A historical mystery solved: Historical society owns site marking Acacia Villa School

Wendy Elliott welliott@kingscountynews.ca
Published on April 18, 2014

The Wolfville Historical Society owns a piece of real estate in Hortonville, but no one living today knew why.

It was Acadia University archivist Pat Townsend who studied the papers of the late professor Mortimer Marshall and figured out the property mystery. The site houses a cairn erected to mark the old Acacia Villa School.

In 1963, Marshall researched and wrote A Short History of Acacia Villa School, which was published by the Acadia University Institute. Three years later, the historical society, acknowledging the link between history and tourism in Nova Scotia, decided to erect a cairn.

According to Townsend, who spoke to a recent society meeting, there was already a cairn at Horton Landing to mark the arrival of the Planters. Former Wolfville Mayor Ron Longley, an Acadia history professor, encouraged the project.

Ornithologist Robie Tufts, she said, brought stones in his car to the nine-by-eight-foot corner site donated by Parker Doyle. It was adjacent one of the last school buildings. With volunteer labour, the cairn cost $73.50 to install.

Donald Patterson, a grandson of the long-time principal, participated in the unveilling and Acadia president Watson Kirkconnell presided over the event.

According to Townsend, several historic cairns in Kings County date back to that era, including the Abraham Gesner cairn at Chipman Corner, the Borden cairn, the Rev. George Gilmour gravemarker and the Col. Noble monument, all in Grand Pré.

Townsend noted Marshall collected school programs, calendars, photographs and artifacts from the school. Acacia Villa - originally called the Lower Horton Seminary by Joseph R. Hea, who was principal for eight years - was founded in 1852 as a private school for boys.

Arthur M. Patterson purchased the school and ran it until 1907, when he was succeeded by his son, A.H. Patterson. Besides the proprietor, there were five or six teachers.

By about the 1905 school term, the school allowed girls to attend classes. Acacia Villa School closed in 1920. Today, none of the original buildings remain standing.

Townsend wondered if the UNESCO designation for the Grand Pré area might lead to some interpretive panels where the school used to be.

“There is literally no evidence it was there. For tourists, a few panels would tell a story.”

Charlie Curry, who farms nearby, said the cairn itself needs some maintenance.

“It could be more attractive for about $1,000,” he said.

Oral history, he added, tells of students making a parade to the long-gone Methodist church in Grand Pré along a wooden sidewalk.

Betty Curry said that, when the school first started, it was where Nova Scotia sea captains sent their sons to get an education. Day students from the area also attended.

Parker Doyle’s son, Richard, said he owns a handbell that was used at the school. He said the last building was lived in until 1986 and then torn down. Hurricane Edna, in 1959, destroyed the school’s main structure.