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Willow Creek

History

Town site photo

The Shiloh United Bretheren Church

©Copyright: Jeri Danyleyko

The small hamlet of Willow Creek jumped to life following the arrival of a religious movement in the 1860s. Travelling missionaries were common in those days. It was their job to travel to remote or isolated areas, ministering to the new settlers and attracting new members, with the ultimate goal of building a church.

The evangelical-based United Brethren in Christ Church began in such a fashion. Meetings and services where held in various homes along the fourth concession. This particular group, first known as "Wrightson's Class," took their name from one of the charter members, John Wrightson.

Wrightson, a carpenter by trade, donated a piece of land on Lot 22, Concession 5, for construction of a small frame church and a cemetery. It is thought Wrightson may have built the small hemlock and pine church by himself. After 1877 the church was known locally as "Wrightson's Church." Other members of the initial charter group included the Wrights, the Hydes and the Knights.

Willow Creek was located two concessions south of the small settlement of Gresham. A school section, SS No. 9, with a log schoolhouse had been in place since before the 1860s. In 1861 Alexander McLean built a new frame school north of the church on Concession 6, halfway between the two communities.

Over the next few years a small community grew up around Wrightson's Church. In 1874 George Patterson opened a post office, way up on Concession 9, known as Willow Creek, named for the small creek located near the settlement. By the 1880s, the hamlet was bustling with two brickyards, one operated by the Kemp Brothers and the other by the Koch Brothers, Julius and Edward, later known as Koch and McEachern. There was also a sawmill on Lot 21, Concession 8. A Grange Hall had been built on Lot 20, Concession 7, across the road from the schoolhouse.

During the mid 1880s, mail was brought in weekly by stagecoach. By 1889 mail was being brought in from Glamis by a courier, George Kidd. The church continued to prosper until 1889 when a number of members left due to a denominational split. Eventually the problems were resolved and many members returned to the fold. The village's population remained stable for a number of years at number of years at around 100.

By the 1890s the brick yards had closed and most of Willow Creek's residents were engaged in farming. The village still included a sawmill, owned by Angus Campbell, two carpenters, Charles Campbell and John Wrightson and an apiary, owned by Joseph Wrightson. A new brick school was built in 1893.

George Baker ran both the general store and blacksmith shop. Baker was a superb smitty and toolmaker, as well as the inventor and builder of "wagon jacks." Baker added a postmaster hat to his collection in 1898. His shop, located on Lot 20, Concession 4, became home to the post office. The post office remained in operation until 1914 when rural mail delivery arrived. Ministers during the 1890s included Reverend W.A. Robbin and Reverend Richard Clark.

During the early 1930s, Adam Wrightson built a small sawmill on his property, located on Lot 28, Concession 5. The sawmill was ostensibly built in order for Wrightson to prepare the lumber for a new barn he was building. Since Wrightson also owned a shingle mill, he was able to do custom sawing, milling and cedar shingles for other farmers in the area.

The school saw a number of improvements over the years. A new well was drilled in 1912. Until 1915, it was home to the annual school fair. During the 1930s there was a greater focus on music. In 1935 the school purchased a record player and an organ and regular music classes were introduced. Later purchases included a radio. In 1946 a new water pressure system was installed and hydro was added. The school continued to operate until 1966 when it was closed due to centralization of the school system. The furnishings and building were sold by auction. The school still stands and is now used as a private home.

The church went through many changes over the years. The old church was replaced in 1902 with a new building framed by Joe Wrightson. At that time it was renamed the Willow Creek United Brethren Church. Services were typically held at 7:30 p.m. In 1913 Isaac Wrightson donated an additional parcel of land adjacent to the church for the cemetery. In 1923 the church became known as the Shiloh United Brethren Church. It closed briefly during the 1930s as a result of difficulties in obtaining a minister. By 1934 there was a new minister serving Shiloh, North Bruce and Port Elgin.

In 1951 the congregations of the Shiloh Church and the church at North Bruce, jointly purchased a house to be used as a manse. More renovations were carried out in 1948 and later, in 1968, an addition was built. The church is still active and continues to hold regular services. The cemetery was taken over by the township in 1979. It remains well-tended and still sees the occasional burial. The remainder of Willow Creek is now farmland.