Bethel Grove Landmarks: The Church, Cemetery and School

It was once said by Matt Frewer “Never knock on Death’s door:  Ring the bell and run away!  Death really hates that”.  Bethel Grove is a small hamlet in Hamilton Township, Northumberland County, a short distance north east of the Town of Port Hope on Bethel Grove Road.  The village started its life as Bethel but was often confused with other places in mail delivery with a similar name, and in 1915 its name was changed to Bethel Grove.  A few years after its name change in 1908, the first mail route was established, known as Rural Route 2 which served the Bethel Grove district.  Picture below shows the former school house.

A half century later a devastating blow occurred, the thriving community lost its old school house which was destroyed by fire in 1922.  The school was rebuilt on the site.  In 1953, the four senior grades from the Dale Road school attended the Bethel Grove school until 1956, when a new frame school building on Dale Road opened.  The new Dale Road School opened in 1965.  Because of low enrolment over the years the SS #14 Bethel Grove school was closed and the local students are now bused to the newer School at Precious Corners.  The Bethel Grove school was located a short distance away from the former “centre of the community” … the Church.  The school house was sold and is now an attractive private residence a short distance north on Vic Lightle Road.  The home has undergone some changes and additions but still retains many school house features such as a plaque reading “Bethel Grove School, SS #14, 1876” and the most noticeable is the roof top school bell housing.  Thanks to the home owner for permission for this picture.

A second devastating blow, the Church also suffering from dwindling attendance was closed in 1968 It remained vacant for many years and was later sold.  The bricks from the church were purchased by Len Cullen for his new Heritage Park on the south side of Taunton Road opposite the Cullen Gardens.  It is said that the first site of a church in Bethel (Grove) was one built by the Christian Witness from very early pioneer time, possibly before 1840.  The second church was a frame structure and was built in 1861 and continued to serve as a meeting place for the Sunday School.    The original contract for the building of the new brick church in 1881 was tendered for $1,750 to James Smith and Samuel Redpath, a Camborne builder to serve some 60 families.  It is said that James Smith met his untimely death in 1895 from a fall from a building he was constructing.  $1,660 was raised by subscription before the erection of the church.  It was calculated at the time that the building, new fence and an organ would cost $2,400.  The trustees at the time of the 1881 opening were D. Rose, H. Goheen, Israel Goheen, Jr., John Shorey, Jas. Smith, W. Moise, John Barkwell, Jas. Henderson and John Little.  This was always “considered a very friendly” church by many.   The picture below shows the church shed today.

Around 1923 the Bethel Grove Sunday School was moved closer to the church and a few years later a foundation was placed under it.  Note the original Sunday School hall at the back of the church pictured above.  Over the years many old style church suppers were served to the public in efforts to keep finances going.  A few years ago these ceased as the congregation dwindled.  Mrs. Marshall Bell, with great effort kept the UCW (The United Church Women) together.  Each year quilts were pieced together, quilted and in many instances were given to needy organizations.  There have been many happy events through the years and some sad gatherings and Decoration Services to honor past church members laid to rest in the cemetery.  Around 1956, the large shed behind the church that was used to shelter horses from the winter cold and summer heat in the ‘horse and buggy days’ was dismantled, sold and started a new life as a garage and repair shop on Highway 28 owned by W. J. Lawrence.  The main building behind an addition at the front of the shed can be clearly recognized, especially when travelling north on the highway.  The building was later a Solid Oak Furniture outlet and today is home to Northumberland Movers.

At the fiftieth anniversary of the building of the Bethel Grove Church celebrated in 1831, the Rev. G. D. Campbell recalled, “This corner upon which our church and cemetery is located has been associated with educational and religious life of this community for many years.  A log school house was built on this corner by the early settlers and in that school house religious services were held probably conducted by the Bible Christian denomination.  There is a record of a John Little being converted in the school house on his fathers farm in 1843 during services held by the Bible Christians.  In the year 1861 a frame church was built.  This church was used for twenty years during which time the congregation grew so large that a new building was considered necessary.  In the year 1881, three years before the union of the Methodist and Bible Christian denominations, the church in which we now worship was built and dedicated as a Canadian Methodist Church.  As had been the case in the morning, long before the time for service to begin, the church was filled and at 7 o’clock there was a large number who were unable to get in”.  The picture below shows the west side of the cemetery and the former church location with a cement pad and large rock at the entrance. North of this was the original Sunday School hall and the church shed.

The church cemetery at 7360 Bethel Grove Road, was established circa 1842.  In 1930 a cemetery board was elected, in 1931 Stanley Lancaster was appointed caretaker and in 1939 hydro service was installed in both the church and Sunday School hall.  This work was completed by Allan McIntosh from Coldsprings.  In 1843 Russel McBride was appointed caretaker, Fred Brenton resigned in 1949 after many years of service and Percy Rose was appointed to take his place.  In 1956 Bev. Rose was appointed as caretaker and in 1956 the church shed was sold.  Some prominent church members over the years:  John Barkwell, Richard Kinsman, William Marshall, Henry Bickle, John Bamsey, Henry Taylor, Alfred Cole, Herbert Moore, Luther Cole, Sidney Brenton, Fred Brenton, Bruce Millar, Orra Cole, Arthur Howard, Walter Moon, William McBride, Herb Coates, Irwin Whitehead, Charles Huntingdon, George Coates, Stanley Lancaster, Bertram Dundas, Orville McClelland, Rev. C. Washington, Arthur Watt, Stanley Bickle and Rev. G. Campbell, Duncan Ferguson, John Goheen, John Westington, Mark Rowe, Rev. T. M. Wesley, Rev. Preston Brown, Oscar Cornelius, Percy Rose, Lorne Cole and Winnifred Goheen.  Cemetery Board:  George Parsons, Edgar Moore, Rev. E. Gilbert, William Whitehead, Harold Daymon, Stanley Etcher, Whitney Howard, Marshall Bell, Alvin Cole and John Cornelius.  For a glimpse into the early pioneer life of Luther Cole see the following post “A Young Farm Hand In The 1950’s”.

Some organists since 1935 have included:  Gertrude Moon, Mildred Cole, Mrs. Orville McClelland, Marguerite Howard, Hazel McBride, Mary Etcher, Mrs. Fred Dixon, Mrs. Vic Lightle, Margaret Rose, Haren Landcaster, Sandra Bell, Pauline Moore and Luther Cole was a choir leader at one time.  For the opening of the Bethel Grove Church in 1881, services were conducted by Rev. Dr. Nelles, W. Browning, E. Cragg and D. McCamus.  Some 500 people attended a tea meeting held the following day where the following ladies were in charge of the tables:  Mesdames E. Westington, J. Rowe, J. Lightle, L. Hawkins, J. Barkwell, J. Storey, D. Lightle, J. Miller, Eliz Armatage, A. Harris, L. Rowe and A. Daymon.  Decoration Services are held every September when the cemetery is decorated with baskets of flowers to remember former residents of the village.

In May, 1968 a special service at Bethel Grove Church was conducted by Rev. J. Ramjit of the Canton circuit.  The church was filled to capacity and extra chairs were needed to accommodate the gathering.  The music was directed by Mrs. Melville Linton.  A trio from the Camborne choir rendered a selection, Mrs. Richard Archer, a former organist and choir member of the church sang.  The combined choirs of Camborne and Bethel Grove presented a hymn.  A generous collection was taken by ushers Whitney Howard, Morley Moore, Harold Cole and Marshall Bell.  There were many expressions of sadness exchanged at the closing of the church after the service.  The annual Decoration service conducted by Rev. Crozier of the Coldsprings charge.  A choir with members of the former Camborne and Bethel Grove (the Camborne Church was reopened in 1980) churches helped with the music, Mrs. Melville Linton was in charge and Margaret Rose sang solos.

Bethel Grove Road (formerly the 5th Line) runs east to west from Jibb Road to County Road 28.  Hamilton Township has well named the north and south roads after Bethel Grove pioneers:  Whitney Howard, Rowe, Irving Goheen, Vic Lightle, McClelland and Bell Hill, Percy Rose and Winnifred Goheen Roads.

Regards,   Ranger.

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