A majority of the emigrants at that period came from the Parish of Rogart (Sutherland, Scotland) so it was natural that the search should concentrate on experienced men who might be persuaded to join their relatives in Earltown. The unanimous choice was John MacKay, Sr., who came from a family of millers and who had already taken up land in Middle River. (Whether this was Middle River in Pictou County, or on Cape Breton Island, no one is sure). On learning of the Earltown opportunities, he accepted the challenge and took title to the 100 acres shown on the Land Grant Map and engaged the services of a Mr. Wright to build the wooden structure. [Other sources state that he brought a millwright with him, a gentleman by name of Grant of Rovie Farm in Rogart.]
The date of completion is obscure at this as Patterson, in his History of Pictou County, states only the John MacKay put up the first grist mill in Earltown. Israel Longworth gives 1825 as the date the mill was in operation, also, it is understood that sometime in 1823 the first grist was processed.
"The petition states that a mill for the manufacture of oatmeal and flour is in process of construction and will cost the builder nearly one hundred pounds, an amount the petitioner was not prepared to advance. Since the mill would meet the needs of about two hundred families, the petitioner urged consideration of the request. It is not known whether or not the request was granted but in response to "Agricola's" writing, many mills in other parts of the province were given financial assistance by the House of Assembly in Halifax.
"In any case, the mill was completed with flume and water wheel at the foundation level and the top floor, which reached road level, gave a convenient entrance for delivery and processing of grain. The drying kiln was built across the road and at a slightly higher elevation. This gave ground access to the heating chamber on the lower level and also ground access to the perforated metal floor of the drying kiln directly above the heat source.
"The two granite millstones were moved from a site at the West Branch by the use of two sleds and the muscle power of 36 men who willingly volunteered in order to see the mill start producing oatmeal and flour. Apparently few or any horses were owned by the farmers of Earltown in 1838, so the men of the area volunteered to transport the half-ton of Scotland's best granite over 14 miles of rough road by sheer muscle power. The "Miller" organized his 36 helpers into two teams, each equipped with ropes and a low wooden sled. They then applied a generous coating of tallow to the sled runners and set out before daylight for the 14 mile journey. The "lower" or "bed-stone" was placed on one sled and the "upper", or "runner stone", on the other. By alternating positions each team took turns breaking trail, thus the precious millstones were moved from the West Branch, Pictou County, to Earltown by 36 determined men.
"The Earltown grist mill and later addition of a saw mill and carding mill
served the immediate area while John MacKay, Sr., was active, but closed
when he died in 1869, age 76. The foundation stones of the drying kiln
were visible until the 1920's when new road construction and alignment
close the mill hill road and the sharp turn around the kiln site onto the
Denmark road was eliminated. This turn caused grief for many motorists
when cars first appeared on the narrow winding roads. Also, long vehicles
with heavy loads travelling from the Truro side towards Tatamagouche would
encounter problems negotiating this sharp turn. In winter, the ice and
snow could cause sleighs to slide dangerously close to the edge of the
In the 1870s, Alexander MacKay (son of the above John MacKay, who
emigrated from Rogart about 1818), established a
Grist Mill in Balmoral Mills>,
a neighbouring community to Earltown. Today, it remains a working mill as
part of the Nova Scotia Museum complex.
Newspaper Clipping in scrapbook kept by Mrs. Alverda Tucker, Truro, N.S.
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