CORWALLIS RIVER – THE STORY OF ITS BRIDGES (May 22/18)

In 1759 Major Samuel Starr was one of five agents who toured this area, checking out land that the government offered to prospective New England settlers. On a solo venture, Starr was ferried across the Cornwallis River at Town Plot (below Port Williams) and went to the Look Off. On his return, notes a 1914 report of the Starr Family Association, he went through Upper Dyke “to a ford on the Cornwallis River at Kentville” where he crossed and headed to Grand Pre.

Where Starr forded the river in Kentville (or downriver from it a bit according to some sources) a bridge would later be built. At Port Williams, in the Planter period, a privately operated ferry and later a government-funded ferry would run over the river about where Starr crossed to Town Plot. Settlers from New England eventually would become weary of ferrying back and forth over the Cornwallis River and build a bridge at Port Williams. There are no records indicating otherwise so it’s safe to state that this was the first bridge on the Cornwallis River.

Today there are several Cornwallis River bridges, three in Coldbrook, one in Cambridge and one in Waterville, plus at least two solid farm bridges in the Cambridge area. The bridge in Kentville is believed to be the second oldest bridge on the Cornwallis River, but I stand to be corrected on this if anyone has records indicating otherwise. No firm date has been established on the year these bridges were first built. Eaton in the history of Kings County writes that the first bridge on the Cornwallis was built in 1780 but as noted in the history of Port Williams (The Port Remembers) this date is controversial.

One would think there are government records indicating the year funds were allocated to build a bridge at Port Williams. But the records that do exist only indicate that grants were made for repairing the bridge at Port Williams, not when the structure first went up. Apparently, a ferry operated after a bridge was constructed, so checking when it stopped running wouldn’t indicate when a bridge made this method of crossing the river obsolete.

A comprehensive history of the bridge can found in the Port Williams history. No such history has been compiled on the bridge in Kentville. I note here for the record that at least one historical researcher, Edmond J. Cogswell, claims that the Acadians built a bridge about where the current bridge is in Kentville. This undoubtedly would have been a footbridge of tenuous construction, likely one that the twice-daily tides often ripped out.

From the Kings County Museum file on Port Williams, here are two references to the bridge: “An unwritten story has it that the first bridge was intended for Town Plot (about a kilometre below Port Williams) but Mr. Prescott did not want it so near his home. Eaton’s history claims there was a bridge at Terry’s Creek in 1780. It must have gone out for in 1813 a brig of 200 tons sailed up the river to Kentville*. Various acts of legislature are recorded with the result that in 1835 a toll bridge was opened but was severely damaged by ice the first winter. In 1858 a rail bridge, also a toll, was constructed and in 1885 the iron bridge just abandoned was erected.”

The second quote about the bridge was written by a lady identified only as Mrs. Bishop of Greenwich: “Before 1780 residents going from Cornwallis to Horton had to ride around the river. There was a ford at Kentville and records say one could ride a horse over the dyke to a place 15 rods (above Port Williams) where there was a fording place at ebb tide. There was, of course, the ferry at Town Plot. As Terry’s Creek grew a bridge became necessary. The date of the first bridge is a matter of controversy… and Mr. Johnson Bishop says a Mr. Cogswell built it.”

*Most records say the brig was built at Kentville and sailed down the river past Port Williams in 1813. Another account, a typo no doubt, has the bridge floating down the river in 1813.

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