Long lumbering history in Greenfield

Mark Roberts/The editor@theadvance.ca
Published on April 7, 2008

The pioneer settlers of the early 1800s in Greenfield, Queens County recognized the Medway River was full of fish, a means of transportation, and beautiful. But it was not long before they realized it could also provide waterpower for industry.

In 1832, the falls (just below the present bridge) were harnessed, supplying the water power to drive a "single" sawmill, utilizing an early type of up-and-down saw. This made it possible to saw wide boards still found in many older buildings. This mill, located at the head of the falls, was in action both day and night for a frantic period, because the new settlers were anxious to have their logs sawn into lumber so they could get their houses built.

It was not long before other mills appeared down the river, from Charleston to Port Medway.

A water-powered shingle mill was constructed in 1845. In 1856 a gang mill was built on the west side of the Medway, below the bridge. The contract was signed to build the mill, which included an edging table the cost 87 pounds. Residents' names appearing on the contract were Joseph Shankel, Simeon Hunt, Phebram Ramey, James Tilbert, Robert Harlow, Allen Freeman, Luluanus Morton and Enoch Stedman. Whitman Freeman signed as witness to the transaction.

The gang-mill was sold in 1894 to the Davidson Lumber Company, Bridgewater, which announced plans for expansion. At the time the mill produced 12,000 board feet of lumber each day.

There was also a plan to build a branch railway line to Liverpool to hook up with the Halifax and Southwestern Railroad, which was being constructed from Halifax to Yarmouth. A trail was blazed from Greenfield to Liverpool.

But the somewhat grandiose plan fell through to take the lumber from Greenfield to Liverpool wharves and thence to markets far a field. When it failed to materialize, the mill then went back to the original owners, who, for some unknown reason, would not use the mill's edger.

The Davidson Company scrapped their plans, and the Company moved to Osburn, Nova Scotia. The Greenfield owners used the mill less and less, and finally it fell into disrepair and burned.

Pine lumber was among the first resources to be exported to the "West Indies" - the Caribbean. Lumber and other products were transported to Liverpool in the early years by teams of oxen, loaded on ships and later were moved by train as well as by ship.

Earlier, however, in 1868, a two-storey grist and shingle mill was built on the east side of the river below the present bridge. History tells us farmers brought their grain to the grist mill from an area that covered 25 miles. The mill owner received a percentage for grinding. The venture lost money so it was remodelled to saw shingles only. It was destroyed by fire in 1905. Other small mills were built along the river and around the lake, but they were small, one-man affairs and didn't last.

In 1906, after the destruction of the shingle mill, Walter Freeman, Park Freeman and Gus Freeman built a water-wheel powered shingle mill on the east side. By 1914, many improvements had been added and that year a rotary saw was installed.

The Freeman mill has given employment to the village and the family has been building, and re-building mills, almost continuously, since 1832.

It was not always easy. The first of the modern mills was demolished by Hurricane Edna in 1954.

It was re-built, but a year later the mill was swept down the river by the devastating flood of 1955.

Undaunted, Harry Freeman, Sr., built once again in 1956, below the Bruce Hunt property, and later moved across the road to the present location and completely modernized with more space for storage yards and expansion, safely removed from the river hazards since water power was no longer in use.

Disaster struck again in September, 1990.

A fire swept through this modern mill, but it was not long before Harry Senior's son, Harry, rebuilt the plant. Mr. Freeman is proud of the fact, and rightly so, that his own employees re-built the damaged section of the mill and had it back in operation within three months - on the third week of January, 1991. A Herculean task!

Through the years, the Freeman mills have been powered by water, gas, diesel and electricity. The present complex includes a computer - controlled lumber drying kiln, a necessity for a successful operation today.

Some early residents of Greenfield farmed the not-so-rich soil of the area. They grew their own produce and raised sheep. Mrs. Erue Ramey was one of the few who raised black sheep. These produced a grey wool, for which she was noted. Her wool was always in great demand for knitting under garments - instead of the white wool used in those days.

After the arrival of the early families, it soon became obvious that the bustling community needed a bridge across the Medway River. The first one was built across the lower side of the Lake Pool, well above the present bridge. Piers filled with rocks were used to support the platform.

Each spring, unfortunately, when the Ponhook Lakes shed their ice cover and flowed down river, the crush of ice took the top off the platform.

Verbal history tells us that the reason the bridge was first built in that vulnerable area was because the Liverpool-Nictaux road followed what is now known as the 16 mile road (Chapel Hill Drive). On the east side of the river the road was known as the Wellington Road, which went through the Hunt gravel pit, across the Plains and over the hill at the LaBelle intersection to Wellington.

A second wooden bridge was built in the approximate location of the present bridge in Greenfield, around 1900. On this one, the engineers used iron guards, shaped like flat-irons, facing up stream to deflect the ice away from the piers. In 1914, an iron bridge replaced the wooden bridge, and finally the present modern bridge was erected.

Native history played a large part in Greenfield. In 1840, the government of Nova Scotia designated land for an Indian Reserve on the west side of the river, chiefly for a burial ground and chapel, sacred to the natives of the valley. During the year 1859, a Catholic Chapel had been erected by Jesuit priests to serve the First Nations population. The site was by the Lake Pool on the Medway, above the present bridge, and was called Chapel Hill. It is said that Mass was held there a few times, but the entire building was never completed.

Many grave mounds can still be seen on the grounds where the chapel once stood.