GRAFTON, N.S. – A small wooden church nestled along the picturesque country landscape lining Highway 221 now sits vacant on the lot its occupied for 175 years.
The historic and social significance of the local landmark dating back to the 1840s is not lost on area residents like Debbie Parrott, who fondly remembers attending services at the Cornwallis Reformed Presbyterian Covenanter Church.
“Even after the last minister died in 1961, there is still a remnant of faithful people who want to see this building preserved. That’s the strength of the passion that people have for this place,” said Parrott, a descendent of the Morton family credited with playing an instrumental role in the founding of the church.
“This church never saw a marriage until I was married here.”
Parrott, who married in 1975, was among a small group of volunteers cleaning up the cemetery grounds adjacent to the church in the hot summer heat July 20. The burial site is home to grave markers placed from the mid-1800s through to 1964, including stones for A. Margaret Florence Trueman (1857 to 1935) - the first female Dalhousie University graduate – and B. John Givens, the first land holder in what is now known as Harbourville.
Parrott’s cousin, Marnie Lamberson, lives in New Jersey but was sure to return to Grafton to help with the work day at the church property that also holds a special place in her heart.
“It’s such a cornerstone of the community, the church life, and when you lose those churches you lose those cornerstones,” she said.
“The community is not the same.”
The church was designated as a registered heritage property within Nova Scotia in 1991. The face-nailed shingles, old windows and hardware on the signature red double doors date back to the church’s early beginnings.
The small-but-mighty, volunteer-led Association of the Cornwallis Reformed Presbyterian Church handles the maintenance of the local landmark. The group had a new roof and foundation piers installed with the help of a $9,750 provincial grant in 2014 and received an additional $1,200 for cemetery work from the Municipality of the County of Kings in 2017.
Parrott said the influence of the church’s three ministers – Rev. William Sommerville, Rev. Thomas McFall and Rev. Robert Park – is still evident in the community long after their passing through namesakes and the values instilled in former congregation members.
“For 118 years there were three ministers,” she said.
“It’s pretty amazing.”
The church, originally named after the Township of Cornwallis, was built under the direction of Sommerville in 1842-43. Sommerville, who lived in Woodville and Somerset, worked as both an educator and minister. He was laid to rest in the church’s cemetery following his death in 1878, and his tower-style grave marker still stands tall at the site today.
McFall accepted a position at the Cornwallis church in 1881, serving the congregation until his death in 1929.
“He had a huge heart and people loved him. He was a very gentle soul,” said Parrott.
“For generations people named their children after these two ministers.”
The days of the church functioning as a regular gathering place within the community are long gone, but the historic landmark is far from forgotten.
The annual summer service at the church is slated for Aug. 5 at 2 p.m.
“It will be a traditional worship service,” said Parrott.
Donations to help the Association of the Cornwallis Reformed Presbyterian Church continue with the maintenance of the local landmark and adjacent cemetery can be mailed to the following address: 43 Sherwood Drive, Woodville, B4P 2K5.