An Archaeological Survey of Scots Bay Mills and Shipyards

by Michael Deal, Archaeology Unit, Memorial University of Newfoundland

Logging, milling, and shipbuilding were the first historic industries in the Scots Bay area of Kings County, Nova Scotia. While many aspects of milling and shipbuilding in Kings County are well documented (e.g., Margeson 1996; Robertson 1986; Wallace 1937), there is virtually no published information on these activities at Scots Bay. A brief summary of the surviving archival information appears in Abram Jess' unpublished history of the community (1941:25-30) and there are a few surviving photographs.

In July 2004, the author and two graduate students, Sara Halwas (Memorial University) and Michelle Lelievre (University of Chicago), conducted an archaeological survey of former mill and shipyard sites in the community of Scots Bay. The goals of the 2004 survey were to supplement Jess' information through interviews with local residents and to visually examine known locations, in order to record them as official archaeological sites. Site locations were recorded using a handheld Garmin etrex Legend GPS unit. Except for the mill site at Clam Cove, no subsurface testing was conducted.



Scots Bay Mills

Most of the Scots Bay mills date from the mid to late nineteenth century, when logging and shipping activities in the Maritime Provinces were at their peak. According to the famed naturalist, Abraham Gesner (1849:216), " ...mills that propel a single saw, are found upon almost every stream in the province." A Scots Bay resident, writing as W.A.T., probably around 1870, noted that early in the history of the community "Three of the largest of the streams before mentioned were selected for mill seats & a saw mill was erected on each, and it would thus appear that lumbering was the first inducement to form a settlement." (W.A.T. c. 1870:part 3). Saw mills built prior to 1850 generally had an up-and-down saw and an overshot or undershot wheel (Evans 1850; Priamo 1976:123-135). A working up-and-down sawmill existed in New England as late as 1938 (Penn and Parks 1975). Circular saws, which could double the output of a mill, were not common until the late nineteenth century (Curtis 1973).

The earliest mills on record for Scots Bay are a grist mill and a saw mill which were operated by Thomas Andrew and three others, as early as 1783, on Ells Brook (Jess 1941:18). These mills were later sold to Jonathan and Josiah Davidson. The Andrew saw mill probably had a single vertical saw and an overshot wheel. A later saw mill, probably at the same location, was operated by Albert C. Tupper, and was passed on to Arden and Harmon Tupper. Remnants of a high stone wall were recorded during the 2004 survey. This wall is believed to part of the original dam for the mill pond. The brook is now bisected above the dam, where the original pond was located.


Table 1: Scot Bay Mill sites.

Proprietor(s) Time Period Location Products
Thomas Andrew 1783-? Ells Brook flour, house planks
John Pingree Pre-1813-1872 George Jess Brook house & ship planks?
William D. Huntley Pre-1846 Huntley Brook house & ship planks?
James M. Rogers c. 1850 Dan Jess Brook house planks
David Jess Pre-1865 The Creek lumber for export
Albert Tupper Post-1865-1872 George Jess Brook barrel stock & shingles
William Jess Post-1865-1872 George Jess Brook house& ship planks?
Albert C. Tupper Late 1800s-1927 Ells Brook house & ship planks?
W.C. Tupper & Sons 1919-Post 1941 George Jess Brook barrel stock & shingles
Hatfields 1920s Clam Cove sawed lumber
Cyrus Steele c. 1945-1972 Below Hustle Farm sawed lumber
Joe Steele Post WW II Huntley Brook sawed lumber
J. & W. Bigalow 1947-1953 Kinsmen's Cove sawed lumber
Elmer Tupper 1972-1980s George Jess Brook sawed lumber

In 1864, A. F. Church & Co. were commissioned to produce county maps of Nova Scotia. Ambrose Church's surveys for the Kings County map were probably made just before its publication in 1872 (See Fergusson 1969). This map lists five saw mills and one shipyard site in Scots Bay. The Andrew mills were not included on the map, therefore we can assume that they were no longer operating when the Church survey was conducted. One of the mills was located just west of the original community road along the brook that drains into Davidson Cove, which our survey refers to as Thorpe Brook. No other information has been gathered as to who owned this mill and how long it was in operation.

The oldest of the four known mills on Church's map is probably the mill operated by David Pingree, which is listed in Pingree's 1813 will (Jess 1941:18). This mill was located on George Jess Brook, on the eastern side of the current Route 358. Remnants of the original mill pond exist today, although the area was considerably altered by the construction of a ball field. Local residents also remember when portions of the original dam were in tact. The same mill, or another mill on the same site, was later operated by George Jess and left to his sons, Joseph and George L. Jess (Jess 1941:18). The mill was eventually destroyed by a flood in 1872.



William D. Huntley operated a sawmill on Huntley Brook, on the western side of the current Route 358. This mill first appears in public records in 1846 when a half interest was sold to Asa Huntley (Jess 1941:18). Today the mill site is overgrown with shrubs and young trees. The original mill pond still exists on the eastern side of Route 358. When the mill was in operation, a sluice from the pond ran under the road (which ran along the mill dam) and the water fell onto an overshot wheel. Logs from the pond were pulled over the road to the mill. Remnants of cribwork were recorded during the survey, which may have been part of the original sluice. Bricks collected at the same location were impressed with "Gartcraig Scotland." These were produced by Gartcraig Brickworks in Glasgow sometime between 1876 and 1914. A photograph of the pond and a portion of the mill indicates that it was still in operation in the early twentieth century.

A sawmill was operated by James M. Rogers, behind his home on Dan Jess Brook. The mill was probably built about the same time as his house, around 1850. It produced mainly planks for house construction. The original site location is still easily identified and consists of a mill pond and foundation mound.

The fourth identified sawmill from the Church map was operated by David Jess along the shore of the Bay at the southern end of the seawall. Two wharfs were later built on either side of a stream that flowed from the "Creek," where today waters from the George Jess and Huntley Brooks meet. The mill was located on the northern side of the stream, below the Creek. All that remains of the structure are three vertical posts, ranging from 26 to 33 cm in diameter. According to Abram Jess (1941:17) this was a steam mill which exported lumber. A postcard from the early twentieth century shows the two wharfs and a less substantial structure (probably a fishing shack) at this site.

Sometime after Church's survey and 1872, two other sawmills were operated on George Jess Brook, by William Jess and Albert Tupper. Both of these mills were destroyed in the flood that took out the Pingree mill, and none of them were rebuilt (Jess 1941:24). The Albert Tupper mill was located on the western site of the current Route 358. It is believed that any remnants of this mill were destroyed when a new pond was excavated at the site in the recent past. The William Jess mill was located on the eastern side of the road, above the Pingree mill. Remnants of the mill pond still existed in the mid-twentieth century, but today all that remains is a level area of land where the mill once stood. Another mill was operated by Albert C. Tupper on Ells Brook in the late 1800s, and later run by Ardent Tupper. This mill may have been on the same site as the old Andrew mill. It produced barrel staves, heads, and shingles. The mill was destroyed by a flood in 1927, and not rebuilt (Jess 1941:17).



Information was also collected on six other sawmills that operated during the twentieth century. A mill was built in 1919 by William Tupper & Sons at a new site on George Jess Brook, just north and east of the former Pingree mill. This mill produced barrel stock and shingles and was still in operation when Abram Jess wrote his history of the community in 1941. Another mill was operated during the 1920s by the Hatfield's of Cumberland County at Clam Cove, on Cape Split. It was a steam mill with a circular saw. The site consisted of the mill, a cookhouse/bunkhouse, and a barn for eight horses. The buildings were taken to the site by barge at high tide and sawed lumber was removed by the same method. Archaeological testing at this site in 1989 and 2004 has uncovered pieces of cast iron, iron wire nails, ceramics, and glass.

At least four sawmills were in operation in the Scots Bay area during the late 1900s. Cyrus Steele ran a steam mill after World War II below what is now Hustle Farm. Water was pumped from Herbert Tupper Brook to run the boiler. The boiler and some concrete slabs can still be found along the shore below the site. The mill building was the one used by Harmon Tupper on Ells Brook. The building was moved again in 1972 to George Jess Brook, above Pingree's mill site. This mill was operated by Elmer Tupper, son of William Tupper. It was powered by a gasoline engine and produced sawed lumber. Joe Steele also operated a diesel powered sawmill after World War II, on the Huntley Brook mill pond. Another steam powered, rotary saw, mill was operated by Russell Jess, for James and William Bigalow, between 1947 and 1953 at Kinsman's Clear, Kinsman's Cove, on Cape Split. The buildings were brought in by tractor and lumber was taken out by barge.

Scots Bay Shipyards

Shipbuilding and shipping became a major Canadian industry in the late nineteenth century, with the Maritime Provinces at its nub (Sager and Fischer 1986:3). Ships were built mainly for British interests and local timber merchants. Yarmouth, Pictou, and several communities along the Bay of Fundy Shore and Minas Basin became shipbuilding centres. Eaton (1910:198) lists Scots Bay as a prominent shipbuilding community in Kings County. Between around 1850 and 1918, at least 26 vessels (see Table 2) were built in Scots Bay by Jonathan E. Steele (11), Jacob Lockhart (1), Jonathan Lockhart (2), Abraham C. Ells (3), Joseph Steele (1), Harmon Newcombe (2), Ardent Tupper (1), Burpee Tupper (1), and J. Harris Thorpe (4). Fifteen of these were ocean-going trading vessels (i.e., brigs, barques, and ships). According to W.A.T. (c. 1870:part 3), the abundance of hardwoods (black and yellow birch, maple and beech) on the ridges above the community was an important factor in the development of shipbuilding in Scots Bay.

Table 2: Vessels built at three Scots Bay shipyards based on Anonymous (1864), Jess (1941), McKean (n.d.), Wallace (1937), and Wright (1972). McKean and Wallace were accepted as authorities when conflicting information was presented.

Vessels Built at the Steele Shipyard
Built/Registered Vessel Name Shipbuilder Vessel Type (Tonnage)
Pre-1850 Lauretta Jonathan E. Steele Brig (?)
1850 or 1851 Dorea (or Dyrea?) Jonathan E. Steele Schooner (?)
1863 or 1864 J. Steele Jonathan E. Steele Barque (568)
1864 Sheffield Jonathan E. Steele Barque (329)
1866 J. L. Wickwire Jonathan E. Steele Barque (391)
1871 Kings County Jonathan E. Steele Barque (858)
1875 Scotts Bay Jonathan E. Steele Barque (993)
1877 Nova Scotia Jonathan E. Steele Barque (1100)
1880 Cornwallis Jonathan E. Steele Barque (1200)
1883 Bay of Fundy Jonathan E. Steele Barque (1221)

Vessels Built at the Lockhart Shipyard
Built/Registered Name of Vessel Shipbuilder Vessel Type (Tonnage)
1864 Queen of Scots Jacob Lockhart Barque (673)
1864 Mayflower Jonathan Lockhart Ocean-going Vessel (?)
1864 Modena Jonathan Lockhart Ocean-going Vessel (?)
1870 Bluebird Abraham C. Ells Barque (392)
1873 Avon Abraham C. Ells Schooner (182)
1876 Bremen Abraham C. Ells Barque (852)
1885 Habitant Jonathan E. Steele Ship (1619)
1890 Reward Harmon Newcombe Schooner (75)
c. 1890 Try Ardent Tupper Small Vessel (10)
c. 1890 Comet Burpee Tupper Small Vessel (10)
Pre-1918 Nordica J. Harris Thorpe Small Sail/Motor (?)
Pre-1918 Aravic J. Harris Thorpe Small Schooner (?)
Pre-1918 Silver Spray J. Harris Thorpe Small Schooner (?)
1918 Huntley J. Harris Thorpe Schooner (520)

Vessels Built at the Wharf Shipyard
Built/Registered Vessel Name Shipbuilder Vessel Type (Tonnage)
1879 Moselle Harmon Newcombe Schooner (?)
c. 1880 Byron M Joseph Steele Schooner (?)

Abraham Jess (1941:29-32) refers to three shipyards in Scots Bay, namely, the Steele, Lockhart, and Wharf Shipyards. All three were located along the shore, between the "Hollow" and the north wharf. Only the Steele Shipyard is included on the Church map of 1872. According to Jess (1941:29-30), a shipyard was operated by Jonathan Steele at the "Hollow" below the Cape Split Road, and adjoining the property of Lemuel Ells (now owned by William Poole). The shipyard operated from around 1850 to 1883. Steele built 11 vessels in Scots Bay yards. The original models for these vessels were kept at the Steele home, but were dispersed after his death.

The Lockhart Shipyard was located on a piece of land purchased from Daniel Jess, probably below the northeastern end of the seawall. The first ship built in the yard was the Queen of Scots, which was completed in 1864. The shipyard operated until 1918. However, it is not indicated on the Church map of 1872, which suggests that the yard was not in use during Church's survey. Jess's report suggests that atleast14 vessels were built at this shipyard, although the small vessels, the Try and Comet, may have also been built there.

At least two vessels were built around 1880 at the Wharf Shipyard, which was located a short distance north of the wharf complex (Jess 1941:31). The Scots Bay wharfs do not appear on the Church map, and were probably built during the 1870s (although possibly in the late 1860s). They consist of two parallel wharf features, separated by a narrow channel flowing from the Creek. The wharfs remained in use until the late 1940s, when the accumulation of mud prevented cargo vessels from docking.

Shipbuilding employed a diverse workforce, including blacksmiths, axemen, sawyers, sailmakers, caulkers, riggers, shipcarvers, and carpenters. Lemuel Ells was the ship's blacksmith who "ironed" the ships built in Scots Bay. Many of the tools used (and/or made) in the Ells Smithy are now owned by Weldon Tupper, including the original vice and anvil. The Ells Blacksmith Shop also appears on the Church map, on the north side of the Cape Split Road, above the shipyard. Merril Thorpe (1980) mentions that the broadaxes used on the Huntley were reforged at the famous Blenkhorn Axe Factory in Canning (see Rand 1996).

From an archaeological perspective, shipyards, and shipyard artifacts, are important to our maritime heritage because they "...represent the places were ideas about function, speed, and capacity were transformed into wood and metal ships" (Souza and Peters 1998). However, there have been very few actual excavations of shipyards (e.g., Pastron and Delgado 1991; Peters1993; Leowen and Cloutier 2003). Nineteenth century shipyards sites often included sawmills, blacksmith shops, storage sheds, and timber yards. Unfortunately, we have very little information on the layout of the Scots Bay shipyards. Lemuel Ells' Blacksmith Shop was located close to the Steele shipyard. According to W.A.T. (c. 1870:part 5), the production of ship planks and boards and timber for houses were important to the local mills of his time. According to Ruth Steele (Elliott 1981), there was a sawmill adjacent to the Lockhart Shipyard, but this was not reported in the Jess history. However, an existing photograph of the construction of the Huntley, the last ship to be built in Scots Bay (1916-1918), shows the construction site at the Lockhart Shipyard, including two small unidentified buildings. The David Jess mill, which was adjacent to the Wharf Shipyard, and would have been a logical source of materials for that yard.

All three yards would have had a building stage and slipway. In one existing photograph, the prow of the Huntley looms over a wooded area. In another photograph, steam is seen coming up from the slipway as the ship slid out into the bay. According to Merril Thorpe (1980), some of the old weathered wood could still be found at the shipyards. Today, there are no visible remnants of the yards, although remnants of the wood cribbing and pilings of the slipways may still be buried in the mud flats.




The information reported here was collected under an archaeological research permit from the Government of Nova Scotia (#A2004NS58). The author would like to thank several residents of Scots Bay who shared information on the local mills and shipyards and provided access to the archaeological sites, including Roger Huntley, Jerry Huntley, Weldon and Bill Tupper, Bev and Preston Huntley, Dan Huntley, Edgar Thorpe, and Covert Huntley. On an earlier survey of the area (1988) the author also talked with Stan and Nina Huntley. Bria Stokesbury gave us access to several important documents in the King County Museum Archives.


Reference Cited

Anonymous 1864 Ship Building in Cornwallis and Horton. Morning Chronicle, Dec. 4. (Reprinted in The Advertiser, 1966). Ms. on file, Kings County Museum Archives, Kentville.

Church, A. F. 1872 Topographical Township Map of Kings County Nova Scotia. Entered into law on the twenty fourth of March A. D. 1864. A. F. Church & Co., Halifax.

Curtis, J. O. 1973 The Introduction of the Circular Saw in the Early 19th Century. Bulletin of the Association for Preservation Technology 5(2):162-189.

Eaton, G. W. 1910 The History of Kings County. Salem Press, Salem.

Elliott, W. 1981 Steeles Recall Huntley Building, Launch. The Advertiser, Wednesday, September 23, p. 4A.

Evans, O. 1850 The Young Mill-Wright and Miller's Guide. Lea and Blanchard, Philadelphia.

Fergusson, C. B. 1969 Ambrose F. Church, Map-Maker. Dalhousie Review 49:505-516.

Gesner, A. 1849 Industrial Resources of Nova Scotia: Comprehending the Physical Geography, Topography, Geology, Agriculture, Fisheries, Mines, Forests, Wild Lands, Lumbering, Manufactories, Navigation, Commerce, Emigration, Improvements, Industry, Contemplated Railways, Natural History and Resources of the Province. A.&W. MacKinlay, Halifax.

Hamilton, E. P. 1964 The Village Mill in Early New England. Old Sturbridge Village, Sturbridge, Mass.

Jess, A. E. 1941 Scotch Bay, Scot's Bay, Scott's Bay: Its History and People. Ms on file, Vaughan Library, Acadia University, Wolfville, Nova Scotia.

Loewen, B., and C. Cloutier 2003 Le Chantier Naval Royal à Québec et le Savoir Maritime au XVIIIe Siècle. In, Mer et Monde: Questions d'Archéologie Maritime, edited by C.Roy, J. Belisle, M-A. Bernier, and B. Loewen, pp. 23-42. Association des Archéologiques du Québec, Québec.

Margeson, C. 1996 Saw Mills of Kings County. Kings County Vignettes, Volume 8, edited by H. Hansford, pp.11-19. Kings Historical Society, Kentville.

McKean, G. R. n.d. List of Ships Built in Kings County, Nova Scotia. Ms. on file, Kings County Museum Archives, Kentville.

Pastron, A. G., and J. P. Delgado 1991 Archaeological Investigations of a Mid-19th Century Ship-breaking Yard, San Francisco, California. Historical Archaeology 25:61-77.

Penn, T. Z., and R. Parks 1975 Nicholas Colby Sawmill in Bow, New Hampshire. IA The Journal of the Society for Industrial Archaeology 1(1):1-12.

Peters, S. M. 1993 Michigan Shipyards, 19850-1900: An Evolution. In Underwater Archaeology Proceedings from the Society for Historical Archaeology Conference, edited by S. O. Smith, pp. 18-22. Kansas City, Missouri.

Priamo, C. 1976 Mills of Canada. McGraw-Hill Ryerson, Toronto.

Rand, E.1996 The Blenkhorn Axe Factory. Kings County Vignettes. 8:5-7.

Robertson, B. R. 1986 Sawpower : Making Lumber in the Sawmills of Nova Scotia. Nimbus Publishing Corporation and the Nova Scotia Museum, Halifax.

Sager, E. W., and L. R. Fischer 1986 Shipping and Shipbuilding in Atlantic Canada, 1820-1914. Canadian Historical Association, Ottawa.

Schuyler, R. L. and C. Mills 1976 The Supply Mill on Content Brook in Massachusetts. Journal of Field Archaeology 3 (1) 61-95.

Souza, D. J., and S. M. Peters 1998 Shipyard Archaeology. In Encyclopedia of Underwater and Maritime Archaeology, edited by J. Delgado, pp. 382-384. British Maritime Press, London.

Thorpe, M. 1980 Scots Bay. Interview transcript concerning the building of the Huntley. Ms. on file, Kings County Museum Archives, Kentville. (Date is approximate).

Wallace, W. 1937 Wooden Ships and Iron Men. Charles E. Lauriat Co., Boston. (Mika Publishing Company Reprint, Belleville, Ontario, 1976).

W. A. T. 1870 Scot's Bay - King's County. Parts 1-5. Unidentified newspaper article on file, Kings County Museum Archives, Kentville. (Date is approximate).

Wright, E. C. 1972 Blomidon Rose. Lancelot Press, Windsor, Nova Scotia.