St. Mary's Anglican Church is unique among the churches in Richmond Hill's historic core, in that the congregation's first actual church building, erected in 1872, is still standing. When the present church was constructed in 1964, the older edifice was preserved and encorporated into the church complex as a chapel.
Until 1872, Anglicans in Richmond Hill had attended services at Holy Trinity in Thornhill, built in 1830, or met in Dr. Duncumb's Hall, a red brick meeting hall built by Dr. John Duncomb around 1857. Although records indicated that the Hall had been destroyed by fire in 1870, it was, in fact, restored and still stands today at 10027 Yonge St., directly across the street from St. Mary's. In 1878, Dr. Duncumb's brother and nephew donated a bell to the church in his memory. The church wardens of the time wrote that, "In his hall, our congregation was first formed, and long continued to worship."
In 1871, John Arnold deeded land for the purpose of building a
church. The Arnold family had a small burial plot on the property and the terms
of the donation stipulated only that the family gravesite not be disturbed. The
graves were located just to the south of the vestry entrance to the church. St.
Mary's held its first services in October of 1872. Built of buff brick, it was
fashioned after St. James Cathedral in Toronto, but naturally on a much smaller
scale. Apparently pews were not installed until 1874, when they were financed
by renting them to the congregation. A sliding scale was established, the first
three rows of pews costing ten dollars a year, the ones at the back going for
five. The church property was expanded by another donation of a lot by John
Arnold in 1879 and a final donation of land by the Arnold family in 1926.
The church complex was expanded over the years. In 1929 a basement
was excavated under the 1872 edifice and Wrixon Hall and Sunday School rooms
were added in 1956. Finally in 1964, a new and larger church was constructed,
but the congregation preserved the historic 1872 structure for use as a chapel.
As part of the construction, the Arnold burial plot, which under the terms of
John Arnold's deed in 1870 could not be moved, was enclosed within the church
complex itself, in the hallway linking the old church, Wrixon Hall and the new
sanctuary. As the original headstones have disappeared, most of the graves are
marked with simple stone initials, and an Arnold family tree has been provided
to commemorate this generous family.