Throughout the British colonial empire, being affiliated with the Church of England was often seen as a social advantage. For example, three-quarters of the signatories of the American Declaration of Independence were members of the Church of England. However, this affiliation became a disadvantage after the American Revolution, leading many Anglicans to flee to Canada as United Empire Loyalists. In 1789, the Church of England in the United States changed its name to the Episcopal Church to avoid association with royalist sympathizers.
Anglican clergy began holding meetings in what is now Albert County as early as 1820, but it wasn’t until 1861 that a congregation was established in Hillsborough. The congregation initially met in different halls until they raised funds to build their own church in 1886. When they faced financial shortages, the Tompkins Family, who owned and managed the area’s largest industry, the Albert Manufacturing Company, stepped in to provide the necessary funds and even offered suggestions on the church’s interior design.
Saint Mary’s Anglican Church is also acclaimed for its architectural design. Completed in 1889, the building’s exterior was crafted by J. T. C. McKean from the architectural firm McKean and Fairweather, the same firm responsible for designing the Saint John City Market, which was constructed in 1876.
The domed ceiling and superstructure of the market building have been likened to an upturned hull of a sailing ship. Similarly, the church’s ceiling features ribbing and planking that evoke the same maritime impression. Enhancing the nautical theme, the stained-glass curved end of the church is reminiscent of a ship’s fantail, where the captain’s cabin is usually located. However, the placement of the rounded apse and transept wings at the opposite end of the nave from the altar deviates from traditional church interior orientation. This distinctive space skillfully integrates various architectural elements, resulting in a unique style of its own. It includes hints of the traditional Gothic Revival layout and window shapes but without the somber, ostentatious details. The typical grandeur of the Queen Anne Revival style is tempered by the more rustic Shingle elements. The church even playfully questions its own liturgical purpose by replacing the conventional steeple with a chimney, symbolizing warmth in a country where warmth is often the answer to many prayers.
In the small graveyard behind the church, the tombstones of the first four managers of the Albert Manufacturing Company can be found, signifying the enduring influence of the Tompkins Family long after their passing.
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