Sunday, June 21, 2020
The former community of Armadale has the oldest continuously serving Free Methodist Church in Canada. The local Free Methodist congregation was founded in 1874 in the nearby hamlet of Ellesmere. They originally met in a Meeting House provided by a former Primitive Methodist pastor named Robert Loveless. A second congregation was soon formed at Armadale in the home of Silas Phoenix. The congregation grew until 1880 when they purchased land and built this simple board and batten church. It has since served the combined congregation of Ellesmere-Armadale.
Benjamin Titus Roberts was a minister in the Methodist Episcopal Church and as early as 1852 started to have conflict with his church elders over the system of charging fees for the pews. This meant that the wealthy could get the best seats and the impoverished might not be able to afford to come at all. He advocated for a goodwill offering in place of pew fees. Eventually the church got annoyed and stripped him of his membership. In 1860 he formed the Free Methodists, a movement that quickly spread. Roberts was a staunch abolitionist and to him the word free also meant freedom from slavery. The Free Methodists were very active in the underground railroad and it is possible that this church or its members helped some people to gain their freedom.
Above the front door is a sign that simply says “Free Methodist Church”. Perhaps the lettering was originally black but at some time the church was given a fresh coat of white paint and the writing was covered over.
On the west side of the church stands a house that appears to be from the same time as the church. Neither the home or the church appear on the county atlas from three years earlier. It’s possible that this house was built as a parsonage for the pastor to live in.
The cemetery stands to the east of the church and contains relatively few of the flat limestone markers because these were largely replaced with granite markers after 1880. There are two in the cemetery and both belong to the people who owned the next farm to the west. The two Stonehouse markers are dated 1886 and 1889.
Francis Underhill sold the church a small parcel on the rear of his property with an entrance off Passmore Avenue. Francis himself was buried in the church cemetery along with his wife, several children and even some grandchildren. Many of them are commemorated on a single marker.
I came across the reference to the Free Methodist Church being anti-slavery while doing research for a forthcoming addition to our collection of Ghost Towns of the GTA. Look for “Armadale” coming on June 28th.
Passmore Avenue has been abandoned in several sections near here. The story can be found at this link: Abandoned Passmore Avenue
Google Maps Link: Armadale Free Methodist Church
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