The Cumberland County Museum and Archives first opened its doors in 1981 at Grove Cottage in the heart of Amherst. Grove Cottage was likely built in 1838, shortly after renowned Amherst resident, Robert Barry Dickey (1811-1903), purchased the 14-acre property from John Ward. The deed was witnessed by Robert's father, Robert McGowan Dickey (1784-1854), who likely paid to have Grove Cottage built. Robert M. was a wealthy landowner and held positions of Justice of the Peace, Judge of Court of Common Pleas, and Conservative representative for Amherst Township in the Nova Scotia Legislative Assembly. It is said that Robert M. brought a supply of wines and liquors from England to stock the wine cellar of his house.
Robert B. Dickey was educated at Truro Grammar School and Windsor Academy. At age 15, he began studying law under Alexander Stewart and was called to the bar in 1834. In 1844, Dickey married Stewart's daughter, Mary Blair. Following their honeymoon in Britain, the couple took up residence at Grove Cottage with Dickey's parents. There they raised three sons and two daughters.
Dickey was a member of the Legislative Council of Nova Scotia from 1858 to 1867, and served as a judge in Cumberland County for twenty years. One of three Fathers of Confederation from Amherst, he attended the Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences in 1864. But dissatisfied with the financial arrangements for Nova Scotia in the Quebec Resolutions, Dickey was replaced at the London Conference in 1866. In 1867, he was called to the first federal Senate of Canada. Dickey died in office at the age of 92.
The Amherst Township Historical Society chose Grove Cottage to be their museum and archives not only because of its original owners, but also because it is one of the oldest surviving buildings in Amherst. The house has retained many of its original features including hand-hewn beams and sills that are mortised and pinned, the front door and bell pull, first floor fireplaces, brass doorknobs and locks, hand-planed floors, and folding shutters. The hawthorn and Linden trees in the front yard are believed to be original to the property, and the spring running through the property once supplied the house with its water.
After the Historical Society purchased the house in 1981, the building and property were turned over to the Province of Nova Scotia and converted into the County Museum. The garage was transformed into an exhibition room and the verandah was removed.
The Cumberland County Museum and Archives is now home to collection of artifacts and resources from generations of families that lived in the region. Exhibits highlight the history of Cumberland County beginning with early Indigenous settlements right through to the early twentieth century. The archival collection includes genealogical material; approximately 1400 maps and land grants detailing many areas of Cumberland County; over 4,500 photographs spanning the early 1900s to present day; personal ledgers, diaries, and bibles; accounts of the early days of Cumberland County; and newspaper articles. Now governed by the Cumberland County Museum Society, the museum offers programs, exhibits, field trips, speakers, special events, and workshops, and showcases a fine art collection by Cumberland County artists. The building has a meeting space and gift shop with locally made products and books, and plans are under way to enhance the beautiful gardens and grounds.
“History That Stirs the Imagination” is the motto of Cumberland County Museum and Archives – a rightful, but possibly underestimated, tribute to its holdings.