LIKE the members of many early religious bodies the adherents of the Presbyterian Church in Port Hope were compelled by circumstances to meet for many years in private residences or in school- houses and to be ministered to, either by wandering missionaries or holders of neighboring charges. As their numbers increased they naturally turned their attention towards securing a suitable place for worship. Accordingly a meeting was held in 1828 at the residence of Mr. John Wallace. There was a large attendance of settlers from both Hope and Hamilton Townships present, who were strongly in favour of erecting a church. It was definitely decided to build and a Board of Trustees was appointed to superintend the work of construction. This Board was composed of Messrs. Wm. McElroy, George Gillespie, Samuel Todd, William Cochrane, and George Kinder. (The elders at this period were John Lindsay, John Lyall, Thomas Quay, John Wallace and Andrew Jeffrey. )
The Church, which was completed in 1831, was a frame structure standing on the site of the present First Presbyterian Church. Its dimensions were small but yet it contained a gallery around three of its sides. The pulpit rose high above the straight-backed pews and was surmounted by a ending board of huge proportions. Below it was the preemtor’s desk. The builders of the early church were Messrs. Brogdin & Lee. When first erected it stood in a pathless wood, separated from the main road by a deep gully, which necessitated a long detour to the west in order that the worshippers might reach it in comfort. After a time a bridge was built across the ravine which was subsequently filled in to form the present road.
The first minister to preach in the new building was the Rev. Peter Gordon, who was an eloquent young man and, besides ministering to the spiritual wants of the congregation, he also attended to the instruction of the children during the week. His residence here was unfortunately short. He was succeeded by several ministers whose sojourns were equally brief. Among them were Dr. Thornton, Mr. Lawrence and Dr. Ormiston. In March 1835 was inducted the Rev. John Cassie, whose memory is reyered among the Presbyterians as is that of Dr. Shortt among the Episcopalians. Mr. Cassie was a native of Aberdeenshire and a distinguished graduate of both Aberdeen and Glasgow Universities. He came to Canada as a missionary from the United Secession Church, and almost immediately settled in Port Hope, where he remained until his death in 1861. At his coming the membership roll of the Church was but thirty, whereas at the conclusion of his ministry, it had reached two hundred, and a new church had had to be erected to contain the large numbers who came to his services. His death, which occurred on the 19th of June, 1861, was lamented not only by his own people but by his fellow-townsmen at large. His funeral service was conducted by the Rev. Dr. Thornton.
The present brick Church was opened October 1st, 1854. Eight thousand dollars were expended in its erection, and it was calculated at the time to be capable of accommodating nearly one thousand persons. Its interior fittings were in perfect keeping with the quaint old style of kirk arrangementhigh pulpit, led up to by flights of stairs, large gallery almost encircling the walls, closed pews and sconces for the candles. In time all these old contrivances have vanished. In place of the old-time precentor, there is now an organ and choir, the pulpit has become a modest desk on a broad platform, the gallery has dwindled down to a small affair at the rear, and electric light takes the place of tallow candles. Much opposition was made to the purchase of the organ, which was bought about 1870 for $1,600. Up to the present year it was stationed in the gallery but a recent change has placed it to the minister’s left hand on the ground floor.
Since Mr. Cassie’s death the Church has been occupied by Dr. Waters until 1868, Rev. Wm. Donald, 1869-78, Rev. R. J. Beattie, 1878-1883, Rev. J. W. Mitchell, 1884-1889, Rev. B. C. Jones, D.D., 1890-1892, and Rev. J. K. Smith, D.D., 1892-1898. The present pastor, the Rev. A. G. Sinclair, was inducted into the charge in September 1899.
There have been two secessions from the present church during its long history. The first took place about 1858 and was indirectly owing to the famous Disruption in Scotland. The Church here supported this famous movement and became connected with the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland. However there were many among its members who favoured the Old Kirk and in time they left the U. P. Church and formed a church of their own. Their first minister was the Rev. Mr. Camelon, who preached in the Town Hall, until the church on Brown street was completed. This edifice, later occupied as the High School was erected in 186o at a cost of $2,800. Here ministered Mr. Camelon, and after him Mr. Cochrane, until the congregation sold the church in 1872 and united with Mill Street Church.
Mill Street Church was the outcome of the second secession, which occurred after Mr. Cassie’s death. The difficulty arose between the Scotch and Irish elements in the congregation over the choice of a new minister and the Irish members left. Next year they built the present Mill Street Church, at a cost of $3,000. Their first pastor was the Rev. John Hogg, who has been succeeded by the Rev. Mr. Smith, the Rev. Mr. McLean, Rev. James Cleland, Rev. William McWilliam, Rev. Alex. Laird and the present minister Rev. William W. McCuaig. When first formed this Church connected itself with the United Presbyterian Church of North America and remained an adherent of that body until the general union of 187o, out of which arose the Canada Presbyterian Church.