Much like Kentville, Berwick was once a quiet byway in the post-Acadian period with few distinctive features.
However, both towns, in the early days at least, were similar in various ways. What was to become the towns of Berwick and Kentville occupied land granted to the New England settlers who came here, circa 1760, after the expulsion of the Acadians. Both areas are bounded on the north by the Cornwallis River, and both followed similar plans of development after the original land grants were divided and subdivided. And further, both towns prospered after the arrival of the railway and a major expansion of the apple-growing industry.
Berwick may have had the lead over Kentville in developing first as a commercial centre. John Dow, president of the Kings Historical Society, indicated this in a recent talk in Kentville. While it wasn’t the purpose of his presentation – comparing Berwick with Kentville – his talk at the Kentville Historical Society monthly meeting about the early days made the comparison easy.
In its early days, Berwick was known as Condon (Congdon) Corner after one of the first settlers in the area. Other early settlers were the Woodworths, Beckwiths, and Parkers. Davidson’s Corner was another early name for Berwick. William Davidson purchased six acres from Asa Beckwith. He built a combination house, store and post office and for a time the area was known as Davidson’s Corner. Dow didn’t mention this but in the book, Place Names and Places of Nova Scotia, other early names are given for Berwick – Curry (Curries) Corner and Pleasant Valley.
The date given by John Dow for Davidson’s arrival is 1810. Kentville, on the other hand, saw Henry McGee arriving about 1788 and setting up what turned out to be an 18th -century convenience store. The area was known then as Horton Corner.
Berwick beat Kentville by at least a year, possibly more, by opening its first school in 1810. John Dow mentions that this was a log cabin on the corner of what today is Main and Commercial Street. Kentville’s first school opened sometime between 1826 and 1829, on Cornwallis Street, opposite the jail.
While it is relatively close to the Cornwallis River, which was a major source of food for the Mi’kmaq and a well-used route to the sea, no mention was made in Mr. Dow’s talk of an aboriginal fishery near Berwick. Kentville, on the other hand, was the location of major food sources, the Mi’kmaq harvesting waterfowl, salmon, and other fish in the Cornwallis River and its tributaries. Kentville is believed to have been a seasonal camp for the Mi’kmaq and it’s believed there was a native name for the area.
Kentville went through a major growth period after the railway was built and the population of the town more than tripled. As mentioned, Berwick prospered with the railway’s arrival as well, that prosperity based mainly on the growing and exporting of apples. Long a major apple-growing area, Berwick was set to take advantage of the railway offering new, relatively easy-to-reach markets for their fruit.
On newspapers, the first weekly was published in Berwick in 1866 – this was The Star, which later moved to Kentville. Much later, in 1873, the Western Chronicle began publishing in Kentville. Some sources, Mabel Nichols in The Devil’s Half Acre, for example, say that The Star was Kentville’s first newspaper. However, it opened first in Berwick, moved to Kentville, then back to Berwick and finally went to Wolfville before shutting down, all in a period of about a dozen years.
Another Berwick newspaper began publishing in 1888 as The Farm Journal, and later when it was printed in Pictou as The Berwick News. In 1891 John E. Woodworth purchased the News and changed its name to the Berwick Register.
The Kentville connection? The Register was later purchased by the Kentville Publishing Co. and became a sister paper of the Advertiser, the town’s paper of record.