The Union Church
of Great Cranberry Island

by Janet Roberts

The history of the Union Church must begin during the Civil War, in 1863, when 38 island ladies formed a sewing circle called "The Mutual and Benevolent Society" with the avowed goal of raising funds to build a meeting house.  At that time, the devout churchgoing rowed themselves to Southwest Harbor or Beech Hill, then walked to services there.

They held meetings every other Tuesday, charged dues and fixed suppers for visitors that night for a fee.  Their names were familiar: Spurling, Bunker, Rice, Stanley, Preble.  By 1865, they had enough money to entrust it to a committee of men who oversaw the building, and by 1866, the church was done.  It cost $3200, and it wasn't all paid for.

For the next 30 years, the community suffered dissent.  The people who had been rich enough to buy pews refused to sell to the people who didn't have pews.  There was no regular ministry.  The Christmas party had to be held in the schoolhouse.  The church fell into disrepair.

Finally, in 1894, the Maine Missionary Society (Congregational), sent Charles Elliott Harwood (see his window in the church) for the first pastorate to Cranberry and Islesford.  He was shocked at the discord, and with the help of Bishop Doan and Andrew Wheelwright of Northeast Harbor churches, he raised enough money to buy all the pews in the church and for the repair of the building.  He died in 1897, and must have felt at peace.  At last the church was open to all on the island.

From the 1890s on, there have been summer visiting ministers.  The longest tenure was of Rev. Charles G. Cumming of Bangor Theological Seminary, from 1920-1931, who returned to serve from 1951-1960.

The Ladies Aid was formed in 1900, and it is thanks to their work that the church and side buildings are in good repair and serve as the center of island activities.

On a visit to the church, the Harwood window high above the altar is striking.  It was made by Sarah Wyman Whitman, a well-known woman artist working in Boston in the late 19th century, who made stained glass windows, and designed all the first edition covers of Sarah Orne Jewett's novels.

-- Janet Roberts, Summer 2000

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