St. Alban the Martyr Anglican Church stands by the side of the road in the quiet hamlet of Adolphustown close to the landing site of the fourth town contingent of the United Empire Loyalist in Adolphustown Creek on June 16, 1784.
Construction of the present stone church began in 1884. The Honorable John Beverly Robinson, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario laid the cornerstone on June 17, 1884. Construction lasted several years and the first service was held in the church June 25, 1890
The present church, constructed of local stone, replaced an earlier wooden structure known as St. Paul’s, which had been built between 1820 and 1823 and consecrated in 1830 by the Rt. Rev. Charles James stuart, Lord Bishop of Quebec. Before 1823, the small congregation (only twenty per cent of the 72 families in the small landing party of Adolphuston Loyalists were Church of England adherents) met in the Hagerman house, which was located in the western end of what is now the United Empire Loyalist Park. The earlier wooden church was situated just a little to the west of the present church. The old church was taken down board by board in 1997, moved and rebuilt in its original design by Dr. Brisley near his home in Demorestville.
The minister serving the Adolphustown parish at the time St. Alban’s was built was the Rev. Richard Sykes Forneri. Forneri the son of Italian immigrant parents, who came to Canada via Ireland, had been ordained from Trinity College Toronto in 1866 and was assigned the ministry of Adolphustown parish in 1883. Although his parish was small Forneri deemed the existing small wooden church unsuitable and envisioned his congregation worshiping in a fine new church. “The structure will be of stone, gothic architecture and will seat 200 people,” he wrote.
Many names could no longer be discerned. As the son of Italian immigrant parents who had left their country as political refugees, Forneri had great empathy for the dislocation experienced by the early Loyalists and the courage and perseverance they had demonstrated in the face of great difficulties and he believed they deserved a more fitting and lasting memorial than crumbling tombstones. The idea of combining his dream of a new church for his parish and a memorial to the early Loyalists was born.
In England at that time, inscribed glazed tiles were sometimes inserted into headstones as they were thought to be more durable than inscriptions in stone. Forneri thought such decorative memorial tiles commemorating early Loyalist would fit well into the interior of the new church and in a letter to a prospective donor wrote that “beginning at the Chancel a band of colored English tiles will run along the wall just above the waynscotting and in this band will be inserted polished tablets bearing the names of prominent Loyalists of Canada. There they will not, like their tombstones, crumble under the action of the weather. There they will be read with reverence by succeeding generations. Thus names which are historical will be lastingly preserved”.By 1890, the year services were first held in the church, thirty-three of the sixty-four tiles allowed for had been sponsored. The last memorial tile was mounted in 1909.
Forneri also encouraged patrons to sponsor Memorial stained glass windows. Three windows were installed by 1890 and over the years clear glass windows have been gradually replaced with beautiful stained glass. The final window, the large Rose Window on the west wall was completed in 2008.
Rev. Forneri was by all accounts an intelligent and gentle soul but a man of great zeal and energy, undaunted by the great task he faced. A local businessman, J.J. Watson agreed to donate land for the new church and many parishioners and local residents made generous pledges in support of the project. Forneri also traveled extensively on foot, by horse or by boat to areas around the Bay of Quinte and to Ottawa and Montreal in his search for donors. He preached tirelessly when he traveled and usually returned with new pledges of support. Fortunately, Albert Loft Geen, a lay reader and brother-in-law residing in Belleville, took over the services for most of the time Forneri was away. Geen traveled back and forth from Belleville (a long, difficult journey in those days) without compensation, so that Forneri could be free to raise the funds for the new church.
It was not just the building itself that occupied Rev. Forneri. He wrote hopefully to a patron in 1888 that he wished to raise $1,000 to insure “an annual sermon, lecture or oration upon the subject (the Loyalists example of devotion) by some select speaker of ability. Not until I have accomplished this shall I feel that I have done all I can do to keep evergreen the Memory of the Fathers of our Country – not until this is affected shall I consider the church complete”. On the Sunday closest to the landing date, we at St. Alban’s still hold an annual UEL Memorial Service, a sung evensong based on the Book of Common Prayer of 1662. A carefully chosen guest speaker addresses the generally overflowing congregation on the Loyalist theme.