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Lincoln Road United Church

by Elaine Weeks

Just a year after the town of Walkerville was incorporated, Lincoln Road United Church's first minister, Rev. J. P. Rice, arrived on the scene and was given the task of raising money to build a Methodist church and rectory.

lincoln-rd1.jpgIn a letter to the Lincoln Road United Church historical committee in 1938, Rev. Rice recalls his efforts:

"I was appointed to undertake this difficult work in 1891, with the distinct understanding that I was to have the privilege of going anywhere that I could find an open door to present the peculiar needs of the case in the effort to raise the necessary cash to build a suitable church and minister's home. I spent a year and a half in this preparatory work."

"Why did we not build the church in Walkerville? Well, because we couldn't. I appealed to Mr. F. H. Walker and his brother for their sympathy and help but was referred to their father, Mr. Hiram Walker, in Detroit. He received me very kindly but maintained that so long as the church he had built and supported was only half filled, there was no apparent need of any further church accommodation."

"Failing to secure any financial assistance, as we had hoped, I asked him to sell us a lot, but he absolutely refused and, of course, as he controlled all the unoccupied real estate in the town, this apparently seemed to him to put a quietus upon the proposed enterprise. But I assured him that as I had been appointed to establish a mission, it would be done though we might have to cross to Windsor in order to secure a site, which without any further delay we did and were not long in coming to the decision that our initial disappointment was of the greatest future advantage to the work. From the opening service, the success of the mission was pronounced and assured."

Note: Lincoln Road became part of Walkerville, May 12, 1890, but when the church was built, farm property intervened between the church and what was commonly recognized as the municipality.

Rev. Rice purchased two lots on Lincoln Road form John Curry, paying fifty dollars down. Twenty-one days later, he held the first meeting of his new parishioners and the following day made a down payment of ten dollars on another lot located at the southwest corner of Lincoln and Wyandotte St. This purchase was made from W. J. Shannon and a trustee note (ninety dollars for one year), was given for the balance.

In his efforts to elicit funds for the construction of the church, Rev. Rice travelled throughout Western Ontario and received money in St. Catherines, Hamilton, Toronto, Newmarket and so on. He also crossed to Detroit to obtain one hundred dollars from J.L. Hudson.

The new parsonage was built by William Grant for $1695 and was ready for occupancy in early 1892. By the end of that year, the new church, designed by H.G. Paul and built by Edward C.T. Doole for $6519, was in operation. Brick cost $5 per thousand; the fist pipe organ cost $200 and the first caretaker was paid $8.33 per month. Mr. C. Merrill Walker donated a furnace for the first parsonage.

lincoln-rd2.jpgBoth structures remained in use for the next 23 years, until the present church was occupied, when they were sold to Mr. R.A. Holland. It appears that Rev. Rice did not stay long enough to enjoy the fruits of his labours as church records indicate that his stay as Pastoral leader ended in 1892. Apparently, he was rewarded for the hard work he had done by being assigned to larger responsibilities and harder work when he was removed to St. Thomas to act as financial agent for Alma College.

In January 1914, the decision to build a larger church was made. The homes of Capt. J. B. Forrest, Wm. F. Robinson and a lot owned by C.H. Robinson were purchased. One of the residences was retained as a parsonage and on September 19th, 1914, the cornerstone of the new church was laid by William Woollatt Sr. On September 12th, 1915, the new church was complete. The church was constructed for $41,239.75 and the architect, Irvin S. Walker, received $825.84. The architectural style is very eclectic with its Gothic and Romanesque features and it is thought to be English Medieval Revival.

In 1922, the addition of Woollatt Hall on the south end of the church, with its gymnasium, classrooms, meeting rooms, a spacious kitchen and even a stage (since dismantled), allowed Lincoln Road United to provide its congregation with the opportunity for further spiritual and physical enrichment.

Over the last seventy-seven years, there have been no other major physical changes to the church. The original pebbled leaded glass is gradually being replaced by the installation of beautiful stained glass windows as a result of bequests to the church from longtime members such as Garnet & Eva Humphrey. Garnet, who saw to it that there were always flowers inside the Sanctuary and in the front garden while he was alive, left a Flower Fund to ensure that this practice was maintained.

In  1925, the Methodist, Congregational, and some Presbyterian churches unified to form the United Church. In 1996, Reverend Dawn Wheeler, who was born in Guelph, left her pastoral charge near Hamilton, to begin her position with Lincoln Road United. The first woman reverend in the history of the church, Wheeler's challenge, she feels, is to meet the spiritual needs of a growing ethnic community.  "By providing a warm and welcoming environment," says Wheeler, "we can help newcomers feel at home, no matter what their denomination."

The church has just reinstated the youth choir, and offers a very comprehensive Sunday School program that employs the services of an Early Childhood Educator. For the community, Parents Time Out is available free every Wednesday and Helping Hands, a quilting group that meets monthly, donates its quilts to nursing homes or other facilities that are in need.

At 96, Ethel Plant has many fond memories of her long association with the church. A member since 1919, she sang in the old choir, met her husband in the choir, was married in the church, was a Sunday school teacher and had her son Christened there. "The church is a part of me," says Ethel, "and I'm a part of its history. Now that I'm getting closer to 100, I can say that I would like to die right in that church."

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