MARCH 9, 1927
MEN AND EVENTS OF 50 YEARS AGO
BERWICK AT CONFEDERATION
On the corner, diagonally across from Ilsleys store, was the home of Joseph Ells, the house now occupied by Howard Thomas. Not that anyone ever thought of calling him "Joseph." Joe Ells he was, to young and old alike. A jolly, good-natured, obliging man, rotund and rosy, he had no enemies and many friends. Joe Ells was the handy man of the neighborhood. He would make an axle for your cart, a runner for your sled, put a spoke in your wagon wheel, and paint your wagon all for a small remuneration. Ellss shop was a large two-story building standing on the flat just north of his house. This shop had a work room on the ground floor, with a paint shop and lumber room upstairs; with a run-way up the front to take wagons from the ground to the paint shop above.
One of the wonders of the day was the power plant in the east end of the building. Here, attached to a long bar, the old horse travelled round in a circle making the wheels go round, and incidentally operating a lathe where the genial proprietor turned out spokes, handles, and various other works of art. Among his other duties Mr. Ells was the undertaker of the country round, performing that service for many years. Home production was the order of the day and burial caskets were made to order; a pine box fashioned in the carpenter shop neatly covered in black cloth, with trimmings attached, was universally used. Eight dollars for casket and funeral attendance was the usual price.
Five sons grew to maturity in the home of Joseph Ells. Wentworth will be remembered by many of this generation. He learned the blacksmith trade with George Eaton and had a shop just north of the carpenter shop where, as Went Ells, he shod our horses and did carriage work for years. The four younger sons of Joseph Ells all became medical doctors and successfully practiced in that profession. Probably a record, unique in Nova Scotia: four brothers entering medicine as a profession.
At Chattanooga, Tennessee, was a medical college that could grind out diplomas for medical students in quick time. Samuel Ells was the first to go and his success in his chosen profession probably was an inducement for the others to follow his lead. Charles was the last to make the grade. He was Berwicks first barber and as a striking coincidence practised the profession in the front room where Howard Thomas can now be found wielding the shears. Charles married, established a comfortable home and presumably was a fixture in the community. But hair cuts at ten cents, with practically all the men wearing beards, and bobbed hair fifty years away, presented rather a meagre prospect, so Charley Ells soon threw up his hand. Another record was established when "Chaat" Ells, with the proceeds of the sale of his little home in his inside pocket, with his wife and two bright children, left for Chattanooga one fine morning in early fall. In just eighteen months Dr. C. C. Ellis, attired in silk hat and Prince Albert, arrived in Berwick with his wife and three children, carrying a doctors diploma tied with red ribbon, conspicuously displayed. This be thrust at his father saying, "Here Joe, see what I brought you."
The old Ells shop, following the trend of the times was bought by Leander Chute and moved south, and remodeled and renovated, is now the Chute block at the corner of Commercial and Mill Streets.
Directly across Commercial Street opposite Joseph Ells, lived John Shaw, (now the residence of Kenneth Ilsley) a tinsmith by profession. Mr. Shaw mended the pots and pans of the community. His modest shop stood just west of the house, over the little brook that crosses the sidewalk there. A solid wall of split granite guarded the premises on the east and south. This wall in later years was used as a foundation for the present school house where it may still be seen. Mr. Shaws pet hobby was to discover perpetual motion, and in a locked room over his shop many days were spent in endeavouring to solve this old time problem.
An enthusiastic gardener, Mr. Shaw introduced the first cultivated strawberries, or English strawberries as they were then known. An amateur Burbank, he developed the Prince Albert potato from seed in his garden. This potato was popularly known as "Tinker," from the profession of the introducer. The small shop was also moved up on Commercial Street where it was for years occupied as a residence.
George Eaton lived next door east of Joseph Ells. Eatons hotel was the best known public house east of Kentville. In the blacksmith shop across the street, Mr. Eatons hammer could be heard all day and often long into the night, pounding out horse shoes, axes, potato hacks and farm tools of many kinds. Eatons axes were in great demand, and making them by hand work, slow and toilsome. Mr. Eaton installed a power plant and with a trip-hammer and power grinder manufactured largely for some years. The venture was not a financial success and like all our small industries was driven to the wall by mass production in large factories situated near tidewater, with cheap freight rates and ample capital behind them. Mr. Eaton, well remembered by many of this generation, spent his long and useful life in Berwick. His family, too, of eight sons and daughters, with one exception, are living their lives doing useful work in the upbuilding of their native province.
Across Main Street, opposite Eatons hotel, was a large two-story building, the property and residence of James A. Halliday. This building contained the office of the Berwick Star, the first newspaper published in Kings County. Mr. Halliday was editor and proprietor and continued to publish the paper for some years. The writer will not venture far into newspaper history as his chronological errors are liable to be called by John E. Woodworth, formerly of The Register. Mr. Halliday afterward moved to Massachusetts and published the Saugus Herald for many years. An only son, Isaac N. Halliday, a schoolmate of the writer, went with the family to Massachusetts, became a worker in the American Y.M.C.A., and died in California only a few years ago.
Farther east in the house now occupied by Mesdames Meekins and Beardsley, could be found H. E. Jefferson, one of the builders of Berwick. Just west of the house, in the garden where the flowers bloom every summer, stood a large two story shop with a huge golden boot hanging from the second story. This was the trade sign of Jeffersons tanning and boot and shoe factory. In pre-Confederation days the men and most of the women wore boots, and children did too when they did not go barefooted. The men wore long legged cowhide boots for week days and calfskin long boot for Sunday. In this shop Mr. Jefferson employed four to six men, supplying hand-made foot wear for the people of a ten mile radius. The coming of the railway opened the way for cheap transportation and machine made footwear soon drove the Berwick shoe factory out of business.
S. C. PARKER
(To be continued)