George Street United Church
During the first half-century (1815 - 1865) of Methodism in St. John's, a single church building on Gower Street had adequately served its needs. But by the early 1860's, despite the recent opening (1858) of a new and commodious church on Gower Street, it was apparent that a second church building was necessary, preferably in the west end of town. Accordingly, in 1862 the Superintendent Minister of the St. John's (Gower Street) circuit, Rev. Edmund Botterell, requested the District Meeting to appoint a committee to look for a site in
Ten years, however, were to elapse before the project had reached the point where construction could begin on a site acquired on George Street and bounded by Buchannan and New Gower Streets and Hutching's Lane. The cornerstone was laid on May 27, 1872 by the Hon. Stephen Rendell in a colourful ceremony that began with a procession from Gower Street Church and was attended by not only a large contingent of Methodist ministers but ministers of the Congregational and Presbyterian churches as well.
Construction began immediately thereafter and was completed by the late autumn of the following year. The new church was opened and consecrated on December 14, 1873 by the then Superintendent Minister of the circuit, the Rev. (Later Dr.) George S. Milligan, assisted the Rev. Thomas Harris, Chairman of the Carbonear District.
Built of Native stone (a gift of Rendell), faced with cement and roofed with Newfoundland slate, the building was a modified Gothic Design, "with a beautiful auditorium, splendid organ, and lofty and spacious basement". It was measured 15 by 24m (50 by 80ft) and comfortably seated between 500 and 600 persons. Hoole of London was the architect, William Campbell of St. John's the master builder, and Richard Atwill the master mason. (Atwill later died from injuries sustained in an accident that occurred while he was working on the church).
In less than a year of its opening the church was the scene of a historic event in the life of Methodism in Newfoundland, when on August 5, 1874 the organizational assembly of the first Methodist Conference was held in George Street church. (Since 1855 Newfoundland had been a District of the Conference of Eastern British America, and before that date of the British Methodist Conference.) Rev. George Milligan, who as Superintendent Minister of the St. John's circuit was the principal minister of George Street Church, was elected first President of the new conference.
George Street Church remained part of the St. John's (Gower Street) circuit until 1883, when it became a separate and independent circuit know until 1903 as the St. John's West circuit and after that date as the George Street circuit. But even by the time it became independent, the growing circuit was already in need of more accommodation for its congregation.
Accordingly, in 1884, the minister of the church, Rev. George Boyd, arranged the purchase of a small schoolhouse situated to the west of George Street, which was made a preaching-place and was soon merged into Alexander Street Church. (This church, replaced in 1908 by Wesley Street Church, became itself a separate circuit in 1902.) A second offshoot of George Street Church was a small chapel on Southside Road, which served until 1911 mainly as a Sunday School and, occasionally, as a preaching-place.
In spite of these expansions of facilities, George Street Church became increasingly inadequate to serve the needs of its growing congregation, and shortly after the turn of the century a project was initiated to enlarge the building.
The added space almost doubled the seating capacity and greatly enhanced the architectural attractiveness of the entire building. Following completion of the work in the spring of 1908, the church was re-dedicated and the new structure opened on June 11 by two former ministers of George Street Church, Rev. H.P. Cowperthwaite and Rev. A.D. Morton.
Apart from some repairs and interior renovations, no further construction was undertaken until 1959, when another substantial extension was made to the building. This was a single-storey concrete structure attached to the north end of the church. Fifteen and a half by twenty-four and a half meters (52 by 82ft) in dimensions, it housed meeting rooms, offices, Sunday School and other facilities.
In 1960 long-overdue repairs to the main church building were begun. These included major repairs to the east tower, sandblasting and refurbishing of the exterior walls, and replacement of many of the original windows, as well as a number of necessary interior renovations and replacements.
Unlike its sister churches, Cochrane Street Church and Gower Street Church, George Street Church, though situated in a crowded downtown area, managed to escape the ravages of fire. More than a century after its construction, though several times enlarged, the original building still stood, in the words of its historian, "sturdy and serviceable, elegantly simple, in harmony with its environment: a much-loved landmark to all with a sense of place who love St. John's."
Written by Josh Shea on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of the congregation.