Doors Open Oxford-Norwich opened the doors to some of the oldest or most unique facilities in Norwich Township Saturday, Sept. 23, nine in total, including the Quaker Street Burying Ground, Grand Trunk Station Museum, and Otterville Mill.
Norwich United Church has both – its history in Norwich goes back to 1820 with the formation of the Norwich Methodist Church. The church, which has undergone extensive renovations and additions in the past two centuries, is unique in that the main worship area is on the second floor.
"There was actually a second church built in 1863," said Lynne deMontmorency, member of the Stewardship Committee. "That was at the time the Episcopals and Wesleyans amalgamated. So they rebuilt and made the church three times the size."
"And there was a third (renovation) in 1885 – they added on, adjusted, changed," said Greg Dufton. "So what you see now is the 1886 building."
Since then another wing has been added beside the church, but other than repairs from a 1913 wind storm, those are the only other external changes.
"It was three main (entrance) doors, now it’s one," Dufton noted, "and an elevator added."
What is unique, is that when you come through the main door into the entrance lobby, you see the church hall.
"Originally, it probably would have been the very first church," said Dufton.
"And maybe they added on," deMontmorency nodded.
After taking stairs up to the worship area, deMontmorency said "at one point, like most churches, this place would have been filled on a Sunday – and the balcony.
"When I was kid, we would have filled it," she said, noting the extra ‘pull-out’ seats at the end of each numbered pew that extended into the aisle. "I assume that’s where you would put one of the kids, or someone skinny.
"A couple women today from the other side of Toronto commented that their church has more of a ‘V’ ceiling, whereas here we have a rounded, molded type ceiling. There’s a lot of that Italian type architecture here. The architect was from Brantford. There’s a lot of similarities in the Presbyterian church across the street, which is quite old. It may have been a popular style at the time."
The organ was replaced in the 1940s by a concert organ.
"This is probably the best place in Norwich to have a concert because the acoustics are just amazing. And the organ is out of this world. We have an organist who can make it sing."
deMontmorency was not sure why each pew had a number.
"I don’t know what the significance was, whether as a family did I ‘always sit in pew 65’ so I could tell my friends when they came to town to head to pew 65? Or maybe your family owned a pew. I don’t know."
The main windows, facing the main street, are stained glass, the rest on the sides are not.
"These (side) windows, as far as I know, have always been like this. Every once in a while there’s a story, and there’s a panic – how do you replace all this?"
Other stops on the Doors Open Oxford-Norwich tour Saturday included the African Methodist Episcopal Church Site and Cemetery, Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese, Norwich and District Museum, Ross Butler Agricultural Art Gallery and St. John’s Anglican Church.