South Branch and the South Branch United Church

South Branch and the South Branch United Church
By Mary Creelman

South Branch is located on the Stewiacke River.  The river was once called the South Branch of the Stewiacke River and that is where the name of South Branch originated.

In 1786 large tracts of land were granted to John Hanglen and John Archibald.  A mill was built there sometime between 1781 and 1793 by James Dickie and William Putnam.  Much of the remaining land in the area was granted in 1813 to John Archibald 4th, Samuel Davis, and James Nelson.

Farming was the basic industry but today there are only three farms left in South Branch.  These are the farms of John Veenhuis, David Law,and Austin Kennedy.  The population in 1956 was 152, but it is now only 94.

Alex Alexander was the Schoolmaster in South Branch in 1828.  A new school house was built in 1891.  There were three schoolhouses in South Branch. One was located on Academy Hill where Ralph Cox now lives.  The second was located where Lloyd Fleck now lives, and the third school house is still standing at the top of what is called Bill Cox Hill.

The mail

A Postal Way Office was established in 1855.  In 1867 South Branch Way Office was kept by C.B. Cox. The mail was delivered once a week at that time.  Then the mail started coming from Brookfield tri-weekly, delivered by Sandy Fulton.

Mail was delivered from Middle Musquodoboit to South Branch semi-weekly by Mr Phalen.  Since the year 1882 the mail has been delivered daily.  The South Branch Post Office was moved from C.B. Cox’s to A.C. Teas’; and it was cancelled in 1943.

The South Branch Route was started in January, 1915, with Edson Cox as driver.  He was succeeded by Ashmore Miller and his son Gordon.  Then by Harry Fulton and in 1950, Carroll Tree was appointed driver, until Harry Fulton was again appointed.  This route was through Meadowvale and South Branch, returning to Upper Stewiacke by way of the Tupper Bridge and is now approximately 25 miles long, serving 60 homes.  The mail is now driven by Pearl Watson.  (Note: in 2003, this route is driven by Michael Meisner.)

In 1913 the South Branch Mutual Telephone Company built their line from the corner by Ross Mowatt’s through to South Branch.

The church

At one time, the entire Stewiacke Valley consisted of one congregation, providing  for the spiritual needs of the people.  A growing population, however, led to the division of the original body and the building of other places of worship; one of which was at South Branch.

Until 1872, the stream which is the South Branch of the Stewiacke River was a dividing line between the two pastoral charges.  The people on the north side were served from Middle Stewiacke which had been connected with Brookfield since 1856.  Those on the south side were associated with Upper Stewiacke, where Presbyterian work had been in progress since 1793.

In 1872, the  north and south sides of the river were united for religious purposes and were annexed to Upper Stewiacke.  Up to that time the church services were held in the school house, a facility which was rapidly becoming too small.

The minister then was the Rev. Edward Grant, who settled on the pastorate in 1872 and remained there until 1891.  This was the longest ministry in the history of the South Branch church.

First elders

With the organization of a congregation at South Branch in 1872 the first elders appointed were William Dunlap, Robert Deyarmond, and Robert Frame.  Although its means were small, the congregation undertook the building of the South Branch Church which is still in use today.  In the winter of 1873 and 1874, logs were cut, hauled to the mill, sawn and stacked for drying.  The church was built by a brother of Rev Edward Grant and stands on a site obtained from William McCulloch.  The building was formally opened and dedicated in the spring of 1875.  Land for a cemetery was procured from William and Stanley Andrews.

Electric lights were installed in the church in 1959 replacing the kerosene lamps.  Formerly the South Branch Church was lighted by  lamps supported by chandeliers, a gift to the church from Mr and Mrs William Dunlap.

Other gifts presented over the years were the first pulpit Bible presented by Miss Downing and the present Bible presented by Mrs Laura Purdy and the young people in 1922.  In 1959 the congregation gave a Communion Table in honor of A.C. Teas who long had served as Elder and choir leader.

Presbyterian in its origin and development, the church of South Branch is now a member of the family of the United Church of Canada and is part of the Upper Stewiacke –Springside Pastoral Charge., which maintains a manse in Upper Stewiacke.

100th anniversary

In 1975 the 100th Anniversary of the South Branch Church was celebrated, with Rev Parker Matheson, a former Minister as special speaker.  Music was provided by the Country Church Choir from Wittenburg and area.  The Minister of the church at that time was Rev David Whiston.

Since 1975 the roof of the church has been painted, and in 1979 the exterior of the church was painted.  This spring (1980), repairs have been made to the tower of the church and the steeple replaced; also a name sign has been placed on the front of the church.  Plans are being made to celebrate the 105th Anniversary in July.

Note:  In the 1990’s the South Branch Church was officially closed, and its members transferred to either the Upper Stewiacke United Church or the Middle Stewiacke United Church.  The building  was bought  (for $1.00) by the South Branch Community Club and is used by the community for various special services etc.

Note: This account is included in Stories of the Stewiacke Valley, which were collected and printed during the Stewiacke Valley Bicentennial celebrations in 1980.