Religion, Ritual and Funeral Religious Facility or Place of Worship
Building Current Use
Main Exterior Wall
Wall Design and Detail
Inscription Date Stone
Roof shape and Detail
Roof Surface Material
Towers, Steeples, Domes
Rev. T. T. George
Notes on the Design or Physical Value
-consecrated as of June 2010. A not for profit group has developed a solid business plan to utilize the church as a performing arts/cultural and community centre. Several concerts and an art exhibit, held in 2010, were very successful and demonstrated the future potential of the property for this use.
The church property has been sold to the Mary Webb Centre Committee and the property transfer occurs on December 15, 2010. The committee has requested designation for this property. This is an extremely significant property architecturally (probably of provincial significance) and an excellent candidate for designation under any circumstance. In this case, as well, designation will assist the committee when applying for capitol improvement grants as well as allowing them access to the proposed heritage property tax relief. Designation has also been strongly recommended by John Rutledge in his Preservation Works Report on the Highgate Church for the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario.
On the subject of capitol improvements, the building will need alterations in order to meet code requirements in its new use. John Rutledge, in his Preservation Works Report, has identified several deficiencies that will require upgrading including new washroom facilities, new rear stairways, and barrier free accessibility. This will likely require the construction of an addition to the rear of the building as well as alterations to rooms adjacent to the sanctuary and to the downstairs. These alterations are necessary in order to insure the long term preservation of the structure through functional usability.
As such, the designation report has been specifically structured to protect as many of the important heritage features of the building while not placing undue constraints on necessary and legislated upgrades. Interior features have been limited to those in the sanctuary proper although it should be acknowledged that the basement level interior features are also unique and important. Exterior features do include window and door placement. Some alteration may be required with an addition. Recognizing that identified features can be altered with consent of the municipal heritage committee/council, some features such as the window/door openings have been included to insure that Heritage Chatham-Kent input is included when evaluating addition designs that will affect the exterior appearance of the structure.
One of the principle mandates of the Mary Webb Centre Committee is the historical preservation of the building, hence, retention of as many features as possible will be a constant guiding hand in any committee decisions.
D. Benson Heritage Coordinator, Municipality of Chatham-Kent December 15, 2010 REASONS FOR DESIGNATION
Highgate United Church Property
Description of Property The Highgate United Church property is located at 87 Main Street West in the Village of Highgate, Part Lot 6, Concession 6, Orford Township, Municipality of Chatham-Kent (Registry PIN 000658-0047). The property of approximately .715 acres consists of a brick church of cubic form with rounded walls and a pyramidal roof surmounted by a square lantern, the whole fronted by a prominent, centrally placed circular 75 foot spire/bell tower with conical roof.
Statement of Cultural Heritage Value or Interest
Historical/Associative (OHA Reg 9/06): The Highgate United Church is historically significant for its association with the growth of the Methodist Church in Ontario and as a living and well preserved testament to the social focus and community pride that the church has played in the development and perpetuation of rural towns and villages in the province and, in particular, Chatham-Kent. It is also historically significant for its association, specifically, with the earliest settlement families of Orford Township, most notably members of the Gosnell family, and to the brilliant yet untrained designer of the building, Rev. T.T. George.
Highgate United Church has direct association to Mary Webb Gosnell who came to Orford Township in 1832. Although widowed before reaching her destination, Mary and her children established their farm and a log home that Mary opened to her family and neighbours for church services, conducted by “saddlebag preacher” Rev. Stephen Miles, beginning in 1834. From this humble beginning, the growing congregation built a small frame church in 1849 on land donated by Mary Webb Gosnell’s sons. This was subsequently replaced by a larger church on the same site in 1861.
With the coming of the Canada Southern Railroad in the early 1870s, the village of Highgate developed as the commercial and settlement centre of the area. As a result, the congregation constructed a new frame church in 1870. Highgate continued to grow and prosper in the late 19th century and in 1898, a new and unique structure was built, designed by the resident minister, Rev. T.T. George. Although he had no architectural training, George designed a structure of unprecedented beauty and strength. The roof span of 56 feet was unsupported by pillars and utilized four heavy Howe trusses. George’s design was inspected by architects prior to construction who determined that it was “unnecessarily” strong. The cornerstones were laid in June 1898 with great fanfare and over 2000 people in attendance and the completed structure was referred to as “the wonder of the countryside-built in the most modern style”.
The community took exception pride in their unique church, so much so that when the original building was tragically destroyed by fire in 1917, the trustees and congregation unanimously agreed to have Rev. George return and build a new church of the same design. The new church, completed in 1918, is nearly identical to the original except that it is 18 inches higher and the front door/entranceway is slightly different.
The building continued to be the centre of religious and social life in the Highgate area, hosting organizations that included: -United Church Women -the Epworth League -Women’s Missionary Society -Young People’s Union -Canadian Girls In Training -Sigma-C and Tyro -The Explorers -TRU-KI-LO Class The community pride and appreciation of this building continues. Despite a declining congregation and a decision to close the church, the congregation and the community have been unanimously committed to preserving the structure. A grass-roots committee has developed that has secured ownership of the church and is utilizing it as The Mary Webb Centre, a music and cultural venue and community centre.
Design/Physical (OHA Reg 9/06): The Highgate United Church property is a well-preserved religious structure of highly unique form, the exterior walls being essentially of cubic form overset with a circle giving it a round appearance with projecting angular corners. The round theme is carried through to the circular bell tower that dominates the front of the church and houses the principle entryway. The interplay between round and cubic is carried up to the roof which is a rounded pyrymidal form surmounted by a square lantern. The design has been acknowledged by the Ontario Heritage Trust as unique in Ontario and few examples have been found in North America. The designer, Rev. T.T. George, was untrained as an architect. Although the basic design vocabulary can be linked to Palladio’s villas of the of 16th century Italy and the brick construction and texture reflects the contemporary influence of Richardsonian Romanesque, the overwhelming influence is from the Chautauqua meeting halls that were built in the United States in the late 19th century. The Chautauqua movement was an adult education movement initiated by the Methodists in the United States and highly popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Chautauqua assemblies expanded and spread throughout rural America until the mid-1920s. The Chautauqua brought entertainment and culture for the whole community, with speakers, teachers, musicians, entertainers, preachers and specialists of the day. Former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt was quoted as saying that Chautauqua is "the most American thing in America.” As a Methodist minister working during the height of the Chautauqua movement, George would have been familiar with the rounded meeting halls that were built to host these assemblies. This influence is reinforced by the lack of traditional ecclesiastical elements on both the exterior and interior of the structure. There are few churches in Chatham-
Orford’s Story 1827-1977, Edited by Charles McLaren, 1977 Dominion Press Ltd, Ridgetown.
Log House To Brick Church 1834-1986, 1986 Sesquicentennial Booklet, Highgate United Church Congregation.
Highgate United Church Architectural Evaluation For Preservation Works! Program Of The Architectural Conservancy Of Ontario John Rutledge, 2010.