Morpeth native hopeful historic church does not get demolished

·4 min read

For more than 144 years, Morpeth Church on Hill Road has stood the test of time.

Last month, Council approved removing the property located at 19062 Hill Road from the Municipal Heritage Register so that it could be demolished.

However, Marlee Robinson, a native of Morpeth, is willing to fight to see the churches stay around a while longer.

“I think it’s a very sad decision. It’s not unusual, unfortunately,” said Robinson, who is on the board of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario and is a resident of Morpeth. “These buildings have stories, and they are part of the community.”

Robinson said the church is special as there are marriages, births, deaths, parties, meetings, funerals, and all sorts of things that gather and are at the heart of the churches.

The Anglican Church on Hill Road in the small community was built in 1877. According to the staff report coming to council, the church was one of the first places of worship in the community and is surrounded by some of Morpeth’s oldest properties.

The property was added to the Municipal Heritage Register in 2010 due to its cultural value or interest to Chatham-Kent.

However, in August 2021, the municipality received a demolition permit application from the owner of the property to demolish the existing church structure.

According to the letter sent to the municipality, the owner said the structure is beyond repair.

“The bell tower is crumbling and sinking,” read the letter. “The floor has a crawlspace only…It has a lot of dry rot and needs replacing. The brick on the outside is soft - much of it needs replacing. The foundation is coming apart and doesn’t meet today’s building code.”

According to the report, The Municipal Heritage Committee was consulted on removing the property from the register.

“That Municipal Heritage Committee supports the removal of 19062 Hill Road, Morpeth, from the Municipal Heritage Register,” read the report. “The Municipal Heritage Committee also recommends that any items that could be preserved be removed and repurposed.”

Robinson, however, still questions council’s decision. She said along with heritage designation, a conservation plan should also be put in place.

“That would help and encourage owners to maintain and repair and work toward the long-term viability of the buildings,” said Robinson. “These buildings are built better than anything else that we’re going to put up today.”

She said to a certain extent, it highlights an issue that will come up again and again.

“This area is littered with heritage churches. Some of them get saved, and some of them don’t. It seems to be that demolition of these beautiful buildings should be the final solution and not the first option,” she added.

According to Robinson, this wouldn’t be the first time churches in the area have been lost.

In fact, a church in Ridgetown, which was nationally recognized for its architecture, was demolished within the last 20 years. Additionally, there was also a recent decision to allow the demolition of a church in Blenheim.

“This area of Chatham-Kent is full of wonderful old, beautifully built buildings that, with some adaptive reuse and a little bit of initiation and imagination, would be wonderful,” said Robinson.

The owner of the church notes that if the building is demolished, they would like to put up a monument in its place.

The last service in the St. John’s Anglican Church was 40 years ago. The building risks being demolished. But Robinson said rather than seeing the building demolished, she would like to seek help with creating an ongoing conservation plan.

“I have sent a note to the Heritage Committee and suggested they discuss the possibility of a template for a conservation plan. If there is a template, this might be a step in the right direction,” said Robinson.

She said she would like to see buildings preserved as part of an adaptive reuse approach.

Robinson highlighted the Mary Webb Centre in Highgate as an example of adaptive reuse. The old church was turned into a concert venue and will be hosting live concerts again in December.

Bird Bouchard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Ridgetown Independent News

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