another name he sometimes used.
Kentville was Cogswell’s departure point but he had little to say about the town except for what is mentioned above about its stores. He did note that people had been searching the area in and around Kentville, hoping to find sites where the Acadians had buried valuables and that two caches might have been found. Cogswell described the condition of the road in the hollow at the east end of Kentville as marshy and he found it annoying to have to cross it. In Cogswell’s time Elderkin Brook, the stream that ran through the hollow, was tidal, a condition that existed until the trail to New Minas was upgraded to a highway and an aboiteau was installed. But even today the tides have been known to back up, block the aboiteau and flood the highway. In Cogwell’s time, this was a twice-daily occurrence.