A piece of Western Bay history was lost last week when a nearly 150-year-old church was destroyed in a morning fire.
Residents in the Conception Bay North community were awoke the morning of Sept. 25 to find the North Side United Church, one of the first Methodist churches to appear on the north shore, engulfed in flames.
When the fire finally subsided, the entire building had been destroyed.
“It’s devastating,” North Shore Regional Development Board vice-chairman Guy Bishop told The Compass.
The development board was in the midst of a renovating the 148-year-old structure.
Bishop said when work was completed last week; it would’ve marked the end of the seventh week of renovations.
“We only had four weeks to go,” he stated. “We had just completed the roof and were going to start on the inside.
“We were 70 per cent through the project and somebody destroyed it.”
The building was not the only thing lost in the fire.
Sharon Pottle, secretary for the development board, said there were construction materials inside when the church burnt.
“There was $10,000 worth of materials on the inside and we had already spent $12,000 on construction,” she said.
Overall, the group figures some $70,000 had been poured into restoring the church to its original glory.
Much of the wood inside the church was the original lumber used to build the structure. The pews and the pulpit were also original.
“There was a lot of history in the building,” said Bishop.
Probably, the most tragic loss was the tomes of Christian literature found in the building.
Bishop figures there were a number of historical texts lost in the fire, including a large copy of the Holy Bible, which could be the church’s original copy.
“It’s quite heart breaking just to look at it,” said Pottle. “To see a building that was so old and there for so many years … and now it’s gone.”
The development board, who in the past have restored properties like the two school houses in Broad Cove, have to now seemingly pick up the pieces and attempt to move forward with other projects.
“That building will never be replaced,” said Pottle.
The group did not have insurance on the building.
Bishop received word at 3:44 a.m. that the church was on fire. By the time he arrived on the scene, the North Shore Volunteer Fire Department were on scene.
“When I drove by on the way to the station, the church was completely engulfed in flame,” said fire chief Roger Gillingham.
By the time the crew was finished battling the fire, Gillingham said there was “very little left of the building.”
The chief said there was little danger to the houses surrounding the church, and the department only had to hose down on other building as a precaution.
The fire occurred under suspicious circumstances.
There was electricity supplied to the site, eliminating an electrical fire as the culprit.
Workers on the project smoked outside of the church, and any coffee pots used were plugged into the generator, which was outside.
“We had plywood across the back window and it was removed,” said Bishop. “The fire definitely started in the back.”
The restoration of the project has been in the works since 2004 when Bishop and the rest of the development board mad their first attempt at receiving heritage status.
Obtaining heritage status would have allowed for the group to receive funding needed to restore the church.
Five years after the first attempt to get the status, the church was designated a heritage site in 2009.
Bishop surmises the church was one of the first Methodist churches to appear on the North Shore in the late 19th century and was more than a church.
“It was used as a funeral home, Sunday school and a school house,” he said.
Before the development board purchased the building, the church was owned by Trufenia Green.
The group did have plans to turn the church into a library and museum, but those have gone by the wayside in the face of the tragic circumstances surrounding the destruction of the church.
“We talked this morning that maybe in the spring, putting a park there and putting up a monument to Ms. Green,” said Pottle.