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AVONDALE - (originally known as Salmon Cove) - Home of the "Disappearing Church by Thomas Moore with excerpts from Tom Furlong's article on the "Disappearing Church" in the Newfoundland Herald (April 20, 1996)
Avondale, home of the "Disappearing Church" was named after the vale of Avoca in the poem:
Sweet Vale of Avoca How Still Can I Rest In Thy Bosom of Peace With the Friends I Love Best
Few words have expressed so richly one man's love for a piece of earth. Those words were written 150 years ago by the poet Thomas Moore to describe his love for his home in Ireland. The "vale" is the vale of Avoca in Co. of Wicklow where the rivers Avonmore and Avonbeg meet to form the River Avoca (Ovoca) on some maps.
When Rev. John Roe arrived from Ireland in 1897 it reminded him so much of a similar spot in his native country that he labeled it Avondale, taking the cue from the famous Irish Poet, Thomas Moore's poem, " The Meeting of the Waters".
The first settler of record is J. Mahaney who came in the late 1790's. No details of his former residence nor of the number of people who came with him are available, but by 1805, the population of the place was recorded as 12. The census of 1836, lumps the population of Cat's Cove and Salmon Cove to a total of 366. Cat's Cove later became Conception Harbor.
By 1884, the population had reached 742, with most residents engaged in the fishery. At one time Avondale sent 4 vessels to the Labrador Fishery, while 64 people were involved in an inshore fishery operation. The fishery reached its peak in 1901.
In 1863, the Anglo American Telegraph Company set up a repeater station in Avondale which the Reid Newfoundland Railway Company took over in 1900 as part of its railway telegraph line and converted the building into the railway station. It is considered to be the oldest railway station in the province. The Heritage Society has been successful in having it declared a Provincial Heritage Site along with 1.4 kilometers of railway track.
Small industry was also possible in the community, proven by William Lewis Clark, who arrived from Bristol to set up a water-powered saw mill. When such saw mills began to fail into disuse, the mill was abandoned. It flourished briefly after a few years of idleness and the local Heritage Society made an attempt to preserve it. There efforts with the mill were thwarted when fire destroyed the property.*
Avondale is located in Conception Bay, half-way between St. John's and Harbor Grace. It is known through-out the province for the "Disappearing Church" located in the Community. Churches were always built on hills along our shores. Part of the reason was no doubt the practical consideration of navigational aid. Fisherman sailing back into Avondale harbor used the church as a guide to their home berths. They claimed that it disappeared, always to reappear as they rowed or sailed towards it.
You can experience the same phenomenon today as you drive to Avondale from St. John's along the old Conception Bay Highway. The church seems to disappear as the turning road interposes an identical hill between you and the church hill. You see a hill without a church crowning it. You look a minute later and there it is - church and hill reunited.
There is a classic beauty to the natural layout of Avondale. The town of 800 souls is bordered by two mountains and two rivers. The sun smiles over Lee's Pond Mountain in the morning and sinks behind the Blue Hills Mountain in the evening. As a boy, I loved the outdoor pleasures of Avondale. They varied with the pages torn off the calendar from Flynn's Store.
December, January and February in Avondale will mean that Lee's Pond and its adjacent gully are frozen over. Skating, hockey and ice fishing are the norm. Now skidoos "go where no man has gone before", crossing the TCH onto and past North Pond, Nine Island Pond and the Salmonier Barrens beyond. I still await an experience that trilled me quite like the night on the black ice of Lee's Pond years ago: the silver moon above, the steel skate blades below, and my hand in the mittened hand of that special girl. A more prosaic use of Avondale pond ice is to bring wood out to the community by horse and sled, skidoo, truck and ATV.
March, April and May mean Easter in the Church Calendar, but on Flynn's Calendar they mean that the ice is coming off the ponds. The trout are then further exposed to the young boys' hooks and lures. In June, Avondale celebrated the same event as every other spot in Newfoundland: D-day, VE-day, VJ-day and Christmas all rolled into one. SCHOOL"S OUT FOR THE SUMMER!!!
July and August allow us to swim in the same water we skated on in January. Some people go trouting all year round, perhaps mainly for the undisturbed walks in the woods that surround the community. September, October and November bring us to the season of reds and gold's when the modest deciduous trees get their days of strutting glory. The moose and partridge seasons become the preoccupation of many. Berries are changed into jams, wines and jellies by others.
As you drive to Avondale looking for the :Disappearing Church" and the "h" you dropped in Holyrood, you will also notice the extraordinary view as you enter. The highway runs along a hill high above the harbor. As you pass the sign that announces you are in the community, look to your right as the land drops away. You can see out the harbor, across the harbor and the neighboring communities in the distance. Ahead of you is the church, no longer disappearing, and many of the houses.
The people of Avondale are of stout Irish stock, Doyles, Costellos, Masons, predominate. Many of the men are iron workers who worked from Elizabeth Towers in St. John's to the sky-scrapers of New York. A dormitory town, many of its wage earners drive to St. John's every morning. In the world theatre, Avondale's Clar Doyle and Mike Wade of the Newfoundland Shakespeare Company are names recognized in and outside the province.
A forty minute drive from St. John's, Avondale is a corner of Newfoundland with its own history and charm.
Contributors note: Tom Moore is a native of Avondale and living in St. John's, who does the opposite and communtes daily to Avondale to teach at Roncalli High School. He is also the well known Newfoundland published author of "Angels Crying" and Good-bye Momma".
* In Tom Furlong's article it states that the Heritage Society's plans were thwarted when the mill burnt. This is not true. The last owners of the Saw Mill in Avondale were John and Leo Mason (brothers). The agreement was that if the Heritage Society didn't do anything with the building within two years, the building and land reverts back to the original owners, which it did on _______________. Jackie McGrath became the new owner of the mill on _________________. Just 3 weeks after the purchase, while she was away at the Salmon Festival in Grand Falls-Windsor, the building was set fire to and burnt to the ground. No one was ever charged of the crime.
This page Contributed by Barbara McGrath (17 February 2000)
Revised: July 2002 (Terry Piercey)
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