Prior to 1855 Thomas Millman (1824-1887) donated the land for the church and cemetery. The forested land was located where the Millman Road (Route 234) and the Irishtown Road (Route 101) meet, and had to be cleared. With part of the congregation living to the south in Burlington (Eel Creek) and the remainder living to the north in Spring Valley (Fermroy), Sea View and Darnley, the location was strategic. The 1847 Millman Road facilitated travel between Burlington and Irishtown. Members might still travel by wagons, carts, sleighs and foot, but the distance would be far less than to St Thomas’ Church.
The first and present St. Stephen’s church as started in 1854, built in the main in 1855, officially opened in March of 1856, and consecrated on July 01, 1860 under the leadership of the Rev. William Meek. The basic structure of the original building was retained when the chancel and vestries were added in 1903. The choir loft was converted to a meeting room and Sunday school room which opens to the main part of the church. The loft is also used for extra seating when large attendances occur, e.g. funerals. An entry with a steeple was added to the Irishtown Road end of the church. The church seated 150 persons at the Christmas Eve service in 2000 which was a “full house.” Clearly, the 1860s crowds of 200 persons required the use of the aisles, entry, snuggling up and in the summer, the outdoors. On April 21, 1962 the coal furnace was replaced with an oil furnace.
Church members started to feel the need for a centralized hall. In April of 1990 a large memorial donation started the building fund, and on January 27, 1991 it was decided to elevate the church and place it on a new foundation. The basement would become a hall with a fully equipped kitchen and classrooms.
The construction of the St. Stephen’s Hall was directed by the church council (1991) which had James Evans Jr, and Leigh Adams as wardens. Ross Harrington overseen the project, and donated materials from Spring Valley Lumber plus carrying charges for other materials. Treasurer Judy Coulson processed pledges, donations and invoices. Keith Sudsbury who also donated a wheelchair ramp for the south side of the edifice. Brent Cole donated and installed the furnace with volunteer help. Margaret Harrington and family contributed a paved parking lot. The hall, kitchen, classrooms and washrooms provide convenience and flexibility for St. Stephen’s church.
St Stephen’s Cemetery is presumed consecrated at the same time as the church, ie. 1860, although the first burial was made in 1958. The cemetery has been enlarged several times (c.1931, 1951, 1964, 1972 and maybe others), the work being done by the men of the church. In 1977 the cemetery was sounded and surveyed. Inside the church entry is a summary of all cemetery burials. It was first prepared by Hon. Keith Harrington, MLA, Mrs. Thelma Campbell, Mrs. Ruth Paynter and other members. Mr. Harrington led the project which produced much information of value to persons seeking ancestral graves. On October 23, 1993 the first urn of ashes was carried into St. Stephen’s church for a funeral, a milestone.
By Canon Robert C. Tuck, Architectural Historian
St. Stephen’s church was built in 1855 – 29 years after the erection of the first St. Thomas church and 21 years before the erection of the present St. Thomas church in Spring Brook. When first built it consisted only of the present nave, 40 feet long by 26 feet wide, with no chancel, tower or spire. All these came later.
The similarity between St. Stephen’s church and St. Thomas’ church is striking and more apparent in old photographs of the two buildings than in their appearance today. The steeples of the two buildings are almost identical: two stage towers surmounted by octagonal needle spires, with an entrance door on the south side, a pointed window with intersecting tracery on the west elevation of the bottom stage, and louvered Gothic windows in the bell chamber above. The St. Stephen’s church tower had a frieze of drop ornament below the cornice at the top of the tower which was repeated below the string course that marked the floor of the second stage: graceful touches that became unfortunate casualties of the burial sheathing of the entire structure in wide-lined cladding in a recent restoration. St. Tomas’ church building appears never to have had this pendant ornamentation; but the similarity between the two steeples must be more than coincidence.
They were built probably about the same time, and most likely came from the same hands. They also appear to have been influenced by the earlier and larger towers on the churches at St. Eleanor’s (1838;Rebuilt) and Georgetown (1839) both of which also have entrance doors on the south side of the tower. The Georgetown tower, moreover, has a frieze of drop ornamentation below the cornice, although it is not delicate as was that at Burlington.
The chancel at St. Stephen’s church may well be later than that at St. Thomas’ church, for it is much longer than that of the younger church. If the design of St. Thomas’ was influenced by that of St. Stephen’s church, one might expect its chancel as well as its nave is not the case. The chancel of St. Stephen’s church shares an unusual feature with that of St. Mark’s church in Kensington, in that the kneeling step at the communion rail is raised a step above the chancel floor, which suggests a date for it closer to the 1880’s rather than earlier, for it is clearly designed to accommodate choristers. St. Stephen’s church, like St. Thomas’, has a gallery; but in this case its purpose must have been always to provide accommodation for the very large congregations recorded in its early history rather than musicians.
St. Stephen’s church is comparatively plain, “Carpenter Gothic” building that has lost what little exterior embellishment it had when the manufactured siding was added. Only its proportions suggest its venerable age. The intersecting tracery that was used universally in churches in earlier times because glass was obtainable inly in small sheets survived in its windows more than 100 years, but it has now been replaced. The spire has also been covered by manufactured siding eliminating the scalloped shingles and the color that at one time undoubtedly added to its exterior appearance in the Island landscape. Maybe one day these architectural features will be restored. In 2001 the exterior white siding was replaced by new white siding of a width similar to that used on the community hall. An addition is a chimney that rises, freestanding, through the nave on the right hand side near the face of the gallery. In earlier days the church was heated by a stove, or stoves, set in the alley between the pews, and connected to a chimney set in the roof rafters at or near the ridge line of the roof. The acquisition of a furnace located in the basement required a much longer chimney, which still needed to emerge near the ridge line of the roof to draw well.
The approach to the front entrance to St. Stephen’s church is on an incline with a flight of stairs preceded by the gentle incline of a wheelchair ramp. The ramp begins near the south-east side of the nave and makes its way along the south side until it joins a railed platform at the top of the flight of steps outside the door in the tower. Inside the entry in the tower is a beautiful crafted and useful memorial to deceased members of the parish, a cemetery map.
St. Stephen’s church is equipped with two sacristies, or vestries, one on each side of the chancel. A new hall has been constructed underneath the church, with its own entrance in the front facing Irishtown Road. The sloping site occupied by the church, on the side of a hill, enables a direct approach and entrance to this useful basement hall. The entrance is perfectly flat, free of a single step, unlike the church tower entry.
Its hillside site is one of St. Stephen’s great assets. This little “Carpenter Gothic” country church provided a heart for the rural community within earshot of its church bell in much the same way as rural churches always have, and on its hillside site it centers a panorama of rolling Island countryside that is lovely indeed.