St. John's Anglican Church, Bath
Which on Saturday, was burned to the ground.
This church was erected in 1793, and has been in continuous use as a place of worship ever since.
St. John's Anglican Church, at Bath, the oldest place of worship in continuous use in Ontario, was burned to the ground on Saturday afternoon, and a place of marked historic interest had disappeared from view. this little church building was erected by United Empire Loyalists in 1793, but a wedding record in the office of the Synod of Ontario shows that Bath had a place of worship prior to 1787.
The Rector of Bath, Rev. W.G. Swayne, L.Th., is deeply affected by the loss of the historic edifice. His wardens and parishioners deplore the fire which destroyed the building in which many of them had worshipped since childhood. The church was founded by the late William Fairfield. He was given the choice of the pews for this reason, according to a record at present in the possession of Mr. Swayne.
All records, communion vessels, altar equipment, pews and other furniture were saved.
The church was one of the finest rural places of worship in this part of the country. It was frame, with roughcast exterior. The building was in excellent condition, many of the windows being in memory of departed parishioners. All were destroyed.
It appears that the fire was caused by a spark which had blown from grass burning in the graveyard, surrounding the church. It is thought that it lodged at the baseboard of the structure on the northern side, and ignited in the wall. When the blaze was discovered it had worked up to the roof, and all efforts to control it failed through lack of fire fighting apparatus. Indeed, it is fortunate the public school, across the road, and adjacent dwellings were saved, as sparks were blown onto building in the vicinity for some hours. The Rector, with his parishioners and friends, worked well into the night, but the bright sun of Sunday morning shone only on the charred beams, pieces of the bell, and particles of material which entered into the erection of the church. In March 1919, the south wall and the roof were damaged by fire from the same cause.
Grass Burned as Precaution
It appears to have been the practice to burn the grass in the churchyard, as a precaution against fire. It was thought safer to remove the thick grass in this manner than to run the risk of it being fired by sparks from smokers passing by. When Mr. Swayne and his assistants commenced work on Saturday afternoon there was practically no wind, and it appeared an opportune day for the work. Every precaution had been taken, and the burning in the immediate proximity of the church had been completed. The wind freshened and a spark apparently found its way into the baseboard.
The fire was so intense that for a time it was feared the whole village would be wiped out. Nine or ten houses and barns did catch fire, and it was only due to the good work of the fire fighters that they were saved.
Interior and Memorials
While the exterior of St. John's Church retained its original appearance, the interior was modernized in every way. Owing to the untiring efforts of Rev. A.L. McTear, the Rector at that time, the whole interior was redecorated and renovated. The beautiful wall and ceiling decorations, mottoes and monograms were the work of Eugene Richardson, and were suitable and artistic in every way. At that time the pillars which extended across the chancel were refaced with polished oak and a screen of hand carved oak was placed in position. This was made up of five arches, two of which extended toward the back, the whole topped with an oak cross. New altar rails, choir stalls, and pulpit were also erected.
The bell in the tower was a memorial to the late Rev. F.T. Dibb, a former rector, placed there after his decease. Its sweet tones ever rang out the remembrance of a faithful minister.
Church Will Be Replaced Soon
That the devoted members will lose no time in starting the work of building a church to replace the historic one which was destroyed, is evident from the fact that a meeting has been called for Easter Monday, at which plans will be discussed with a view to arriving at concentrated action in the work. The parishioners are deeply affected by the loss of the church which was a connecting link with the glorious traditions of the past, but they intend to erect another edifice, which, while it will lack the associations, will keep alive the spirit which animated their forefathers in the olden days. They are deeply grateful for the many expressions of sympathy which have reached them from outside and the many offers of assistance of which they may take advantage later.
The Original St. John's Anglican Church
Built 1793, Burned 1925
The new St. John's Anglican Church