The earliest known settlement in the Cornwall area was by French farmers in the North River area in the mid 1700s. The first English-speaking settlers arrived in 1790. While farming remained the dominant economic activity throughout Cornwall’s history, a significant shipbuilding industry was founded in North River in the early 1800s which continued for over 100 years before declining in the 1920s.
Early residential development in Cornwall was somewhat restricted due to the long overland distance to the Capital via Milton. The first road in the area was the West River Road. It is shown on an 1813 map, running from the West River through Cornwall along the present Cornwall Road, past the East Wiltshire cemetery and northerly to merge with Highway 248. Then it crossed the North River in Milton to join the old Princetown (Malpeque) Road. This was the main route to Charlottetown, but it lost that status in 1824 when a bridge was built across the North River near the site of the present causeway. Remnants of the old bridge approach were visible for many years. The wooden bridge was destroyed twice by spring ice and was finally replaced in 1913 with a steel bridge. The steel bridge gave way to a causeway in the mid-1950s, when the Trans-Canada Highway was constructed. In addition to the early bridges, there was a ferry service between York Point and Charlottetown from the early 1800s to the mid 1950s.
The name Cornwall dates back to the early 1800s when the Newson family from Cornwall, England settled in the area. In the 1878 Atlas the site of the former Village of Cornwall is referred to as Pye’s Corner. The name Cornwall was later selected by the predominantly English settlers. The Eliot River area was also settled by farmers in the early 1800s.
The first municipal incorporation in the area occurred when Cornwall became a Village in 1966. The balance of the original school district was primarily rural and remained unincorporated until the formation of the Eliot River C.I.C. in 1975. In 1974 the former school districts of York Point, East Wiltshire and Warren Grove joined to form a Community Improvement Committee which was later re-named the North River C.I.C. in 1981. In 1983 a change in provincial legislation changed the designation of the three jurisdictions to “Communities” and in 1984 the Warren Grove area was given permission to form a separate community.