As so often in North Grenville, some of the more interesting and historic locations are now empty sites where once there stood the earliest buildings. This green space on Clothier Street east is certainly one of those.
Before 1830, Methodist ministers were circuit riders, literally riding around their district to hold meetings in settler’s homes, or wherever a group could gather. It was a very large area to cover, stretching from Cardinal to Maitland, and from Prescott to South Mountain, and included all the territory and hamlets now included in North Grenville. The roads, so-called, were just tracks through the bush, with tree branches so low that riders often had to dismount and walk their horses beneath the tall trees.
In November, 1830, Asa Clothier sold lots 12 and 13 on the south side of Clothier Street, to the Trustees of the Methodist Church for £17.10.00. The Methodist congregation had been meeting in various homes before then, but in 1831 they began to build the first church on the site, a 30×40 foot frame building. The contractor was Horace Hemmingway, who had built a number of houses in the hamlet and surrounding area. Opened officially around July 1, 1832, it took another four years to equip the place with a pulpit and to replace the plain benches with pews.
In 1840, the first Quarterly Conference for the District was held in Kemptville and it was decided to build a home for the minister. This was the stone house on VanBuren Street next to the medical clinic. In the 1851 Census, it described the old church: “The Wesleyan Methodist Chapel is a good Frame Building capable of accommodating 400 persons, it is held by deed to Trustees”.
As the congregation, and the village, grew, the District was divided in two, and the Oxford-on-Rideau/Kemptville district became separate in 1863. Three years later, it was decided to relocate the church to Prescott Street, closer to the minister’s home. This remained in use as the parsonage until 1878, when a new one was provided on the corner of Prescott and Mary Streets, across the road from the present church, which was considered a necessary wing to the increasing size of the congregation and, possibly, to the shift of the centre of Kemptville away from Clothier Street east and to the expanding development on Prescott Street. Early in 1869, a contract was let to Erastus Fenton to build a brick church at the corner of Prescott and South Victoria Street, now Reuben St.
This church building became, it seems, the target of arsonists in 1888, when, on January 10, it was destroyed by fire. At the time, the Methodists were deeply involved in moves to introduce prohibition to the locality, and it was thought that the fire was started by angry tavern owners. The building was soon repaired and was renovated over the years, remaining one of the two churches on “Gospel Hill” in Kemptville.
After the original church on Clothier Street was closed, the cemetery that was attached to the old church continued to be used throughout the century. As it became more difficult to maintain the site, the headstones were removed and the obelisk which stands there today was erected, with a small selection of headstones surrounding it, in memory of those early Methodist residents of Kemptville.
In 1954, a transcription of the headstones was made, and 93 were found in all. The oldest graves had stones for Hannah VanBury (VanBuren), who died in May, 1813 aged 57, and an older couple – Eunice and Joshua Purmort. Eunice died on August 9, 1813, aged 70 years and 15 days. Joshua did not outlive her for long: he died on October 6, 1813, aged 67 years and 8 months. So many stories lie under the green grass on Clothier Street.