Description of Historic Place
St. James United Church is located on the corner of Economy and Old Cumberland Roads, facing onto the Minas Basin, in Great Village, Nova Scotia. This wooden, Gothic Revival style church was built in 1883. The building and property are included in the provincial designation.
St. James United Church is valued for its association with Presbyterian history in old Londonderry Township, and because of the interpretation by its architect, the Nova Scotian born James Charles Dumaresq, of the Gothic Revival in a manner consistent with the style's origins and the Great Village setting.
Most of the settlers of the Cobequid townships of Londonderry, Truro and Onslow were Ulster Irish. Some came via New Hampshire and had served at the 1745 and 1758 Louisbourg sieges; others came directly from Londonderry in 1760. They were almost all Presbyterians. In the spring of 1766, Samuel Kinlock, a missionary of the Secession Church of Scotland visited the townships. As a result, Londonderry and Truro each forwarded a call for ordained ministers to Scotland.
The Reverend David Smith answered Londonderry's call. After being inducted into the Londonderry charge as its first minister, he began regularly preaching in 1771 at Masstown and Folly (now called Glenholme). The people of Great Village attended the services at Folly where the settlers built the township's first church of logs. In 1794, they erected a frame building.
When the Reverend James Bayne became associate minister, he successfully encouraged Great Village Presbyterians to erect their own church at the intersection of the Economy and Cumberland Roads. The church opened on July 30, 1845. On December 11, 1882, this church burned. Although there was no insurance, the congregation decided to rebuild immediately, engaging James Charles Dumaresq as architect and Rhodes & Curry as the contractors. They also employed Barton Crowe as glazier and painter.
The building of St. James went forward rapidly. The new church opened for services on the first Sabbath in January 1884.
St. James was named in 1900 in Reverend James MacLean's honour, who ministered the congregation from 1876 to his retirement that year.
Throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, the most popular ecclesiastical style in Nova Scotia was, by far, the Gothic Revival style. Its interpretation ranged from elaborate stone structures incorporating several details of their medieval predecessors to simple wood frame buildings; often considered Gothic mainly by virtue of pointed, arched windows. St. James Church sits between these two extremes, with several Gothic elements, combined in a design sensitive to the style, but executed in wood frame construction. The most dominant architectural feature is the central tower and spire, rising to one hundred and twelve feet. Other architectural elements include the steeply pitched roof, corner buttresses and narrow, pointed windows.
J.C. Dumaresq was an important, late nineteenth century architect in the Maritimes. Born in Sydney, Nova Scotia in 1840, he studied at Acadia College, and subsequently practised architecture in Halifax and St. John. Much of Dumaresq's work was in the Second Empire style, but with St. James he demonstrated his ability to interpret as easily the Gothic Revival style, in a manner consistent with both the origins of the style and the village context of St. James.
St. James United Church is one of the oldest buildings in Great Village and is also the tallest. St. James continues to hold regular services.
Source: Provincial Heritage Program property files, no. 196, 1747 Summer Street, Halifax, NS.
Character-defining elements relating to the Gothic Revival style of St. James United Church include:
- wood frame construction;
- clapboard siding;
- cut stone foundation;
- central tower and spire, rising 112 feet;
- steeply pitched roof;
- corner and side buttresses;
- narrow, pointed windows;
- hammerbeam ceiling and walls painted to resemble ashlar.