Densmore Church Through the Years

Free Concert Series


        The building we know as Densmore Church was dedicated on August 15, 1902 as the First Methodist Episcopal Church of Wells (Wellesley) Island.  From a copy of the “Notice and Special Invitation,” we learn there were two dedication services, at 2:30 pm and 7:30 pm.   A select quartet and an organist provided music for both services, and several clergymen were invited to give ten-minute addresses and assist.  The notice gives the location as “at Calkins” because the new church stood on a small piece of land conveyed to the trustees of the church by John and Juliana Calkins for $75.

The program for the dedication included the following statement: This Church is dedicated by the Methodist Episcopal Conference to:

1. All people who love our common Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
2. To all classes of every belief and unbelief.
3.  Especially to those who have never yet attended church regularly. “Come, let us go into the house of the Lord.” Psalm 122:1

The invitation also noted that the Wellesley Island Church had "builded a new $3,500 church by the help of its summer friends, and is trying to put the Pastor's salary on the solid basis of $1,000 per year."

The invitation included other helpful information on the dedication activity which tells us more about how things worked in that day:

"Mr. Danough will run his yacht (capacity 35 people) two trips each way … He will return parties after the services if enough desire it.  Any one who takes the Visger or Folger lines at 1:55 from … ferried across by Mr. Danough from Point Vivian, and returned to that point ...  Round trip with Mr. Danough 25 cents."

The program indicated that worship services would be held every Sunday at 11 am, followed by Sunday School at noon.  There would be a Sunday Social Service at 7:30 pm and a Wednesday Evening Prayer Service at 7:30.   It was a busy time for the little church, due in part to something else that was happening not far away.

In 1902, when the Densmore church was built, Boldt Castle was under construction on Hart Island, about a mile downriver.  More than 300 workmen, with all the ancillary services that they required, made for a thriving community, and it was partly for their use that the church was intended.   Then, in 1904, construction on the castle abruptly stopped.  Little by little, the craftsmen and their families moved on, and as the economy changed, the farms on the east end of the island were gradually replaced by summer cottages and seasonal residents who quite naturally did not provide year-round support.   At some point, the church officially became the Densmore United Methodist Church, and the Fineview church at the other end of the island became the Wellesley Island United Methodist Church.

In 1988 the Densmore church building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a way to validate its architectural importance and, hopefully, save it for future generations.   But by the mid-1990s, the Densmore congregation had dwindled to just a few families, and it was clear that they did not have the resources to maintain the building.   The beautiful shingle-style church was deteriorating to the point where the roof, windows and walls all leaked, and something different would have to be done.

In 1994, a small group of people from Wellesley Island and nearby communities came together as Friends of Densmore to save the building.   They raised over $45,000 for major repairs and donated hundreds of hours for the hands-on work required to restore and preserve the interior of the church.   The leaking roof and the front steps were replaced, interior woodwork was cleaned, and the floor was refinished.   That winter, volunteers removed the curved wood pews from the building in order to clean and refinish them, a true labor of love.   The major restoration was completed in 1995, and worship services resumed in the newly refurbished church in June of that year.   The immediate needs had been addressed, but a long-term solution was needed.

About a year later, that solution took shape.   Some of the Friends who had been involved in the first phase of the restoration formed a new religious corporation, Densmore Church, Inc.   The congregation of Densmore United Methodist Church merged with the Wellesley Island United Methodist Church in Fineview, and the Densmore church property was transferred to the new corporation to be a "free church."  The agreement provided, among other things, that “the Densmore Church building will be available for United Methodist worship services, be available to the Wellesley Island community for weddings, meetings, group activities, mini-concerts, arts and crafts shows, exhibits, community meetings, civic and family events, all under the direction of the Board of Directors of the Densmore Church Corporation.”  As Phase II of the restoration project, the new Densmore Church corporation raised additional funding to upgrade the water and septic systems, to provide a restroom in the basement, and to repair and stabilize the stained glass windows, which necessitated installing a climate control system to avoid stressing the repaired but still fragile leaded glass.  (Visitors to the church will see the dedicatory plaques which were installed below each of the windows in 2000.)

The Friends of Densmore continued to support these efforts with their donations of time, talent and treasure.   Sunday evening concerts became a welcome tradition each summer, as did the annual Friends Appreciation Dinner.   Worship services were again held on Sunday mornings in July and August, with both island residents and vacationers welcome to “come as you are.”

The trustees are grateful for the support of all the Friends and very proud of the contributions that Densmore Church has made to the 1000 Islands Region.