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A HUMBLE BUILDING takes

 IT’S PLACE in HISTORY

 

In 1848 & 1949, the Black Congregation of the African Methodist Episcopal Church built a humble place of worship beside the Thames River on Thames Street in London, Ontario. They built a modest one storey building that measures 7.32 m (24” - 0”)  side-to-side by 8.99 m

(29’ - 6”) front-to-back with a floor area of 65.78 m² (708 ft²). It is constructed with a basic traditional timber-frames structure, in-filled with full-sized 2”x6” wood studs, which was completely covered over on the exterior and the interior, with no visual evidence of it being a timber-framed building. This was common place throughout the 1800’s.

 

During the Church’s early years it became part of the Underground Railway as Black American Slaves moved northward. Over time the Church’s London building became known as “The Fugitive Slave Chapel”. Historically these Churches evolved into the British Methodist Episcopal Churches and the Beth Emmanuel Churches across Canada. Sometime during the 1920’s, the Congregation sold their little Church and it became a residence for many decades until the early 2000’s, when the Owners, at that time, decided they wanted to demolish the building.

 

During 2014 & 2015, a group of volunteers who knew about the building’s value and significance to London’s Black History arranged to have the Church moved onto a vacant lot beside Beth Emmanuel Church on Grey Street in London.

n a manner of speaking a “parent” was moved to live beside one of its “children”. Initially this seemed to be an ideal location for what came to be known as “the Fugitive Slave Chapel”, to be restored, conserved, and preserved for continued use. It was determined the building would be restored, renovated, and added onto to become a small community center, learners center, and historic center for London’s Black History.

 

 

RESTORATION BEGINS

The interior had been subdivided into many rooms covering up all of the original interior finishes. The exterior was covered with “insulbrick” siding, metal siding, and stone veneer

on the front.

After the Chapel was moved to Grey Street the following was researched.

Initially, it was determined that the interior was originally one open room with a wood floor, unique & rare horizontal wood wainscoting, plus plaster walls & a plain plaster ceilings.

After removing the contemporary exterior siding that had been added, it was determined that the original exterior siding underneath was horizontal tongue & groove cedar siding.

It was also determined that none of the original windows & none of the original doors remained.

Architectural plans were drawn up to restore the Chapel with an addition to include accessibility, washrooms, various amenities, and required code upgrades.

 

 

 

A TURN for the WORSE and A TURN for the BETTER

 

During the next few years, rifts developed over confusion about governance, ownership, purpose, historic value, and the Chapel’s future on Grey Street. Remaining tarped for six years, the Chapel’s existence was in jeopardy.

 

Thankfully, it endured and survived due to the dedicated efforts of a group of volunteers who kept “The Restoration Flame” burning.

 

 A series of favourable occurrences followed, leading up to the building being moved for the second time, during November 2022, to the safe haven of London’s Fanshawe Pioneer Village, (FPV), ensuring an authentic historic restoration of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

 

As the Church is one of the oldest surviving buildings in London, it is a welcome addition to FPV’s collection of historic buildings. Until this Church arrived at FPV, all of their buildings only represented London’s “White Anglo-Saxon Protestant” History.

It is significant that FPV recognized the value of this Black Church to tell more about

 the diversity of London’s Cultural History.

 

 

EXTERIOR RESTORATION at FANSHAWE PIONEER VILLAGE

 

After the Chapel was moved to FPV in November 2022, actual restoration work commenced in January 2023. All of the non-original exterior finishes were removed and the building was stabilized onto its new concrete foundation.

 

Eastern cedar shingles were appropriately sourced for the roof. Eastern cedar was also appropriately sourced to duplicate & replace the original tongue & groove cedar siding which was full of holes & had to be removed. Eastern sourced cedar was used in spite of everyone’s desire to use western sourced cedar. It was interesting that almost everyone involved thought we should use western sourced cedar. Although they eventually clued in that wood from British Columbia was not available in Upper Canada in the early 1800’s when this building was built..

 

The exterior windows were completely rebuilt as single-glazed double-hung six-over-six wood windows made of oak. Reproduction float glass with one wavy side that was used to reproduce original glass from the early 1800’s. The window manufacturer wanted to use an inappropriate imported wood that would not have been available in Upper Canada in the early 1800’s.

The exterior doors were also reproduced in oak. As the original exterior doors were long gone, the raised panel doors were reproduced with in an historic “Cross & Bible” pattern.

 

The shapes of the exterior window & door trim were interpreted from an old 1925

black & white photo, as that was the oldest example of exterior trim we had.

 

 

 

RESEARCH about EXTERIOR COLOURS at FANSHAWE PIONEER VILLAGE

 

Initially, when Chapel was still located on Grey Street we only had access to one (1) black & white photo taken circa 1925 which appeared to have the exterior walls painted white with a dark trim colour which we felt would have probably been primary green, as this was a common colour scheme used historical historically and still in use on old buildings.

 

After the Chapel was moved to FPV, another black & white photo appeared. One taken circa 1900 used on the cover of a book entitled “Early London – A Photographic History from the Orr Collection 1826-1914” by Jennifer Grainger. This photo clearly shows the rear gable of the Church on its original Thames Street location. This photo shows a dark colour on the walls with

a darker trim colour.

There were remnants of red or burgundy paint colour on the original exterior wood siding. We started looking at various dark shades of red for the exterior. Ruling out primary school house red, we started looking at the other reds & burgundy, in hopes to find something, which would give the Church, a historic uniqueness amongst the other FPV buildings.

 

We finally decided on a “rusty terracotta reddish colour” for the exterior walls with a darker “rich chocolate brown trim” colour. We have received favourable comments about the final exterior colour choices.

 

INTERIOR RESTORATION at FANSHAWE PIONEER VILLAGE

 

After all of the non-original interior walls & finishes were removed, the one (1) room reality of the Church was realized. The following original condition were also realized:

  • Original wood subfloor boards were rough & possibly recycled or reclaimed even in the early 1800’s when Chapel was built.

  • There was no evidence of a finished wood floor ever have existed.

  • The floor had to be structurally re-built and was covered with recycled, reclaimed, old rough-sawn boards to replicate the original rough subfloor boards.

  • About half of the original horizontal wood wainscoting still existed, it had never been painted only covered with a layer of wallpaper which was removed, the missing horizontal wood wainscoting was filled in with unpainted wood boards salvaged from

the original wood boards from the original wood subfloor, horizontal wood wainscoting

will remain unpainted.

  • Some original plaster was left on the walls above the wainscoting; these original patches of plaster will be covered with new plaster. The walls & ceiling will get a new coat of plain plaster that will be installed with imperfections to look old & be left unpainted.

It was researched & determined that the original Church building had a rough unpainted original interior, for the first part of its life.

 

 

 

BALANCING an HISTORICAL RESTORATION with A NEW LOOK

 

We always knew we would have to remove the original exterior horizontal tongue & groove cedar siding, because it was full of holes from removal of non-original layer of exterior siding, replace the roofing with new wood shingles, and replicate windows & doors with new ones. Resulting in an exterior restoration that looks “brand new”.

 

As non-original walls & interior finishes were removed from the interior, a different story unfolded. No finished wood flooring ever materialized and the original horizontal wood wainscoting was obviously never painted. It would seem that the financial situation of the original Black Congregation was unable to finish the interior before it was sold to be turned into a house. Therefore, the interior restoration reflects the reality that the interior of the Church may have never looked-like an interior of a Church built in the early 1800’s.

 

Throughout the duration of this project at Grey Street and at FPV, many of the people involved constantly expressed a concern for us, to find any element(s) or fragment(s) that would indicate this building had historically been a Church, Unfortunately none were ever found.

 

UPGRADES for BLACK HISTORY MONTH

 

The siting of the 1848 Church at FPV is placed between other buildings that were built during the 1830’s, 1840’s, & 1860’s.

 

The original front door now faces north toward Concession #One walkway. A rear door now faces southward toward a grassed area known as Victoria Park at FPV, where many of their outdoor weddings take place.

 

As no original pulpit and none of the original pews were located, FPV has located a wooden pulpit from the early 1800’s and are having movable vintage-style wooden pews made for

the Church.

 

As Black History Month is February, FPV requested the following upgrades:

  •       A minimal amount of insulation was added to the walls & below the original ceiling.

  •       Several vintage-style electric wall scones have been added.

  •       A new vintage-style wood burning stove was installed, as the building was probably

originally heated with a wood-burning stove.

These upgrades were added for FPV to be able to do programming during the winter month of February for Black History Month.

 

Now that the Church’s exterior and interior restoration has been completed the building’s extended life, the Black Community, and FPV will be able to tell a more inclusive history of London’s Cultural Past.

written by

John Rutledge,B.Arch.,D.A.T.,OAA

JOHN RUTLEDGE ARCHITECT

406 Queen Street, Box 393, Blyth, Ontario  N0M 1H0

519-523-9000  johnrutledge@live.ca  www.johnrutledgearchitect.ca

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