Researched and written by Shirley Geigen Miller
Chapter I - How the Church Began
It must have been a happy day for Charles Hall and his friends in Hall’s Mills (now called Byron). One can picture him driving a horse and buggy throughout the community, on that early spring day, to spread the news.
“The deed is signed. We have property for a church,” he might have announced, as he bumped along the old dirt roads.
Then word would have spread to neighbouring farm families. And all the supporters of the establishment of an English church in the area would have been glad.
Today, in the year 2019, the people of St. Anne’s Anglican Church (Byron) are still glad, for it is their church that was built on that property. Some original stonework still stands, after 165 years.
St. Anne’s counts the date of the deed, March 31, 1853, as its beginning. In 2003, the congregation marked its 150th anniversary with numerous celebrations, just as the early supporters must have celebrated the founding of their church.
The deed is now held in the Diocese of Huron Archives at Huron University College, London. Discoloured and wrinkled with age (and the ink somewhat faded), the piece of paper is so fragile, it must be handled with gloves. Nevertheless, it is readable and it transfers the property, “Three Quarters of an Acre,” from Thomas McMillan and his wife, Ann McMillan, to The Church Society of the Diocese of Toronto “in consideration of the sum of Eight Pounds and Fifteen Shillings of lawful money of Canada.”
The property, “on the South side of the Commifsioner’s Road,” was next to land “conveyed for the purpose of a Common School House,” then ran east and south from there.
The deed further states: “Upon trust to hold the same forever hereafter for the use of a Church of the United Church of England and Ireland, to be erected upon the said parcel or tract of land, and for a Burial Ground in connexion therewith and for no other use or purpose whatsoever.” The witness’s signature is that of Charles Hall.
At the time, the Diocese of Toronto embraced all of Upper Canada (now Ontario).
The Diocese of Huron was established four years later.
- The Church Society in Toronto was actually a forerunner of synod. Made up of clergy and laity, this organization of volunteers collected and disbursed money for such projects as building new churches and funding missionaries. Whether the society financed the property for St. Anne’s, or whether it was paid for locally (perhaps by the Hall family), is not clear. What is clear from the deed, is that the Church Society took ownership. The society was later amalgamated with synod.
- British currency was still in use in Canada in 1853. It was officially changed to dollars and cents in 1858 but a few years passed before the conversion to new currency was complete.
- The name of the Anglican church was the United Church of England and Ireland at the time St. Anne’s began. Due to changes in England, the name reverted to Church of England in 1871. Later, when Canadian Anglicans decided they wanted one national Anglican church, they created it at the very first general synod in 1893. At that time, the church formally called itself the Church of England in Canada. It was renamed in 1955 to the Anglican Church of Canada, the name it holds today.
St. Anne’s Church was born into a busy little community called Hall’s Mills. Situated a few miles southwest of the booming town of London, Hall’s Mills had a population of about 200. The nucleus of the business/commercial district, if you will, stretched along the high ground of Commissioner’s Road, from Boler Road to the schoolhouse. This portion contained, among other things, a hotel, a tavern (also used as a public gathering place), a store and post office, a saddle and trunk making business, a blacksmith and shoemaker. The one-room school had just opened the year before, in 1852.
The community also extended north from Commissioner’s Road, downhill to the Thames River. On this lower ground, beside the water, the “manufacturing” district was located: a grist mill (for wheat), distillery, cloth factory, carding machine (for wool) and a tannery. A chair factory operated on the north side of the river.
It is perhaps misleading to use the terms “business district” and “manufacturing district,” because the whole settlement was also “residential.” Many people, at the time, lived and did their business in the same structure. Some had separate homes. There were log, stone, brick, and frame buildings in the community. But as yet, no church.
The village had two roads leading down to the Thames: one was Boler Road, which also extended further south and was more of a thoroughfare; the other was Centre Street (now Hall’s Mill Road) which connected Commissioner’s Road to a river road. A wooden bridge crossed the river west of Centre Street, linking Hall’s Mills to the north bank and beyond. Commissioner’s Road was a well-worn passage east and west.
To survive in this part of the world in 1853, people had to be tough, hard-working, public spirited and resilient. Most residents of Hall’s Mills were all of those. Their homes were heated by woodstoves, lighting was by coal oil or kerosene lamps, bathroom facilities were primitive. Day-to-day living took a lot of muscle – chopping, hauling, building. Horses, being the means of transportation in this community, had to be tended with great care. Since sanitation and medical help were limited, diseases and childbirth took a toll on the population.
On the business side, running a factory or mill also had its risks. Industries used water power to operate machinery (hence their location near the river), which left them vulnerable to frequent flooding. Structures often had to be rebuilt – without the advantage of modern construction tools. This was not a world for the faint of heart.
But when it came to a community need, the people pulled together. Back in 1825, residents had formed a bee to cut timber and build the first bridge across the river. More recently, the local folk had pitched in to help build the public school. Working together for the common good was a way of life in the area. It was necessary for survival.
Despite the hardships, residents of Hall’s Mills in 1853, must have gained a lot of satisfaction, when they successfully met the challenges and created improvements in a rather untamed world.
One cannot vouch for the religious leanings of all the district’s residents. Some, at least, felt a strong need for a house of worship in the community. For Anglicans in Hall’s Mills, it required a long, difficult journey to reach an Anglican church such as St. Paul’s Church in London, Christ Church in Delaware or St. Thomas Church in St. Thomas.
The Hall family, who had deep ties to the Church of England, were the moving spirits in the founding of St. Anne’s Church (Byron), the first church in the village.
The Hall Family
Significant gaps exist in the history of this important Byron family. But thanks to documented research by London historian Dan Brock, much information about the Halls has come to light.
Hall’s Mills (later named Byron) was called Westminster when Cyrenius Hall moved here from Fort Erie in 1835. With him came wife Mary, and children Charles, age 9, (the same Charles who years later witnessed the deed for St. Anne’s Church property), Mary Jane, age 7, Cyrenius (junior), age 5, and William Benjamin, age 3. A fifth child, Henry, was born in Westminster in 1836. Henry, later, left an important bequest to St. Anne’s.
Cyrenius Hall (senior) had been born in Cornish, New Hampshire, in 1788, and came to Canada before the War of 1812, settling eventually in the Fort Erie area.
In 1817, he married Julia Warren, and they had a son, John Warren Hall. Cy had a store in Fort Erie from 1819 to 1834, and apparently travelled to Westminster Township during that time, to forward goods. He became familiar with the little community southwest of the forks of the Thames, and seems to have liked it.
Even in his early years in Canada, he contributed to the church. Records show he purchased land in 1821 to build a church and graveyard in a village near Fort Erie. It was as if Cy, and later his children, had a mission – to provide financial aid for places of worship on their home ground.
His first wife Julia must have died, because in 1825 Cyrenius married Mary Fellows and they had the aforementioned four children before moving to Westminster. John Warren, son of the first marriage, does not seem to have come with them.
Cyrenius Hall made a big impact on Westminster right from the start. In 1836, he bought the grist mill formerly owned by Burleigh Hunt and subsequently built a distillery and tannery. He also bought a carding and fulling mill and started several small businesses. He became a justice of the peace and was a trusted, respected citizen.
Helping to care for the needy, seems to have been another of his traits. In 1850, Middlesex County Council decided to place 10 shillings a week from council funds “in the hands of Cyrenius Hall, Esq. of Westminster for the assistance of a destitute sick woman, now lying in the home of Nathan Wade.” (from council minutes).
From about 1845 on, the village was known as Hall’s Mills in honour of Cy Hall, although it was 1853 before the name became official.
His position in the community and early prosperity, did not shield Cyrenius from misfortune or heartache. In 1839, he and Mary had another son, Prescott, who died in infancy. Mary died a few days later, likely from childbirth complications. Mother and baby were buried in Brick Street Cemetery. One can only imagine Cy’s sorrow at that time.
With a young family to raise (Henry was only three years old when his mother died), Cy remarried a year later, keeping his family intact. His third wife, the former Margaret Lawrason, must have mothered the Hall children well. Henry provided generously for her, in his will, as well.
The Hall children grew up and Mary Jane was the first to leave Hall’s Mills. She married Thomas James Stanton of St. Thomas in 1849. The wedding was held at Christ Church, Delaware, performed by Richard Flood, rector of Caradoc and Delaware.
Except for Henry, who trained to become a medical doctor, the Hall boys became involved in their father’s businesses. The Canada West Census for 1851 provides interesting details: Cyrenius senior is listed as a cloth manufacturer, Charles as a merchant and distiller, Cyrenius junior a clothier, and William B. a tanner. Charles is also listed as being married to Catherine H. The couple had two children and the family resided in a two-storey frame dwelling.
Cy had already sold his large grist mill to William Denning in 1848. The 1851 census taker describes the mill as being “in a delapsed state, from the effects of the flood in the river last year. The proprietor had just completed a new dam before the flood, which nearly swept it all away. Since, the mill has undergone a temporary repair but does small business owing to deficient supply of water.”
The current Hall businesses were more successful – carding a “considerable” quantity of wool, producing 2,000 yards of cloth, and tanning 2,000 hides a year.
Charles, by then a businessman in his own right, owned a smaller grist mill “merely for the purpose of chopping for the distillery,” which in turn produced 12,000 gallons of whiskey annually. He owned the distillery and a dry goods store as well.
It must have been around this time that the Halls called together some local inhabitants about establishing an English church, as it was commonly called, in the village.
In 1853, the year church property was obtained, Charles Hall was appointed postmaster of Hall’s Mills, a position which gave him regular contact with residents in the broader area.
Fortunately, most of the Hall family were alive and living in the community to see the completion of the cobblestone church on Commissioner’s Road. It was a project dear to their hearts, and they may have helped with the building. (Construction of the church will be described in a later chapter.)
But the fortunes of Cy Hall (senior) took a serious downturn. A legal notice appeared in the London Free Press on May 24, 1857, giving Cy’s creditors 60 days to make any claims on his estate. It was a year of widespread economic depression; businesses were crashing at an alarming rate. Historian Dan Brock believes that Cyrenius Hall suffered bankruptcy during the period.
In the same year (1857), Hall’s Mills was given a new name, “Byron” – another blow to Cy Hall.
Soon afterward, son William (Hall) struck out for the west, settling in Headingly, Manitoba. In 1859, Cy’s eldest son, Charles, died at the age of 32. Cause of death and place of burial are unknown.
Then in 1860, having suffered business and personal losses, Cyrenius (senior) himself died in Westminster Township at the age of 72. A faithful member of the Church of England for much of his life, he evidently changed his church affiliation in his final days. Local history sleuth, Dan Brock, found this surprising information, in an old book about the Halls of New England. Cy Hall had come from New Hampshire, originally, therefore some of his biography was included in the book.
According to the author, Rev. David B. Hall, “Mr. [Cyrenius] Hall was a member of the Methodist Church at the time of his death: he died very suddenly, he had always been considered a very healthy man.”
The Rev. Hall gave no explanation for Cy Hall’s switch from Anglicanism to Methodism, which would have been fascinating to know. Nor did the author suggest a cause of death.
Cyrenius was buried in Brick Street Cemetery next to his second wife, Mary, and infant son Prescott. His third wife, Margaret, lived until 1871, when she died in London.
Meanwhile, Henry, the youngest of the Halls, had distinguished himself as a doctor. Historical accounts credit him with curing blindness (at least two instances) and saving several lives in a typhoid epidemic. As a young man, he went to Peru, accompanied by his brother Cyrenius (junior).
Explanations for the trip vary. Some claim Henry went to Peru as a medical doctor; others say he went because he was ill and hoped the Peruvian climate would be healing. The second reason seems the most likely. Sadly, Henry died of consumption (tuberculosis) in 1863. He was 27 years old.
An historical account relates that young Cyrenius went to a priest in Peru to ask permission to bury his brother. To Cyrenius’ “great surprise,” the priest gave not only permission but also assistance.
The kindly priest, it would seem, was Roman Catholic. If he had been an Anglican priest, would Cyrenius have been surprised at help with the burial?
Afterwards, Cyrenius (junior) returned to North America. An artist even in his Hall’s Mills days, he later lived in Chicago, Illinois, as a portrait and landscape painter. His date of death, as well as that of his sister Mary Jane, are unknown.
What is known, however, is that one of Mary Jane’s children was baptized “Henry Hall Stanton” in St. Thomas in 1866. The baby’s uncle Cyrenius was sponsor.
William carried on family tradition by making an impact in Manitoba, where he had a farm, was a justice of the peace, and devoted many years to his church. At the time of his death in 1902, William’s biography was published in the London Free Press.
It read, in part: “He was always a consistent member of the Church of England, annually a member of the Synod since its first formation by the Archbishop of Rupert’s Land, and for many years he belonged to the executive council of this diocese, and to date of his death was rector’s warden.”
He was survived by his wife, Matilda (Talbot), and seven children.
William Hall is reported to have signed a document regarding the purchase of St. Anne’s Church property. Although his name does not appear on the original deed, he may have witnessed other official papers at the time. In any case, he would have been a staunch supporter of the founding of our church, like most of the Hall family.