Every week, I share an excerpt from my Great Aunt’s book, As the Story is Told: A History of Morpeth and Community, which was printed in 1986. Note, this is a historical text and I don’t necessarily agree with all of the authour’s views or turns of phrase.
The Morpeth United Church is interesting to me, because that was the church our family attended until I was about 7 years old, so I remember it. In fact, I was dubbed the “Centennial baby” for being the only baby born in the congregation in 1977.
Historical Sketch of Morpeth United Church
Prepared by Centennial Committee
Edited by Alan Fisher, 1977
Soon after the completion of the Talbot Road survey through the Morpeth area in 1816, the first settlers arrived. The majority of these early settlers were immigrants from the British Isles and had brought with them strong religious convictions. The Bible occupied an important place in the homes of these pioneers. Its frequent reading was a way of life for these people. Therefore it was not long until in 1824 Joseph and his wife Deborah Richardson organized the building of the first Methodist meeting house at Morpeth.
It is interesting to note that descendants of the Richardson family, Charles Richardson and Rev. I. B. Richardson, along with several others worked together to produce Morpeth’s first newspaper known as “The Progressionist,” which was published for only one year. Charles Richardson went on to become a noted and respected journalist. During this period the Talbot Road area throughout Kent County was part of the Amherstburg circuit, and remained so until 1836. The area was serviced by Methodist circuit riders. These ministers were dedicated and colourful individuals who journeyed from meeting house to meeting house on horseback.
As the population of Methodists grew in the Kent County area, new circuits were set up to serve the newly formed churches. During the period 1837 to 1852, the Morpeth church came under a circuit which included Chatham. The ministers who served this circuit travelled some 180 miles each fortnight to attend to the religious needs of sixteen churches. Because of the distance and the number of points on the circuit, the Morpeth church felt neglected.
This period also saw the formation of several groups of Methodist followers. Of the many Methodist groups that were organized, the two strongest churches that survived and grew were the “Wesleyan Methodist Church of Canada” and the “Methodist Episcopal Church in Canada.” The Wesleyan Methodist Church arose out of a union of the Canadian Conference of Methodists and the British Wesleyan Church.
When the new Morpeth circuit of the Wesleyan Methodist Church was organized in 1852, its first minister was Richard Phelps. He was a former schoolteacher who came to the area in 1829 and had been the minister for the extensive Chatham circuit prior to the formation of the Morpeth circuit. Pastor Phelps lived in Ridgetown and preached at the Morpeth Wesleyan Church for the years 1852 and 1853. Pastor Phelps, who was known as “Daddy” Phelps, in addition to being a minister acted as a magistrate, doctor and farmer, and owned a shingle mill and a cranberry plot. He also acted as one of the trustees of the first cemetery to be opened in the Ridgetown area on the Mitton farm.
It is not known exactly what year the Wesleyan Church was built in Morpeth, but the trustees received the deed to the property in November of 1849. Therefore it could be assumed that the small frame church would have been donated by Mr. And Mrs. William Sheldon, and was located on the east side of Bagot Street near the ravine.
The Morpeth circuit for the period 1852 to 1863 included churches at Morpeth, Ridgetown and Troy. In 1864 the circuit became known as the Ridgetown circuit, along with Morpeth and Troy, and the Rev. William Hawke was minister. It is interesting to note that at this period the Morpeth mission raised $91, while Ridgetown raised only $20.50. These figures show the relative comparison of the size of the two churches. Early history reports that when the first town lot survey was made in Ridgetown about 1851, Morpeth was already a thriving community containing a number of number of general stores, three taverns, a wagon shop, two tailor shops, harness makers, one foundry, one potter and many other tradesmen, a Justice of the Peace, Division Court, a bailiff, a doctor, and the post office.
The small frame Wesleyan Methodist Church served the community well from 1850 until the present church was opened in 1877. This church and the property, no longer required, was disposed of in 1881 when Alexander marsh representing the trustees, sold it to Richard Wade for $100. The trustees of the “Methodist Church of Canada” at Morpeth who witnessed this sale were Cyrus Smith, William Stinson, James W. Brown, and Charles Elford.
At about the same time as the formation of the Wesleyan Church in Morpeth, the congregation of the Methodist Episcopal Church was organizing the construction of their new church to be built on the extreme western end of the village. The property, lot 15, North Talbot Street West, was purchased from James Coll. The sale price of the lot was five shillings (about $1.25) and took place on January 16, 1850. Very little is known about this church, the size of its congregation, or the names of the ministers. The church apparently functioned with a thriving congregation until the two congregations united as the Methodist Church of Canada and moved into the new church in 1877.
The property of the Methodist Episcopal Church was later sold to John L. Coll in 1897. John Coll was the father of Amy, Mima, Jim, Oscar and Flossie Coll. Miss Amy Coll, a respected village and church supporter, resided on this property all her life.
The camp-meeting revivals were a typical trademark of these early area Methodists. Descriptions of these meetings were very vivid and left one gasping at the sincerity of these dedicated people. It is reported that these camp meetings lasted over a period of a week. They were usually held in late summer when, after harvest, people travelled from miles around to take part in day-long sessions of prayers, sermons, hymns, and religious instruction. Often these meetings extended into the night, when the camp area was illuminated by torchlight. Participating Methodists often became worked up by the religious fervour and in their excitement became affected by a nervous disorder named the “jerks.” A camp meeting of this type was reported to be first held at Howard in June 1831. The name “Howard” was synonymous with Morpeth during the early days of the area.
When the Methodist Church of Canada was inaugurated, the two Methodist congregations in Morpeth were united. Some reports indicate that a great deal of persuasive talk was required before this union took place. No doubt each congregation was strongly devoted to the principles of its own church. After the two congregations joined, even the Wesleyan church, the larger of the two, could not accommodated the congregation so the members began to organize for the building of a new and larger church.
Finally a site was chosen in the northern end of the village on Main Street. This lot consisted of one acre and was obtained from Lydia Taylor for the sum of $100 and was purchased on May 18, 1876.
The construction of the present church began and was completed the following year. The minister at that time was Rev. R. W. Woodsworth who had assumed the responsibility of organizing the building committee. The exact original cost of the building is not known. In 1856 the price of a frame church seating 200 which was constructed in Blenheim cost $700, while a frame church of the same size built in Duart cost $800. In comparison, it is estimated that the Morpeth brick church would have cost in excess of $5000.
The building and the financing of a church this size was a great undertaking. To make matters worse the final cost exceeded the estimate, so a heavy debt was borne by the congregation. The congregation stood behind the project, supported by such loyal members as Cyrus Smith, Henry Spencer, Austin Hill, John Ridley, Ralph Gardiner, William Stinson, and others. At times it appeared that the church would have to be closed and sold to raise money to pay the debt. Such men as those mentioned above made special canvasses in order to raise sufficient money to meet principal and interest payments.
The magnificent new church was dedicated on May 7, 1877 with the Rev. D. D. Ives conducting the services. The congregation was very proud of the new church and one of its strong supporters, William Stinson, was selected to lay the cornerstone. In the sermon of dedication Rev. Ives made a great appeal for funds to help pay off the debt. His persuasiveness overtook the practicality of the situation and many people subscribed more than their circumstances would allow them to pay. The church again faced financial difficulties and a mortgage of $5000 was taken out with the Canadian Savings and Loan Company of London on February 19, 1878. The trustees of the congregation who signed the mortgage were Cyrus Smith, Austin Hill, William H. Spencer, John Storey, Charles Elford, Sylvester Whitesell and David Stocking.
The congregation faced many problems over the years in meeting the commitments of this loan. In 1887 John M. Stang, on behalf of the trustees, obtained a mortgage of $2600 from the Toronto General Trust Company. The actual purpose of this loan is not known. Its use could possible be connected with payments on the original loan.
Although it took twenty-four years, the church finally burned its mortgage in 1901 under the pastorate of the Rev. E. F. Powell.
As Ridgetown continued to grow with the arrival of the railway, the Ridgetown church was separated from the Morpeth circuit. In 1884 the Palmyra Methodist Church joined with Morpeth to form a new circuit. The white frame church served the religious needs of its devoted members in the Palmyra and Clearville area until it was closed in 1969.
Prior to the formation of the Morpeth-Palmyra circuit, the minister serving Morpeth lived in Ridgetown. The new circuit had to obtain a manse for their minister, the Rev. G. R. Turk. The manse was located on the west side of Main Street, just north of the present junction of Highways 3 and 21. The house and lot was purchased from Segic and Charity Ann Handy on August 19, 1882. The purchase price was $400. It is not stated whether this price included both house and lot. There is reason to believe that the house was purchased with the understanding that it would have to be moved at some future date.
The new manse property, located at the northwest corner of the junction of Furnace Street and Main Street (Highway 21), was purchased from Annie Johnson for $75 on May 21, 1890. The sale of this property was not registered until January 4, 1893, and included the lot only. The first manse purchased from the Handys in 1882, was moved to the present location in the early 1890s. This original manse was used as the basic structure around which the parsonage was constructed.
The parsonage trustees at the time the original manse was purchased were: Cyrus Smith, Austin Hill, William Stinson, Jeremiah Ruston, Henry Wilkinson, William Hill and John Ridley. All were listed as yeomen except Henry Wilkinson who was listed as a butcher. John Ridley, William Stinson, and Jeremiah Ruston came from the area of the Townline Road and Troy. Cyrus Smith, Henry Wilkinson, Austin and William Hill came from either Morpeth or the immediate vicinity.
The new parsonage, which over the years went through renovations and improvements, served as the home for the many ministers until a new pastoral charge was formed on July 1, 1969. In 1976 the Morpeth congregation felt that the parsonage was of no further use and instructed the manse trustees to sell it. The sale was finally completed in the latter part of 1976, climaxing a span of some 94 years for the location of the Methodist parsonage in the village.