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Roots of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church more than 185 years deep (10 photos)

In this Week's Remember This?, History Hound Richard MacLeod traces the long history of the Presbyterian faith in Newmarket
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When the Presbyterian Church arrived in Newmarket is uncertain. Records indicate that Presbyterianism dates to at least 1813, when a Col. Graham of the Aurora area donated 40 acres, known as Lot 25 on the 2nd Concession of King Township, for a ‘glebe’, land meant for the building of a manse.  

While it was later sold, the proceeds were then invested in another manse. While we are fairly certain that an organized church existed well prior to the 1837 Rebellion, few records are availabl. 

We know in 1834, the Established Church of Scotland sent out Rev. Henry Gordon from Edinburgh. His pastoral field was Newmarket and King. During his pastorate, a church and manse were built, quite likely the old Kirk on Timothy Street across from the James Allen Sr. home, a local supporter. 

We know it was a brick building 35-by-40 feet and had a 16-foot ceiling. The land had been donated by Timothy Millard, one of our founders. The Manse was erected about 100 feet to the east of the church by the clergy fund, which amounted to $750.

In 1837, the church was used as a detention camp for 52 political prisoners from the rebellion. The prisoners were nearly starved during their two-week detention, according to reports. It was said at the time that the population was only about 1,200 and the congregation was “weak and scattered”. 

Rev. Gordon was replaced by Rev. William Ritchie in 1838, from Demerara in Scotland.  It is said that he continued to build the congregation until 1843. We then encounter a period where our knowledge goes cold, a period of 12 years until 1854.

In 1854, Rev. John Brown arrived in Newmarket from New Orleans and took over the Church, which was then a brick building (called a kirk) with a seating capacity for about 200.  It was situated on Timothy Street on the northwest side of Main Street behind Liberty Hall on Botsford Street. 

Rev. Brown, as was the custom at the time, was a busy man, preaching in Queensville and McMillan’s Corners (on the line between East and North Gwillimbury), along with his work here in Newmarket. Rev. George Bruce, who arrived around 1875, was the minister during what they called “the transitional period” when the Church was moving from a more scripture and readings-based service to one highlighting more hymns and the introduction of an organ.  

The “old fundamentalists” preferred that members praise the Lord only by human voice, no music or singing.  

It appears that those who wished to retain the old order would worship with Rev. Brown at the Timothy Street church, while those who preferred the new order worshipped with Rev. Bruce at a small roughcast building with a capacity of roughly 70 on Garbutt Hill (now known as Prospect Street, at the top of Water Street, where the W.C. Widdifield home sits). It had previously been used by the Baptist denomination as a summer church for about four years before being sold to the Presbyterians.  

For three years, the congregation grew at both locations and it was finally decided to unite the two and build a large church, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian, on a new site. In 1874, a site was chosen at the corner of Water and Eagle streets that they purchased from Donald Simpson, Andrew Henderson and James M. Simpson for $900.  

John T. Stokes, a locally renowned architect from Sharon was engaged and Dyer and Mitchell, a well-known local firm, erected the building at a cost of approximately $4,000.  It was opened and dedicated on Sunday, Feb. 28, 1875 by Rev. Professor William Cavan, principal of Knox College.

On the Tuesday following the dedication, an old-fashioned soiree was held in the Mechanics Hall on Lot Street (Millard Avenue). 

Over the next few years, there were several changes in ministers. Rev. Battisby succeeded Rev. Bruce and session records indicate the following ministers succeeded Rev. Battisby: Rev. Frizell, Rev Goodwillie, Rev. Smith, Rev. Bell, Rev. McNabb, Rev. MacGillivray, Rev. Campbell, Rev. Thomas, Rev. Mann, Rev. Nicol, Rev. McIntyre, Rev. Koffend, Rev. Smith, Rev. Boudreau, Rev. Meredith and Rev. Johnston being but a few.

Records show that during the service of Rev. McGillivray, a debt of $1,500 on the church was repaid. The mortgage bears the date of Sept. 29, 1876 and the date of payment Dec. 5, 1903.  One can imagine the celebration that took place on the occasion of the paying off of the mortgage.

In 1906, during Rev. Campbell’s pastorate, a pipe organ was installed at a cost of $1,300 by the Warren Church Organ Company from Woodstock. In 1908, a manse was built on Eagle Street opposite the church, an eight-room building, constructed of red brick and was occupied by Rev. Thomas and his family. This building remained until 1972 when attempts to use it as a community meeting place were abandoned and it was demolished.

Some strife was brought to the life of St. Andrew’s in 1925. A vote on the question of a union with the Methodists congregation and other Presbyterian churches was put forward, causing considerable disagreement.  It was to result in the loss of their minister, Rev. Mann, and about 89 members, may of whom had moved to Trinity United Church as a result.  

The results indicate 134 persons voted against the union, remaining loyal to their Presbyterian roots. The church was without a minister and so Rev. Shepherd from Queensville was to fill in until a new minister arrived. Eventually, Rev. Nicol arrived on Sept. 25. 1925. 

It was reported, in the Era in 1933, that the congregation was made up of 100 families and 250 members.  

Should you visit the church, pay attention to the First World War Roll of Honour on an oak panel, containing the names of those from the church who served in the Great War, with special prominence being given to those who failed to return. 

The church grew during the Depression and when war was declared in 1939, the Church was able to survive, with several ministers serving. It continued to grow to such an extent that a new property fund was established in June 1956, with an eye to expansion.  

In 1963, plans were solidified for an expansion to the east, which would contain a church hall with an adjoining kitchen, nursery, kindergarten and several primary rooms. The budget was to be between $50,00 and $60,000.  On June 14, 1964, there was a turning of the soil on the extension with lots of pomp and ceremony. Then in November 1964, the extension was dedicated.

I thank Allen Kirkpatrick of St. Andrew’s for inspiring this article and to all those who have encouraged me along the way. 

Sources: St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church – A History by Elizabeth Sharpe; The Newmarket Era 1933; Newmarket Centennial 1857 – 1957 by John Luck; The History of Newmarket by Ethel Trewhella; oral history interviews by Richard MacLeod   

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NewmarketToday.ca brings you this weekly feature about our town's history in partnership with Richard MacLeod, the History Hound, a local historian for more than 40 years. He conducts heritage lectures and walking tours of local interest, as well as leads local oral history interviews. You can contact the History Hound at thehistoryhound@rogers.com.


 



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About the Author: Richard MacLeod

Newmarket resident Richard MacLeod — the History Hound — has been a local historian for more than 40 years
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