Locals act to save history

By Lois Ann Dort    

BOYLSTON – Bessie Reddick (nee Lawrence) has a lifetime of memories surrounding the Baptist church that stood until recently in the seaside community of Boylston. As a young girl in the late 1940s she attended services regularly at the Boylston Baptist Church with her family, one of a handful of African Nova Scotians families that were part of the predominantly white congregation. It was through her efforts, with the aid of like-minded local citizens, that a piece of the church remains in a nearby cemetery to preserve the history of the church in the memory of the people: the church bell.

Reddick says her first memory of the Baptist Church is of her mother and father taking her there in a horse and wagon. During heavy winter snow falls a sleigh would serve in the wagon’s stead. “We never missed a concert because Dad would take us on the sleigh,” said Reddick.

During the Christmas season a pageant would be performed with costumes, songs and special treat bags for the children. Reddick was baptized in Guysborough because it had a baptismal font whereas the Boylston church did not, but she said of the Boylston church, “I received the Lord in that church at an early age.”

Church was a social as well as a spiritual occasion for Reddick’s family. “After church they would stand around and talk. Everybody knew everybody. Everybody was friends.” She noted that despite the era, her family never experienced any racism within the racially mixed congregation.

It was the place in family and personal history that led Reddick to fight for the preservation of the church bell when the congregation could no longer sustain the property. As is the case wth many congregations in rural Nova Scotia, as the population decreased so too did the number of church congregants. With funds to support the church steadily eroding it was decided to demolish the church and sell the land on which it stood.

In the process of demolition, anything of value from within the church, including stately wooden beams, were removed and sold. This was to be the fate of the church bell but thanks to the efforts of Reddick the bell, which first called parishioner to worship in 1890, was saved and moved to the Baptist cemetery on the Back Road in Boylston.

Moving the bell to its new home was quite “a racket” said Reddick, involving many local citizens. Michael Peters erected the bell on top of a cement base provided by Brian Morrow located in the spot formerly occupied by an enormous stump which was removed by another helper. The family of Ralph Hart donated money to the cause and Lloyd Cresine made repairs to the cemetery driveway to accommodate the work and machinery. Contributions to the cemetery fund were also appreciated in the efforts to create a new home for the bell.

Reddick is pleased with the results and continues to oversee the maintenance of the Baptist graveyard in Boylston. She said of the bell’s conservation and location, “To me it means we have some memory of Boylston Baptist Church in that graveyard. I did not want to let everything go...I wanted to have a piece of the church.”