Lillies Baptist Cemetery: An Historical Sketch
Presented at the Annual Cemetery Service
June 19, 1994
Lillies Cemetery is a non-denominational cemetery established in the first decade of the nineteenth century by the first settlers in this part of Leeds County.
In 1794 Abel Stevens brought a group of Baptist settlers from Vermont into the wilderness in the northern part of Leeds County. Although Stevens and his group settled in Bastard Township, they explored all of the surrounding country and once settled one of the first tasks they undertook was to open a road through the bush from their settlement to Kingston Mills. This road which was thirty-one miles in length, ten feet in width and required thirteen bridges followed much the same route we would travel today from Lyndhurst to Kingston Mills.
Settlement was sparse in the early years; Hiel Sliter recalled that, when he arrived in the area in 1804 there were only seven families living along the road between what would later be Lyndhurst and Seeley’s Bay.
As the numbers of families increased in the community inevitably there were deaths. Morris, son of Roger and Phoebe Savage is the earliest recorded burial in the cemetery; Roger Savage was the township clerk and it may have been his initiative to establish a community burying ground. The site chosen was the hillside where the road from Marble Rock to Whitefish Falls (Morton) crossed the road to Kingston Mills. These two roads which were really no more that rough tracks cut through the forest crossed on a hillside surrounded by tall pines. The lot where the cemetery is situated was owned by Dr. James Schofield who lived in Bastard Township and the neighbouring lot was owned and occupied by Samuel Weatherhead Haskin. This first crossroad in the community was known for many year as Haskin’s Corners and was a natural meeting place for the local Baptists.
By 1828 Baptist societies had been formed in Bastard, Leeds, Gananoque, Yonge and Augusta townships and there are many mentions of the Leeds Society in surviving records of the Bastard Society. Peter Schofield and Hiel Sliter were leaders in the Leeds Society which claimed 54 adherents in 1842. Sometime after 1830 the Schofield family sold 2 acres and 7 square rods to Hiel Sliter, Alpheus Haskin and Hiram N. Sweet, Trustees of the Baptist Society of Leeds. This property included the burying ground which had been in use for many years and ample ground for a church.
A chapel had been built on the property in 1848; the 1851 census reported that the Baptists had “a frame church which would contain about 200 Persons with one acre enclosed for a cemetery with a good board fence.” We know that the building was 24′ x 30′ in size and it must have been standing room only when filled to its capacity of 200. That church was located on the western portion of the present burying ground.
Meetings led by Baptist and Episcopal Methodist ministers held in the church were popular and well attended throughout the 1850’s and 1860’s. However, the arrival of a number of evangelical Methodist preachers in Eastern Ontario began to affect Society membership; new Methodist congregations were formed and several churches were erected in the area. This spelled the end of the Leeds Baptist Society and in 1879 the church building was moved and converted into a home.
Although the old families continued to use the burying ground after the Baptist Society was disbanded and the church moved, burials declined from 1900 onward. By the 1930’s vandalism and neglect had taken their toll; some families cared for their plots, but much of the ground was overgrown with brambles and tall hay. In September of 1935, at a meeting convened by the Womens Institute in the Masonic Hall in Seeley’s Bay, a new board of trustees was elected:
Chairman – T. J. Pritchard
Sec.-Treas. – Ed. Moore
Vice Chair – Chancy Gilbert
Trustees – Alfred Chapman, Ernest Collinson, Ray Hartley, Frank Chapman, George D. Gilbert, George Shook, Alfred Kenny.
Letters were sent out soliciting donations and a cleanup campaign was begun; by 1939 many of the stones had been straightened, the ground was being regularly maintained and the beginnings of a perpetual care fund had been established from donations received. In 1937 the Cemetery Board purchased from Hammett Lillie, owner of the adjacent property, a half-acre to enlarge the grounds on the east side. In 1946 a triangular parcel on the west side of the cemetery was purchased by the Township and given to the cemetery; this ground was reserved for a memorial cenotaph which was erected the following year. The cemetery was further enlarged in 1950 with the purchase of an acre on the east side of the yard; this section was opened for burials in 1969.
Cemetery records are complete from 1935 onward and these records attest to level of community involvement and support for Lillies Cemetery, both through financial contributions and volunteer work.