This is a short story about the first Port Hope Pioneer Presbyterian Cemetery (1827-1873) located at 69 Bruton Street in Port Hope, a few houses east of the Julia Street intersection. Not so many years ago this sacred ground was deserted, over grown by grass and weeds, vandalized, stones overturned, broken and missing, the cemetery was forgotten by most. In 1980, some members of the current St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church on Walton Street, completed a remarkable restoration of the cemetery. Because it is built into the south hillside and with no marking, it is an easy site to miss walking or driving.
Once upon a time the Ranger lived within a ‘stone’s throw’ (pardon the pun) of this site for many years before he learned of its existence. Most of the information collected by him for this post in the last few days is new to him, gosh, you got’a love history. The discovery of the unknown church and the story of the Reverend John Cassie both have added a new appreciation for this pioneer cemetery. The origin of Cassie Cottage and Cassie House, both of which I had walked by and admired hundreds of times are now explained.
Note: See the Cassie Legacy at the bottom of this post.
I would bet that even today most of Port Hope’s citizens don’t even know of its existence. Even fewer, would know that it had a church attached to it! Surprise, that church building is still standing at the south end of the cemetery! It is still in use as a private duplex dwelling and with a little imagination can still be recognized as a former church building. It was the second church on this site and can still be seen as it is today on Baldwin Street at the north end of Church Street (guess where that name came from).
The original church here was erected in 1831, the small wood frame structure was built on land purchased from William Baldwin in 1827. This first church stood in a woods separated from Walton Street by a deep gulley. To appreciate what this gully would have looked like, one has only to look north, down Hill Street South from Walton St. (Sometimes known to the locals as ‘Skunk Hollow’). To save a long detour to the west around the gulley for worshippers to get to the church, a bridge was later built across the gulley. Later the ravine was filled in and created what is now Church Street. By 1854 this little structure was replaced by a larger brick church. This church was built for eight thousand dollars, had room for hundreds of worshippers and was adorned with three attractive tower-like spires at the front of it (now gone).
Even though most of the cemetery records were lost over the years, it is known that this was the last resting place of sixty of the most distinguished pioneer families of the area. The first burial was in 1829 and the last was in 1873 when it became illegal to make further burials within town limits. The Port Hope Union Cemetery was established at this time for all future burials.
A very sad burial in this cemetery:
McSpadden, James, 1824-1838 (14 years). “Eldest son of Dr. John and Mary Ann; died as a result of a very sad accident. He had left his home on Walton Street to retrieve something from the Presbyterian Church on Baldwin Street. A friend happened to pass the rear of the church, saw a ladder to one of the windows and the form at the top was that of James hanging from the window which had fallen upon him as he attempted to enter”.
One of the most influential ministers at the original Presbyterian Church was the Reverend John Cassie. Rev. Cassie guided the Presbyterians through construction of the new church (1854) and had seen the congregation grow from about thirty to over 200. When he died in 1861 he was buried in the Bruton Street Cemetery. The infant daughter of John and Pamela Cassie died in 1842 at the age of ten days and was laid to rest here as well.
The Cassie legacy: Be sure to check out the original Reverend Cassie home located very close to his Presbyterian church. The Ontario Heritage Designated Cassie Cottage is located on Julia Street just north of Walton St. It is the familiar single story Ontario Cottage so popular in Port Hope. Another example of the Cassie legacy to this Englishtown area of Port Hope is the nearby Cassie House on Baldwin Street c 1870. This is a beautiful example of the Second Empire style. This large and elegant home was constructed by a relative after Rev. Cassie’s death and was inhabited by his descendants until 1899.