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September 13, 1933

Interesting Notes on The Early History of Berwick

First Settlers To Take Up Land On Present Townsite Were of Empire Loyalist Stock – Berwick’s First Schoolhouse, First Postoffice and First Mail And Stage Coach Service Are Herein Referred To.

The following extracts from "Historical Reminiscences of Berwick," written by the late Rev. D. O. Parker, and published in The Register some thirty-three years ago will no doubt be of more than passing interest to many of our subscribers. It should be noted, however, that since this sketch was written, many changes have taken place; for instance, various properties described herein have changed hands and prominent personages referred to have passed on.

Glad Berwick! happy land of thriving farms;
Resplendent robed in rich and faultless charms;
The fair and sweetest village of the Vale,
Where fragrant sweets thy blooming fields exhale;
Where bracing zephyrs from the mountain side,
Bring vigor, tempered by the crystal tide;
And where in love is laid the hallowed dust
Who gave their homes to us in sacred trust.

Berwick in its natural and wilderness state, was houseless and road-less, and the undisturbed home of birds and bears, and ere the echo of the woodsman’s axe was heard it must have been beautiful in situation and the joy of heaven. It’s prospect is grand! It crowns the highest land in the Valley – the watershed between the Cornwallis and Annapolis rivers. The intervales with their rich alluvial soil and lofty trees of ash and elm, and the uplands studded with rich timber and woodlands, the genial climate, the variegated climate of autumn, were some of the attractions which must have influenced our fathers in the early years of the last century to make these grand acres their home. They chose wisely, better perhaps than they dreamed; and now their children'’ children, and the strangers within its gates, remembering their toil and hardships, should with gratitude honor their wisdom and memory.

Berwick and all the adjacent district was early known as Pleasant Valley. The old cross roads near Patterson’s store, at a very early date appears on the old provincial maps as Curry’s Corner and on later maps as Congdon’s Corner. Subsequently, for a few years as Davison’s Corner.

In April, 1810, just 100 years ago now, the first pioneer, Benjamin Condon, appeared on the scene and built a small house where that of Almon Morse’s now stands, and extended his borders west as far as Berwick corner. He was soon followed by his brother Enoch, and the section taken was divided with him. In 1813 David Shaw, a United Empire Loyalist, brought his wife and ten children and settled east of Condon. His house was on the site of Mr. Henry Shaw’s brick residence. On part of his domain the present day Shaws' are now living.

Early in the 1820’s came the Beckwiths', also United Empire Loyalist, and laid claim to territory extending west to Andrew Morton’s. There were three brothers, Asa, Samuel and Kerr. Asa Beckwith’s home was on the site of J. M. Patterson’s house. Kerr became a doctor and practiced a number of years in Lockport. Samuel, the father of Mr. James Beckwith, lived where L. D. Robinson now lives. He was a Justice of the Peace, taught singing school and understood the art of road-building. It was he who first surveyed and laid out Main Street.

At an early date began transfers in Berwick real estate. The Condons began to sell farm lots from their holdings. William and Eleazer Woodworth bought the tract of land included in the Norwood, Borden, Alcorn and T. B. Morse farms. Eleazer built the house now occupied by Arthur Borden. William had a small house on the site of T. B. Morse’s house. The path running north from the east and west track or east road past these houses was called Woodworth lane.

Daniel Woodworth, father of Dudley, bought the west end of the Condon property and built a house on the site now occupied by Mrs. Andrew Chipman’s tennis lawn. That old home of Mr. Dan Woodworth is full of history which no one person can write. About 20 years ago it was bought by T. H. Parker and sons and moved on their property. It is now occupied by Mr. Amos Lee.

The late Abel Parker, whose ancestor came to America in the Mayflower, bought of Enoch Condon 300 acres – only one had ever been ploughed – and an unfinished house on the site of the one where Fred Parker now lives. The first of April, 1827, he moved from Aylesford. His descendents relate that after hastily getting his wife and small children sheltered from the rain that was pouring down, he hurriedly ran through the woods to Mr. Eleazer Woodworth’s to beg a firebrand to kindle a fire in the new home. (Lucifer matches were invented three years later). A little before this Mr. Dudley Woodworth built the old Woodworth house still standing on Commercial Street. It was by far the finest house in the settlement. A Mrs. Curry rented the west from room in that house and opened a store. Two or three years later she built the old Ells house, still standing near Patterson’s, and for several years, till competition arose, her store was the emporium of the settlement. On the vacant lot opposite Patterson’s store a rude log schoolhouse was erected.

As time passed, the bridle path became a cart track and then a road, and separated from it by log fences, on either side, appeared narrow cleared fields, dotted with stumps, and with a background of forest primeval. This was Berwick in 1830!

The first schoolhouse! Methinks I see the rude log structure, with windows like portholes, the string in the latch, the green wood sizzling in the great open fireplace – those on the front benches being warm and no others. For seats, behold slabs with four holes and rude sticks for legs, the feet of the smaller children dangling half way to the floor – for there were no graded seats nor any other graded thing. The teacher would be a study for an artist! An old soldier, most likely, with bad temper and worse manners. Supposed to now be three R’s, though in reality he knew little about anything. The barefoot urchin on entering for the first time was pompously informed, "Now, if you’ll larn, I’ll larn you." The next schoolhouse was a frame building and stood opposite Mrs. Anthony’s house on Main Street.

The third schoolhouse was situated a few rods west of the late T. H. Parker’s house. It was designed and built by the late Rev. D. O. Parker, then a lad of twenty, in 1850. At that time it was one of the finest schoolhouses in the province. It was the first county schoolhouse in the province to have double desks and seats with backs. The second floor was a temperance hall, the formal opening of which was a notable occasion. Several noted divines took part in the exercises, and a number of students walked from Wolfville to be present. It served its purpose until 1874 when the present schoolhouse was completed. Then it was hauled up on Commercial Street and became a warehouse; then down o Commercial Street and became Aberdeen Hall; then back to Main Street it was incorporated in Beardsley’s Block, and a little more than a year ago, ignominiously went up in smoke.

Soon after the temperance hall was completed, Miss Fields, a graduate of Mount Holyoke Seminary, opened a boarding school for young ladies. It was a successful effort, but at the end of a year Miss Fields was compelled to return to the United States and the school closed. In 1858 this school was reopened with Miss Alice Shaw, (now Mrs. Rev. Alfred Chipman) another Mount Holyoke graduate, as principal. The house of the late T. H. Parker, built by the late J. M. Parker, was just completed and was used as a residence for teachers and pupils. This school became very popular, was largely attended and was continued about three years, when it was removed to Wolfville and affiliated with Horton Academy, with Miss Shaw still as principal. It was the nucleus of Acadia Seminary.

In 1827 a Baptist church was organized with the late Rev. William Chipman as pastor. In 1828 the Pleasant Valley meeting house was built and for many years was the headquarters for all Baptists in western Cornwallis. Everybody came to church in those days. They came from the east, they came from the west, they came down the mountains. They came on foot, they came on horseback and whole families of them came in ox-carts. In 1858 a Methodist church was organized and the same year the present Methodist and Baptist church buildings were erected. About 1883 the Episcopal church was built.

In 1835, Dr. Van Buren, a native of Tennessee, who had been practicing medicine in the western part of the province, came to Berwick and made his home with the family of Deacon Abel Parker. For 17 years he practiced his profession. There was no other doctor nearer than Kentville. When feeble from age he returned to his native land in 1850, and spent his few remaining days with his kindred.

And now, the little country hamlet began to feel its importance. A public meeting of citizens was called to meet in the new Temperance Hall, in the very early fifties to select a fitting name. After due and weighty consideration of the several names proposed, Berwick was chosen and Condon’s Corner was no more.

In 1856 or 57 a post office was created, the late J. M. Parker being the first postmaster. The postoffice was a little room at the rear of Mr. Parker’s store, opposite where Mr. George Eaton now lives. The old stage coach between Halifax and Annapolis, then made a detour from the old post road, to deliver the weekly mail and passengers. One can imagine the furore aroused in the little hamlet that fine spring evening, when for the first time the tallyho with its four horses dashed up the street tooting its horn, and pulled up at the corner, laden with mail and passengers. One can also imagine the excitement that pervaded the group of boys, and old boys as well, that were assembled at the corner to see the sight.

In 1867 or 8 the Windsor and Annapolis Railroad opened. In 1872 one of Berwick’s most noted institutions, the Camp Meeting, was inaugurated. On July 5, 1866 appeared the first copy of the first Berwick newspaper ever published, The Star. Two enterprising citizens, Messrs. J. A. Halliday and H. E. Jefferson, were the publishers and proprietors.

Berwick from the earliest days has always been an intensely patriotic and loyal community. We read of the right royal way in which the little settlement celebrated the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1837.