Imagine yourself looking over the Elgin area in the early 1800s- unbroken forest, mountains and rolling hills with valleys in between rivers, streams and falls. The land provides game for food, rivers for fish, and trees for wood to build and perhaps later for a mill, with a canopy of beautiful colours in the fall. It is the land of opportunity! Many days and weeks of labour? Yes, but owning a piece of land is a dream come true for the hardy early settlers.
The area is gradually being settled but there is no church or even a travelling preacher. By the 1830s, there are enough settlements and families for an interest in local meetings. In 1835, Rev. Joseph Crandall, pastor of Salisbury Baptist Church, works tirelessly to organize the Elgin United Baptist Church. The first meetings are held in homes or a school, if there is one. The first church is built near the middle of the Old Elgin Cemetery with the first school located nearby.
By the early 1840s, congregational meetings are held in the "village" not yet called Elgin. Deacon Robert Smith desires to build a "meeting house" and, largely due to his efforts, one is dedicated known as "First Elgin Baptist Church." For some families, a church is probably low in their priorities. They are very occupied with building their first home, raising families, gathering fuel for the winter, clearing land to grow food, hunting game and fishing. The settlers soon see business opportunities for stores, grist mills, sawmills, and maple sugar-making enterprises.
The original First Elgin Baptist Church is a log cabin located by the Old Graveyard in 1839. In 1870, a new church is built at the current site, established by Rev. Joseph Crandall. What great satisfaction this must be for that relentless preacher! But, alas, on April 28,1937, the church burns to the ground, also taking the spectacular residence across the road. (The home was built by Mrs. Isaacs in 1895 at a cost of $3000 and was one of the first to have indoor plumbing with gravity-fed water.) The church was being warmed up for the funeral of the late Addie Babcock and an overheated furnace pipe led to the fire. Unfazed, the community comes together and two weeks later the basement is near completion. The new building is dedicated in July 1938, at a cost of $3500-$4000, with generous help from people in the community and surrounding area.
In the 1850s, the Gowland Mountain, Hillside, and Methodist Churches are built. The Goshen Baptist Church is built in 1860. It is lit by kerosene lamps and the pews have doors that open outward. It is common to "sell" the pews to meet the church debt. You own a pew and always sit there.
In Sugaring Off, Mae Short writes that the ministers of the third Elgin Baptist Church would spend the night in a spare room of a parishioner. When there was no heat, the water pitcher would freeze overnight.
Back in those days of sparse settlements and often no neighbours close by, attending church was also a social occasion to catch up on the local happenings, whose baby was born, who was married, who passed away, and did so-and-so recover from illness or accident? You can understand how a church building could be called a meeting house. Once a week, church gave you an opportunity to see your neighbours. At the Goshen Baptist Church a shed was built to accommodate horses. Many preachers must have listened for the first sound of the bells on the horse's harness, knowing they would have someone to preach to.
The author welcomes any corrections.