Prince Edward County’s Newspaper of Record
May 20, 2024
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A True Community Church

This March 16 and 17, Friendship United Church in Demorestville celebrates the 150th anniversary of its rebuilt church
<p>Ira Barton, Fresco at Friendship United Church in Demorestville (1874). (Photo: Michael Macleod)</p>
Ira Barton, Fresco at Friendship United Church in Demorestville (1874). (Photo: Michael Macleod)

On the evening of a very warm May day in 1873, the members of the Methodist church in Demorestville held a meeting. They decided that The Old Stone Church would be remodeled: the roof raised six feet, another six feet added to the length, and a steeple erected.

How do we know that it was warm? Samuel and Margaret Barton lived in Demorestville at the time, and four of their eight adult children kept diaries. All very faithfully report on the weather, and local events, including the renovation of the church. The diaries are housed in the Marilyn Adams Genealogical Research Centre in Ameliasburg.

The eldest son, Thomas, was a wagon and furniture builder and wainwright. He was directly involved in the work, along with his brother Stephen. Thomas’s diary contains sketches of what appear to be church structures.

From the diary of Thomas Barton (at the Marilyn Adams Genealogical Research Centre)

Funds were raised. The reconstruction began in the summer heat of August, 1873.

While noting rain delays and his appreciation for the occasional “day pleasant,” never mind “some cool last night,” Thomas Barton reports on the digging and drawing of the stone for the extension of the foundation. He carefully details the removal of the church furniture and ornaments, the special care taken to wrap the altar and pulpit, which was stored in the nearby barn of Nostrum Sprague, whose fields supplied the stone.

As work proceeded, sometimes with as many as five masons and five carpenters at a time, negotiations with the builder, Mr. Alfred, continued.

After another committee meeting on a day that began in fog, and became “I think the warmest day this year,” the roof was raised in an all-day-and-into-the-night effort on 25 August. The spire, weighing 176 pounds, was put in place on 1 October. One by one, flooring, rafters, lath and plaster, and windows are all detailed in Thomas’s diary.

That winter, a window built by the Barton brothers would blow in during a fierce windstorm, one that “had thrown down fences, 6 trees, [and] unroofed 6 sheds.” The erection and tinning of the steeple was halted by faulty scaffolding construction and an ice storm in February of 1874.

From the Diary of Thomas Barton.

Meanwhile, life goes on. A new bell for the schoolhouse arrives; its tone is praised; an Indigenous boy gets lost in the swamp; a neighbour suspiciously dies of arsenic poisoning; one of Thomas’s buggies wins a prize at a local fair, and his brother Ira wins a prize for an oil painting.

Ira Barton, a renowned local artist, played a key role in the church renovation. He was responsible for a fascinating trompe l’oeil mural that graces the church to this day. Many of his paintings are housed in County museums and owned by private collectors.

Trompe l’oeil is the term for a painting that creates the optical illusion of three dimensions on a flat surface. Ira Barton’s wall painting in the church, referred to as a “fresco” in Thomas’s diary, plays with perspective to suggest that there is a bump-out bay window in a wall which is, in fact, a flat surface.

By late February, 1874, the end is in sight, and the work intensifies. Six gallons of varnish, and “enough of Curley Maple to make the panels of the pulpit” appear. The bell is hung, the ceiling of the tower is ornamented. As February turns into March, the fresco becomes the focus. The weather disappears altogether.

Thomas’s diary reads:

25 February: I and Stephen were at the church. Ira stayed home getting out a plan of the Fresco for the back of the pulpit.
2 March: worked at the church all day helping Ira lay out the fresco piece.
4 March: I helped Ira on the Fresco.
5 March: I have been working on fresco—all day; we get along very well.
6 March: This day has been stormy. I mistook one day of this week. Did not keep the weather in view on account of the hurry that we have been in at the fresco.
7 March: We have been very busy at the painting of the church. Got our Fresco piece very well along.
10 March: The day was very cold. Worked at the church. Not doing very well.
14 March: Some warmer. Got the fresco done.

The dedication was planned for Tuesday, 17 March. The denizens of Demorestville were hard at work the day before. “I early went to the church. Took some stuff home on the wheel barrow. I brought some blacking and blacked the stove; showed Mr. Hamilton how to hang the shandalie’s [chandeliers], then went to the shop and made a bible board for the pulpit, trimmed the same except Miss Margret Barton sewed the tassles on the corners… In the evening the committee arranges matters to light the lamps to see how they would do.”

“I early went to the church. Took some stuff home on the wheel barrow. I brought some blacking and blacked the stove; showed Mr. Hamilton how to hang the shandalie’s [chandeliers], then went to the shop and made a bible board for the pulpit, trimmed the same except Miss Margret Barton sewed the tassles on the corners… In the evening the committee arranges matters to light the lamps to see how they would do.”

Thomas Barton’s diary
March 16, 1873

Ultimately, he declares, “We parted very much pleased with our church in appearance and hoped for a good day on the morrow.”

Margaret Barton’s diary narrates the day: “Dedication for the church. Went to church at 10 am. Sermon by Mr. Bland of Belleville. Choir sang of our own, Mr. Boushe was organist. Returned for a 3:00 sermon by Mr. Clement of Picton. Evening short lecture by Mr. Clement, Mr. Robinson and Mr. Hewitt. A nice subscription of $640.00 was given for our debt. Had a splendid time. Had fine music and all went off nicely.”

—with files from Beverly Sprague

To commemorate the history of Friendship United Church and the artistry of Ira Barton, special celebrations begin Saturday, March 16 with an open house at Friendship United from 2-4 p.m.
Ira Barton’s large trompe l’oeil and a collection of original works will be on display. Conrad Biernacki, retired programmes manager from the Royal Ontario Museum and an Ira Barton enthusiast, will discuss the history of the paintings and artifacts. It is rumoured that Ira and the family may make an appearance. There will be congregants in period clothing to answer questions and share memories of the church. Homemade pies and refreshments will be served.
On Sunday March 17, the Friends will recreate the church service held exactly 150 years ago. They will also rededicate the Ira Barton mural.

This text is from the Volume 194 No. 10 edition of The Picton Gazette
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