Constructed in 1884-85, St. James Church in Dorchester was built by a dedicated group of Dorchester Presbyterians who constituted a small part of the village’s predominantly Anglican, Methodist, Baptist, and Roman Catholic population.
St. James Presbyterian Church was designated a Local Historic Place for its connection to Presbyterianism, its architecture, and its function as a textile museum.
The initial fundraising campaign raised $280, which was a considerable sum in those days. However, as plans progressed, there were concerns that the congregation might not be able to cover the costs of construction and land acquisition. In a display of Dorchester’s ecumenical spirit, three men, none of them Presbyterians, donated most of the land needed for the church site. William Keillor Chapman, an Anglican, Alexander Robb, also an Anglican, and Henry R. Emmerson, a Baptist, all contributed. This spirit of generosity was a Dorchester tradition, with other local figures donating land for different religious denominations.
St. James opened on July 8, 1885, as a modest, unpretentious Gothic-style building that cost $2000 to construct. It embodied the Presbyterian principles of austerity, simplicity in worship, honesty, restraint in fundraising, and adherence to scriptural teachings. The Dorchester congregation remained strong for a while, known for its “zeal, loyalty, and liberality.” However, by 1968, the congregation had dwindled and eventually disbanded, merging with St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in nearby Sackville.
Following years of neglect and disrepair, the building was deeded to the Westmorland Historical Society. In the 1970s, Pamela Black, a passionate weaver from a prominent Sackville family, established a textile museum in a decommissioned church in Upper Cape, New Brunswick. She collected artifacts representing the region’s weaving and textile traditions, as well as arts and crafts essential to self-sufficient communities. When she could no longer maintain the museum, she offered her collection to the Westmorland Historical Society on the condition that St. James be restored and converted into a suitable museum space. With support from the provincial government and community members, the restoration was completed in 1985, and the Beachkirk Collection found its new home at St. James. The St. James Textile Museum, the only one of its kind in New Brunswick, offers visitors a hands-on experience with artifacts and demonstrations of textile production.
Although no longer active, Presbyterian congregations in Dorchester and nearby Rockland once played a vital role in the religious life of these communities.
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