Earty 1783 saw the cessation of hostilities between Great Britain and the recently-formed United States of America. However, about 70,000 of these “Americans” still felt strong ties to Great Britain. As a result, they chose to emigrate to other colonies in the British Empire rather than remain in the United States. About 34,000 of these “United Empire Loyalists” settled in the modern-day provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
It was in early June of 1783 that a group of 1500 loyalists led by Rear-Admiral Robert Digby settled at the western end of the Annapolis Basin. In March 1786, His Excellency, the Governor of Nova Scotia, graciously approved the establishment of a parish that took within its boundaries the Town of Digby (still known at that time as Conway) and a large portion of the surrounding areas.
By 1789, Enoch Towner, a former sergeant in the British army, was labouring in the area as a lay preacher, often under difficult circumstances. By 1799, there was enough interest in the county to establish the Sissiboo (now Weymouth) Baptist Church. Enoch Towner was ordained as the pastor of this new church. Over the next 30 years or so with the help of many people, an increasingly large number of area residents came to accept the Baptist faith.
By the 1830’s, it was felt by many people in the general area south of the town now called Digby, that they should have a church of their own because of their “being destitute of a commodius place for the worship of God”. As a result, on December 1, 1833 a group of men met to draw up plans for a new building of worship. This meeting produced a document entitled “A Meeting House Covenant” and outlined the foundations upon which a new church would be built. Among other things, these articles described the location for the church, the dimensions and general interior descriptions of it and how the money was to be raised to finance it. This original document has survived to this day and is currently being safeguarded in the Atlantic Baptist Archives in the Vaughan Memorial Library at Acadia University, Wolfville, N.S.
Work commenced in 1835 and on July 2, 1837, Digby Joggins Baptist Church was officially dedicated. The church was, at that time, the largest in the county owned by the Baptists. This original structure still stands to this day and is an enduring monument to those workmen who have long since been laid to rest under the shadow of the walls they helped to build. The organization of the church was completed in July, 1843, with 40 members. Thomas Bacon and Joseph Nichols were the first deacons and Rev. Charles Randall became the first regular pastor.
In January, 1851, Rev. Richard Cunningham became pastor and continued until the autumn of 1851, at which time severe illness obliged him to retire. He passed away in January, 1852 and became the first person to be buried in the new cemetery located adjacent to the north wall of the church. His prominent but somewhat weather-worn headstone is located close to the centre window on this wall.
In the early 1860’s, after about 25 years of being known as Digby Joggins Baptist Church, the name was changed to Hill Grove Baptist Church. It has been suggested that this name came from the church being located on a “hill” and across the road from a “grove” of beech and maple trees. As the years passed, many pastors were called to Hill Grove and thus became involved in the continuing development of the church. Here is a brief summary of some of the of the people and events that helped shape Hill Grove history.
1889 – John A. H. Nichols is appointed Clerk and Treasurer. He was to hold the position of Clerk for 54 years until his death in 1943, thus becoming the longest-serving church officer up to that time.
1891 – A great revival was experienced (one of 3 or 4 to occur over the years) and 33 new members were received by baptism.
1894 – The first recorded roll call was held and all church records were fully updated.
1901 – Among the new members this year was teen-aged Lavinia E. Wilson, who eventually became a very respected missionary in Bolivia. She returned home in 1929 after five years of devoted service. Unfortunately, ill health took her from us at the young age of 46. She rests in the Wilson family plot in the south-east corner of the cemetery adjacent to the south wall of the church. The beautiful centre window of this south wall was dedicated to her memory in June, 1951.
1903 – A parsonage was purchased. It was sold to John Balser in 1913.
1913 – In November, Hill Grove united with Digby Baptist Church. One pastor now served both churches.
1919-1921 – Various renovations included new windows and a new steeple. The re-dedication services were held in October, 1921.
1927 – Electric lights were installed. Also, a part of the newly-purchased property was the grove of beech and maple trees from which the church may have taken its name. Another part of the property eventually became the third section of the church cemetery system.
1937 – For the 100th Anniversary Services, inspiring messages were delivered by visiting clergymen, letters from former pastors were read and special anniversary hymns that were composed by a former pastor were sung.
1954-1955 – The old Acaciaville schoolhouse and the Temperance Building were connected together and renovated by the church to be used as a “new” church hall.
1967 – The Hill Grove Baptist Youth Fellowship presented to the church a new set of communion plates which are still regularly used today during communion services. This is an enduring legacy from a dynamic group of young people, several of whom are still part of the Hill Grove family today.
1985 – In March, the congregation voted to dissolve the 71-year old relationship with Digby Baptist, thus
becoming a separate church with its own pastor.
1986 – The exterior work was completed on a new parsonage. The interior work was completed in the early
1987 – Many activities took place to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the church.
1991 – A church library was organized and a steel archway was erected at the upper entrance to the third section of the cemetery system.
1995 – More renovations included new doors, steps, siding and a driveway leading to the wheelchair access to
1997 – In June, to commemorate the 160th Anniversary of the church, a service of dedication was held to name the church hall “Hill Grove Christian Education Centre”.
2008 – By congregational agreement, it was decided to sell the 21-year old parsonage.