Densmore Church Needs Your Help

By: Rhonda McNeely

Volume 18, Issue 9, September 2023

Our beautiful Densmore Church, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, needs a new roof!

The Densmore Church trustees have applied for a grant from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation, that would cover up to half the estimated $132,000 cost. The work will use composite roofing tiles, which offers better temperature control, have an anticipated life span of up to 50 years, and even have an aesthetic that will mirror the current cedar shingle material. With the help of all our Friends, we aim to raise the funds we need to Preserve Our Past and Build Our Future so that generations to come can continue to enjoy beautiful and historic Densmore Church.

To donate please visit our website: There is a button in the top right hand corner that says Give.

About Densmore

The building we know as Densmore Church was dedicated in 1902 as the First Methodist Episcopal Church of Wellesley Island. With a view of the St. Lawrence on Densmore Bay, the new building stood on a small piece of land conveyed to the church by John and Juliana Calkins for $75.

When the Densmore Bay church was built, Boldt Castle was under construction on Heart Island (then called Hart), about a mile downriver. More than 300 workmen made for a thriving community that was able to support the church. Then, in 1904, construction on the castle abruptly stopped. The craftsmen and their families moved on, and as the farms on the east end of the island were gradually replaced by summer cottages and seasonal residents, the congregation slowly declined.

In 1988, the Densmore church building was accepted for a listing on the National Register of Historic Places, formally recognizing its architectural importance for future preservation. But by then, the church congregation had dwindled to just a few families, and they did not have the resources to maintain the building. The beautiful shingle-style church was deteriorating to the point where the roof, windows, and walls all leaked, and something had to be done.

A perfect setting to begin a lifetime together.

In 1994, a small group of people from Wellesley Island and nearby communities came together as Friends of Densmore to save the building. They raised over $45,000 for major repairs and donated hundreds of hours for the hands-on work required to restore and preserve the interior of the church. The leaking roof and the front steps were replaced, interior woodwork was cleaned, and the floor was refinished. That winter, volunteers removed all the curved wood pews from the building in order to refinish them, a true labor of love.

The major restoration was completed in 1995, and worship services resumed in the newly refurbished church in June of that year. The immediate needs had been addressed, but a long-term solution was needed.

About a year later, that solution took shape. Some of those who had been involved in the 1995 restoration formed a new religious corporation, Densmore Church, Inc. The small congregation merged with the upriver Wellesley Island United Methodist Church in Fineview, and the Densmore property was transferred to the new corporation. It would be a nondenominational church available to the community for worship services, weddings, memorial services, and other civic and family events, all overseen by the Board of Directors of the Densmore Church Corporation.

The new Densmore Church corporation raised additional funding to upgrade the water and septic systems, provide a restroom in the basement, and install a climate control system to protect the newly repaired and stabilized stained-glass windows. Plaques placed under each restored window acknowledged major donors to the project, completed in 2000.  And two years later, Densmore Church celebrated its 100th Anniversary.

The Densmore trustees host ten Sunday Evening Concerts each summer, which showcase North Country artists and have been well attended since their introduction in 1995.

Densmore Today

The Friends of Densmore, now numbering over 80 families, continue to support the maintenance and preservation of the building with their donations of time, talent and treasure. More than half our annual funding comes from their generous contributions. The trustees are grateful for the support of all the Friends and very proud of the contributions that Densmore Church has made to the Thousand Islands Region.  We offer a unique venue for weddings and memorial services, and there are usually between three and six such events scheduled each year.

The Densmore trustees host ten Sunday Evening Concerts each summer, which showcase North Country artists and have been well attended since their introduction in 1995. The concerts are both an outreach to the community and a source of revenue, as a free-will offering is taken at intermission. The  Densmore Dinner in August is another tradition and includes a Silent Auction, with items donated by the trustees or solicited by them from local businesses. The Densmore Open House and Art Sale has been organized for us by the local Plein Air artists group – Densmore Church is a favorite subject of many of their members and we receive a share of the sales. This event is now three years old, but we hope to make it a successful tradition as well.

Note the date, after refinishing the pews over the winter months, volunteers return them to the church building to be reinstalled after the 1995 renovations. Volunteers are the backbone of so many churches and North Country organizations. 

By Rhonda McNeely

RhondaMcNeely was born in Watertown, NY and is a life-long resident of the North Country. She graduated from nursing school in 1981, and married her husband, Calvin, the same year. After their son was born, Rhonda joined Calvin in his business. Since those early days, Rhonda has owned and operated over 30 businesses, start-ups, and acquisitions, with many successes . . . most notably, as co-founder and partner in the Hi-Lite group of companies. Rhonda retired from Hi-Lite in September 2016 and moved to Wellesley Island. She was a year-round resident and lived just down the street from Densmore Church. Rhonda serves on the board of Densmore Church, Inc. as President because of her joy in giving back to the community. Rhonda and her husband now reside in Tampa, FL and summer on Wellesley Island.

Posted in: Volume 18, Issue 9, September 2023, History, Communities, News Item, Places

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