River Philip

The early history of River Philip

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article, “The early history of River Philip”, Is the text of a five-minute speech delivered by Gwendolyn Ripley of the River Philip Centre School at the Collingwood School Fair on Sept. 14, 1932. The speech earned Miss Ripley first prize.

Honorable Judges, Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, “I am going to speak to you today on the early history of River Philip, and give you a brief account of the events leading up to the present day. 

No doubt most of you know how River Philip got its name. One would naturally suppose that its name might have originated from a man named Philip, but it is generally believed it was named by an Indian wandering through the woods. He came to the river to fill a bottle with water and so the water passed into the bottle the sound he heard was “fil-ip” He called the river Philip, and that name was adopted by the early settlers.

In the year 1772, about 25 years after the first settlement at Halifax, Franklin, the Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia, engaged several families to emigrate from Yorkshire England. Among these was Wm. Black and his family, who settled in the vicinity of Amherst. He being favourably impressed with the country, spied out River Philip as a suitable settlement for his son, John, and other acquaintances in England.

In the year 1774 or shortly after, several families emigrated from Yorkshire England, and were given a grant of land by King George III, known as the Yorkshire grant which extended along River Philip between what is now Oxford Junction to Wyvern, containing about 15,000 acres of virgin timber. In this grant one reserve. “All mines and great pines” was asked by the British Government. The pines were to be shipped to England for ship building purposes.

Among these families were the following names, Blacks, Donkins, Oxleys and Ripleys.

These Yorkshire people were of sterling quality, industrious, frugal, and loyal to their country and church. In religion they were Methodists, followers of John Wesley. Among them were carpenters, masons, preachers, teachers, doctors and magistrates. They had many difficulties to encounter in this, their new country, but they found themselves relieved of many burdens they had to bear in the Old Country, where there had been great religious restrictions. Both men and women went to work with vigor and courage, clearing the uplands and intervals, and building new homes. They found the soil-fertile and the woods rich in timber and game. From the river they got excellent trout and salmon.

The first schoolhouse was erected on the property now owned by Walter Ryan and the first schoolmaster was Henry Ripley.

John Black was the first preacher. He was also a doctor and magistrate. He was greatly beloved by the people and was the means of procuring a graveyard and a site on which a church was built. It stood where Arthur Smith now lives. In this church he used to preach to the people on Sundays, and work on his farm during the week. He soon cleared up a large area of land which in time became valuable. It is now owned and occupied by George L. King.

There are several other families of Blacks, all prominent men. Hon. Percy Black of Amherst is a direct descendant of these Yorkshire Blacks.

The first death among these pioneers was that of George Oxley in 1790. His grave and monument may still be seen on the property of Willard Ripley. He was 57 years of age. His son, Joseph Oxley, married the eldest daughter of John Black and cleared up the farm now owned and occupied by Chas Bragg of Collingwood. He was Justice of the Peace and was several times elected a member of the N.S. Assembly.

The Donkins were also prominent men. Robert Donkin, son of the first Donkin settler, was a member of the N.S. legislature and Justice of the Peace.

There were no roads at this time but blazed trails. The mail and supplies were brought from Pugwash by boat, or from Halifax. The first courthouse was built at Hewson’s Corner and was the county seat for Cumberland.

New emigrants came about the time of the Revolutionary War in the United States, among them Loyalists and Refugees.

Names such as Fillmore and Davidson are familiar with the older residents and some of the descendants are still living at River Philip.

Sir Chas. Tupper’s father, a Baptist minister, was among the early settlers and some say that Sir Chas. Tupper himself was born at River Philip, but of this I have no positive proof.

With the coming of new emigrants, new grants were given by the King and River Philip enlarged to a great extent. All the country from Port Philip to Westchester was known as River Philip. Williamsdale and Wyvern were known as East and West Branches. Later, different sections were divided off, such as Oxford, Clifton, now known as Oxford Jct., Williamsdale, Wyvern and Collingwood. River Philip now extends from the residence of Richard Giles to that of J.R. King. It is divided into two school sections, namely, River Philip and River Philip Centre. There are a few descendants of the early settlers, but the majority of the inhabitants are new families.

Needless to say, vast improvements have been made but we owe much to those brave pioneers whose graves and monuments may still be seen in different places at River Philip.

Much more could be added to the history of River Philip, but my time is up. I thank you for your kind attention.

(Source: The Citizen, Saturday, February 20, 1993, Page 3 – A Touch of Cumberland History – The early history of River Philip)

River Philip heritage

During the last century in Cumberland, many homes were also places of business. Small communities, lacking the sophisticated transportation and comunication systems of today, looked inward for retail, postal and medical services. One such community was River Philip. Settled circa 1774 by the Yorkshire families of Black, Donkin, Oxley, Schurman and Ripley, among others, it was for many years chiefly an agricultural area. Over the years the population increased and the inhabitants worked at a variety of trades. Situated virtually at the centre of the county, River Philip was the site of the first county court house. About 1860 and after much discussion, it was decided that County court be held in the larger community of Amherst.

Because of River Philip’s size and prominence in the early 1800’s, the main road or “old Post Road” ran through the community from Amherst to Halifax. The use of this road by stage coaches necessitated the presence of a number of coach houses or “rest areas” along the route. One dwelling used for this purpose is now the home of Claudine and Michael Wallace.

The original (back portion) of the building was constructed circa 1800 and is of simple Maritime vernacular style with little detail or ornamentation. It is covered with white clapboard, has a medium-pitched gable roof and three-bay facade. The newer portion which faces the main road was built about 1870 and has 1 and ½ storeys with a modified Greek Revival facade. The decorative verandah addition was built after 1914. The off-centre door is surrounded by a handsome arrangement of transom and sidelight windows. The house sits on a fieldstone foundation.

Early Greek Revival forms and decoration grew out of the 18th century desire for more accurate details based on archaeological studies of ancient buildings, so popular during that time. Greek Revival architecture was most prominent in Nova Scotia between 1820-1890 and because, in this province, so many details of the structures had Roman as well as Greek characteristics, the style is more accurately called Classical Revival. Houses of this style boasts medium or steeply pitched gable roofs with wood construction. Like the Wallace house, features include an off-centred doorway and discreetly placed chimney. Greek Revival buildings have no dormers.

The dwelling has changed owners many times and served multiple uses. After its duties as a coach house, the older portion of the dwelling was used as a tannery and shoemakers shop by owner Fred W. Patton circa 1865 and from the turn of the century until 1955, it was one of two post offices in River Phillip.

The age of this home and its condition are a tribute to its builders. It is a monument to the history of River Philip and an example of the diversity of roles one structure can play in the life of a community.

Sources: Allen Penney. Houses of Nova Scotia Halifax: Formac Publishing Co. 1989.

“River Philip was Once County Centre”, the Oxford Journal. 50th Anniversary Edition 1898-1948. Page 18. Collection of the Cumberland County Museum, Amherst.

Individuals and organizations with questions or concerns regarding private homes or public buildings constructed in Cumberland County before 1914 or those interested in Municipal Heritage Designation for their building or the Heritage Act in general are welcome to contact Laurie A. Glenn, Heritage Researcher, at the Municipality of Cumberland. E.B. Fullerton Building, P.O Box 428, Amherst, Nova Scotia B4H 3Z5. Phone 667-2313 or Fax 667-1352.

(Source: The Citizen, Saturday, July 23, 1994, Page 26 – Cumberland’s Built Heritage, compiled by Laurie A. Glenn – River Philip heritage)