While many of the places we’ve visited for the purpose of this blog are still actively used for worship activities, we spend plenty of time at museums, historical sites and roadside attractions too. The Heritage Square Museum in Ontario, NY is home to a number of very cool historical buildings that can be viewed while taking a well-worth-it $4.00 tour. While we were interested in the entire tour for ourselves, we really made sure that we got to see the old Baptist Meeting House so we could tell you about it! We spent a brief afternoon on a walking tour with a friendly docent and a couple other people who had shown up as well.
The town of Ontario sits in the northwest corner of Wayne County with its northernmost border dictated by the picturesque Lake Ontario, which is the 14th largest lake in the world! First settled in 1806 by Freeman Hopkins, the town would undergo a number of changes in its early days, including the name to Ontario somewhere around 1808. Iron Ore and fertile farm lands ensured that the town’s population would continue to grow. Of course, a growing population would need houses of worship, and we sure are grateful for the historical society’s efforts in preserving as many of them as they could.
The Heritage Square Museum has the former Hojack Railroad Station, the historic Warner House, an apple drying house, an old jail, log cabin, schoolhouse and a couple other stops to checkout while there. All of the buildings on the property were moved there from their original locations with the exception of the old one room schoolhouse. The Baptist Meeting House that we were there to checkout originally was built on the southwest corner of Rt. 104 and Ontario Center Road, just a mile or so south of Heritage Square. The land that was originally home to the meeting house is now a wild open field across the street from the Wayne Senior High School but there is absolutely nothing there to indicate that the Baptists once used the space for their worship–trust us, we went and checked it out.
George B. Davis was the very first pastor for the Ontario Baptists, who was chosen after their first gathering on July 3, 1834. That same year they built their first meeting house. Almost immediately they outgrew this building and it became a parsonage next to the new and larger church built on the same property. While the larger church would later fall victim to a fire, the original meeting house withstood the test of time and sat unused while the property changed ownership throughout the years. Finally, in 1973 Mr. and Mrs. Mason Stevens donated the Meeting House and had it moved from their property to its new home at the Heritage Square Museum.
While the museum doesn’t get much more in depth about the building’s history, the inside is part of the walking tour. The room is now home to an extensive Civil War exhibit, as well as information on the local iron ore industry, though the rows of chairs probably are similar to how the space was originally used during worship. The noteworthy parts to the building are probably limited, but the unique architecture of the curved ceiling is certainly something to checkout while there. If any of our readers know why they created the ceiling that way, we’d love for you to chime in! The other portion of the building’s features that were pointed out was the wooden lintel over the entrance. While lintels can be load-bearing or just ornamental, our docent wasn’t sure about this one in particular. Regardless, the preserved piece of history is something we always appreciate being able to encounter in person.
Also, if you go and visit, be sure to checkout what is potentially my favorite thing on the property. On the South edge of the museum’s property right near the road is what is believed to be the oldest living Maple tree in the entire state of New York!!