SUBMITTED BY CATHY HOLMES
SHELBURNE COUNTY, N.S. – A century and a half after their ancestors worked to establish a community-owned church in Middle Ohio, Shelburne County, Keith Bower and his son Nick Bower installed new doors replicating the originals. This was a generous gift from Bower and Son Carpentry to the union church, owned and maintained by the community.
To say the Bowers have a strong connection to Middle and Upper Ohio is an understatement. Generations after the Loyalist Adam Bower arrived in 1783, the name Bower dominates mailboxes up and down the Ohio Road. Keith’s father, Leslie, was born and raised there and lived briefly, as an adult with his young family, in the old homestead overlooking Lake Philip. Keith’s grandparents, Manus and Dora (Jones) Bower are buried in the neat cemetery surrounding the church.
When Bower and Son Carpentry were asked to build new doors for the Middle Ohio Union Church, Keith Bower asked if anyone had pictures of the church in its early days. It was learned that the small entryway on the front of the church had been added in later years, and Keith Bower decided that the new doors should reflect the pattern of the interior, original doors.
“The work we put into them,” said Keith Bower, “they’re probably worth between $1,200 and $1,500. It’s our gift to the community.”
These doors are built to last. Keith and Nick built doors of two-by-eight seasoned pine, which was donated by woodworking hobbyist Larry Bower, Lower Ohio. Panels – rectangles in the bottom and gothic-shaped on top – are made of heavy plywood similar to what the Department of Transportation uses for signage.
Keith recently installed the doors carefully, shimming, removing, putting them on again, to make sure they open and close smoothly.
The doors don’t open and close often these days: the church is usually filled for a Christmas Eve service, and occasionally opened for a funeral or wedding. (Trustees welcome anyone who wants a small, private, country venue for their wedding.) In recent years it has been opened for the Middle Ohio House Tour, sponsored by the Ohio Fire Department, at Christmas time.
But in the day of Keith’s great-great-grandfather Philip Bower, one of three original trustees in 1857, the community would have gathered weekly at least once on Sunday and probably more often. Keith remembers his father complaining about going to church twice on Sundays when he was a child, no doubt preferring to be fishing or doing something outdoors. Episcopalians, (Church of England), Presbyterians and Methodists would have been the original church-goers at the union church, which welcomed itinerant clergy from any of the three denominations.
The church is registered as a heritage property with the Municipality of the District of Shelburne. It was served most recently by the United Church of Canada. Regular services ceased in the late 1980s.
Keith Bower toured the cemetery with a camera after installing the doors, revisiting his family history in the stones engraved with the names Bower, Harris, Jones, McGill and MacKay. The land the church rests on was purchased from Hugh and Anne MacKay.
In the spring and summer months, community members show up to mow, clip and maintain the graves.
Church trustees, supported by the community and members of the Ohio Fire Department, make sure the little church remains a well-maintained landmark and a sign of the Christian faith that helped sustain early settlers in the community.