Description of Historic Place
The River Philip United Church is a one-and-a-half storey, wooden church sitting slightly back from the edge of the rural Wyvern Road that runs between River Philip and Collingwood, Nova Scotia. The church property is dotted with mature trees that give shade to the cemetery that is beside and behind the building. Because there is little greenery in the front of the property and due to the flatness of the land, the church’s striking architectural features are evident from any approach. The municipal designation covers the building and property, including the cemetery.
River Philip United Church is valued as an excellent example of a country church adorned with unusual design elements and Classical Revival features, and for the church’s complementary landscape. The church is also valued for its association with the early settlers of River Philip, and for the role it played in the development of the community.
The River Philip United Church is representative of many rural, Protestant churches built in Cumberland County in the mid to late nineteenth century. The symmetry that is characteristic of the Classical Revival style is evident in the church’s centered entry in the three-bay façade, and in the balanced placement of the three pairs of round-topped lancet windows that line each side of the church. This unusual window design is repeated in the windows that are on each side of the entry and in the square, steeple tower that rises up the front of the building. The Classical Revival style is also seen in the broad cornice, wide frieze, prominent pilasters, and the strong lines of the pediments that grace the front of the church.
River Philip United Church is located in a setting that is representative of and complementary to a country church. The white house of worship sits prominently on a rural road dotted with farms and homes built in the same era. A treed cemetery spreads out behind and beside the church. Behind the cemetery is a winding river with mature trees and bushes growing along its banks.
The River Philip United Church was built as a Methodist Church. Canadian Methodist history began in 1775 when William Black arrived with his parents, siblings and other Yorkshire settlers to establish homesteads in Cumberland County. Starting circa 1781, William preached and traveled extensively through the Maritimes and New England to organize Methodist congregations and he is widely regarded as the most influential Canadian Methodist of his period. During this time Black's brother John established a home and family with his wife, Barbara, in River Philip, and the Blacks held influential social and spiritual positions in the community.
The first Methodist meetings in the area were held in private homes. In 1827 the first meeting house was built forthe River Philip congregation. This building is the congregation's second church; built in 1862 when Methodism was rapidly spreading, and congregations were growing. The church was purposely constructed over of the graves of John Black and his wife, Barbara, demonstrating the importance and highly regard they held in the community. The church overlooks the same rural setting witnessed by the area’s first settlers, and the current people of River Philip regard their church as a landmark that is pivotal to the social and spiritual development of their community. In 1925, the River Philip congregation became part of the United Church of Canada when the Council of Union Churches joined with other Canadian Methodists, Congregationalists and seventy percent of Presbyterians to create a unified Protestant denomination.
Source: “Heritage Property County, River Philip United Church” File, Cumberland County Museum
Character-defining elements of the River Philip United Church include:
- original site, form and massing;
- one-and-one-half storey wood construction;
- clapboard siding;
- heavy, square, steeple tower rising from the foundation and breaking lines of pedimented gable and roof peak, and topped with hipped roof;
- steeple top decorated with castellation and four finials;
- Palladian window above front entry;
- paired lancet windows with rounded arched topped with protruding moulded hoods;
- pairs of heavy brackets decorating all eaves;
- brackets accenting protruding window sills.
Character-defining Classical Revival elements of the River Philip United Church include:
- three-bay façade in gable end;
- entry with sidelights is framed by broad pilasters supporting a heavy entablature with pedimented gable;
- medium-pitch roof with pedimented front gable and return eave on back gable;
- pedimented gable over entry and broken pediment decorating steeple;
- broad cornice;
- wide, moulded frieze under church eave and along tower eave;
- prominent pilasters as cornerboards.