Description of Historic Place
The Cornwallis Reformed Presbyterian Covenanter Church is nestled among spreading oak trees on a country road in Grafton, Nova Scotia, with the beautiful North Mountain in the background. This little one-and-a-half storey white wood framed church was built in 1842-43 and is surrounded by a cemetery. The building, cemetery and property are included in the provincial designation.
The Cornwallis Reformed Church is valued for its architectural style as its simple, traditional Covenanter style has remained unaltered since its erection and because it is the only church of the Covenanter faith remaining in Eastern Canada.
Presbyterianism in Kings County dates back to the New England Planter era when some Presbyterians joined them in settling the Horton Township. It was their descendants who built the Covenanter Church at Grand Pre in 1804, but it was not then a "Covenanter" Church, though it was Presbyterian. By the nineteenth century the Covenanters were best known for their refusal to use any musical instruments in worship; allowing only the singing of the Psalms. Hymns were unacceptable and this caused a certain tension within the Grand Pre congregation which was not resolved until the arrival of Dr. William Sommerville in the parish in 1833.
Sommerville, an Irishman and an honours graduate of the University of Glasgow, was an avowed Covenanter. He first went to New Brunswick, but came to Grand Pre when the congregation agreed to conform strictly to the particular usages of the Covenanter Church. A year after his call to Grand Pre, a group of Presbyterians at Grafton, (formerly West Cornwallis) requested he minister to them as well, which he consented to do on the same terms as he had for Grand Pre. In 1842-43, the Grafton congregation erected a church, a simple edifice in style and in keeping with the Covenanter tradition.
Sommerville remained pastor until his death in 1878. Dr. Thomas McFall succeeded him and he also continued to serve until his death in 1929. By then, the congregation had declined to the point where it could not support a full time minister. Dr. Robert Park took summer services from 1930 until his death in 1961. Upon his death, the congregation was dissolved. It was then that an organization was formed to restore and maintain the church and grounds. This organization, called the Cornwallis Presbyterian Association opened the church during the summer for services and visitors. Today, it is used only once a year for their annual church service.
The most notable member of the congregation is Margaret Florence Newcome, a farmer's daughter who became the first woman graduate from Dalhousie University, when she and thirteen men graduated in 1885. She is buried in the cemetery surrounding the church.
Also buried in the church cemetery is Dr. William Sommerville. His obelisk style grave marker is located on the western side of the church.
This little white wooden church has remained unaltered since its construction and is the only church which remains of the Covenanter faith in Eastern Canada.
Source: Provincial Heritage Program property files, no. 147, 1747 Summer Street, Halifax, NS.
Exterior character-defining elements of the Cornwallis Reformed Church include:
- wood frame construction;
- wood shingle cladding;
- open gable roof;
- 6/6 windows with original glass;
- main door with large carpenter's lock;
- cemetery surrounding the church, with original gravemarkers.
Interior character-defining elements of the Cornwallis Reformed Church include:
- little altered interior, with no electricity;
- mostly intact original box pews ;
- gallery along the rear and both sides, supported by fluted piers;
- gallery panels display a decorative motif inspired by the Greek revival style.