<< 8: FORT GEORGE ISLAND || 10: RATTLESNAKES AND REPTILES >>
I once heard a radio announcer say, "Tune in tomorrow
and see if Cain killed Abel." It is doubtful if there are many
people who would not know the outcome of the encounter.
Better not press our luck much further than Cain and Abel,
but I did find some interesting reading all through the book of
Genesis. That Ark still intrigues me and I can't imagine how
the Russians and Turks can contain themselves enough to
keep from going up on Mount Ararat and finding out if the
Ark is still there. Maybe it is a good thing that women are not
running their governments or they would already know.
We are told that the first Protestant prayer on Florida soil
was at Mayport or what would most likely be east of the present village. Jean Ribault and his men uttered that prayer, and
after seeing the size of the Timucuan Indians, one would suspect that it was a most fervent supplication. I find no record
of the Huguenots having built a church there or at Fort Caroline.
The Spanish Catholics were the people who built churches with a fervor. The first church of record in the community
was San Juan del Puerto (St. Johns of the Port). Built in the
middle of Fort George Island in 1580, it was a very popular
church as Father Francisco Paríjo ministered to his converts.
After the unpleasantness of the sixties, Mrs. Ellen Ward of
New York City gave $1,500.00 to start an Episcopal Church
on Fort George Island. This church was started in the summer
of 1881 and was built on a knoll overlooking the wild marshes
and the Atlantic Ocean. St. Georges Church is small with the
typical Episcopal architecture of that time. There is one grave
in the yard of the church and I have often wondered why an
infant was buried there. I have often thought of taking an
early morning ferry and going to church over there, but guess
I would have trouble keeping my mind on the service being
surrounded by so much exciting history. With a little soft
music, you could really let your mind wander. The church was
surrounded by wild horses until about 1930, but both Black Beard and Zephaniah Kinglsey had been gone some years before the church was built.
The Murray Hall Hotel was a luxury hotel with some one
hundred seventy-five rooms, built at a cost of $150,000.00. It
was in the parlors of this hotel that the first services of St.
Paul's By-The-Sea Episcopal Church were held. The hotel was
located on the corner of what is now Highway 90 and First
Street and the church was built some two blocks away on the
corner of Second Street and Second Avenue South. The church
was established in 1886 and at that time this section was
known as Pablo Beach. In the year 1884, a German bark loaded with Honduras mahogany sprang a leak and came ashore
under full sail. This causes me to wonder if, perhaps, some of
that mahogany found its way into the building of the church.
Most of the wood is painted now and it would be difficult to
In 1952, this little church was moved to a new location on
11th Avenue at 5th Street North where it served until more
room was needed for the congregation. This time the church
was turned to face Patricia Lane and an additional twenty-four
feet was added by first cutting through the church and splicing
in this section. The architecture remained the same and it was
still the same beautiful church, only twenty-four feet longer.
After the new church was built there was no further need for
the little white church, so it was given to the members of the
Central Christian congregation who had it moved to its present
location on Florida Boulevard. They now have added a bell.
The Diocese felt that Mayport needed an Episcopal Church
during the twenties and Mrs. Jeanette Gavagan donated a
half lot on Broad Street for this purpose. The church was barged down from
Chaseville, (some few miles up river from Mayport), and placed on the lot where it remained until 1935
when it was torn down. This was St. John's Episcopal and the
church simply had too much against it to succeed. The town's
biggest industry had gone and the railroad had been taken up.
To make matters worse, we were in the midst of a depression.
This old building must have had lots of history associated
with it up in Chaseville. I still remember the indignity of the
old church sprawled out on the ground as it was torn down.
There were many long timbers and trusses, it gave you the impression of a fallen giant. I'll not go into the type of restaurant
built from these timbers, but one could wish for a more glorious ending for a building such as this.
The Christ Episcopal Church was built out of a need for a
church at Ponte Vedra, (not that Ponte Vedra needed a church
worse than any other community). We have watched this
church grow until it is a big church now, and there is one thing
that still sticks in our mind about the building of the church.
One morning as we went to work we found a man waiting for
us with a big sheet of copper. This man was a moonshiner and
that was no secret, but I was curious as to why he wanted me
to buy the copper. When asked why he did not go ahead and
use it as he had planned, he told me that the boys were too
hot after stills now, and he wanted twenty dollars for the material. The price was fair, so I bought it.
The next day a man who was doing some additions to the
Christ Church saw the copper and wanted to buy it. He was
told the whole story and that the price was still twenty dollars.
Today, as you ride by the church and see that copper steeple
up there, think what it might have been!
There are two other churches in our general vicinity which
I think should be mentioned. First, St. Andrew's Episcopal
Church was established in 1888 and a building program begun.
The location of the church was on the corner of Duval Street
and Florida Avenue in Jacksonville. This area became so
cluttered that the building was recently torn down. Many very
prominent people were associated with that church. Guess
I'm a nut on woods, but I was fascinated to learn that the
front doors were made of mahogany from a log washed up on
the beach and presented to the church by George A. Decottes
who kept a cottage in Atlantic Beach for many years. The carving on the
doors was done by the father of Rex Beach, the
author who helped to form some of my early reading habits.
The other church that should be mentioned was the Church
of Our Saviour. It was established in 1883 and was damaged
beyond repair by Hurricane Dora in 1964. It has since been
rebuilt much like the original. This church was established by
Professor Stowe, husband of Harriet Beecher Stowe, who was
the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin. This author had nothing to
do with my reading habits. The Church of Our Saviour is located on the south bank of the St. Johns River in Mandarin
surrounded by orange groves. It is still pretty. Drive out and
see it sometime. My friend. Bob Hay, tells me that the original
church was burned in 1911 and that the building, damaged by
storm Dora, was a replacement, not the original.
It is wonderful how many northern Episcopalians were concerned about our spiritual health. How much better we would
have fared if, along with the prayer books, they had packed
some "catheads" (biscuits). Unless I should sound ungrateful,
let me belatedly thank the cities of Philadelphia, New York
and Boston who each had a shipload of food in Savannah,
Georgia as soon as they were able to get in after cessation of
hostilities in 1865.
The Presbyterians have a part in the churches of antiquity.
The Mayport Presbyterian Church dates back to 1887, and
services have been held in this church continuously for over
seventy years. In some places that would be considered a comparatively youthful church, but not here. Until recent years
this country was sparsely settled, but now the secret is out
and people are finding happiness here in ever increasing numbers. The first
church ever attended by me as a child proudly
displays a name of "Wilson's Church, Est. 1814." They don't
tell you that this is not the original building. The original
building was reportedly burned because it was too close to a
bar and bartender figured this arson business was the best way
to eliminate competition.
At the turn of the century, there was a ring of beautiful
homes surrounding the Ribault Bay and many of these people
were members of the Mayport Church until a great storm came
in and washed away most of the unprotected homes. With
their homes gone, most of these people moved to Jacksonville
and the little church closed its doors. Some eight years later
Viola King (now Mrs. Walter Boley) and the four Bennett
girls, Annie, Essie, Glenny and Ella, thought there should be a
Sunday School and church in the old building. Even though
they were only young girls, they set to work and there have
been services there since that time. Viola King has played the
piano there since the beginning. This is one church where they
still are not afraid to ring the bell and to give thanks that the
Navy stopped just short of taking the church in their acquisition program. The bell in any community was at one time a
very useful instrument. It was run to announce services, to
toll the death of someone, in case of fire, and to announce
the coming of a New Year.
The Community Presbyterian Church
of Atlantic Beach was
built in 1942 and it was my pleasure to cooperate with the
contractor, A.M. Inman, in the building of this sanctuary. The
contract was for $7,500.00, It still amazes me how much you
could get for your money at that time. The only trouble was
to get hold of some money. (Eddie Mier tells me that he was
digging big palm trees ready for transplanting for ten cents
each in those days.) This church has grown and prospered over
the years and has come to bless the community.
The Palms Presbyterian Church, the northern Presbyterian
Church on the southern end of town has built a big, beautiful
sanctuary under the guidance of Jim Tinsley and seems to be
heading for where ever churches go when they are successful.
In the early thirties, churches were not overly plentiful here
at the beaches, and being of Methodist persuasion, our family
attended the Baptist Church because there was not a Methodist
church handy. The Baptist Church was located on the same
lots where the Jacksonville Beach City Hall now is. It was a
small, one story frame building and the pastor came down
from Jacksonville each week for a promise of seven dollars. As
money conditions began to improve, this little church was
raised and made into a two-story building with the lower story
of concrete blocks. Soon after that, a big beautiful structure
was built at Second Avenue North and the old church was
sold to B. B. McCormick and Sons. This First Baptist Church
has since built a $385,000.00 church and has underwritten
five missions. Quite an active congregation, I would say.
There was one Baptist Church west of Third Street and they
had not yet put in a Baptistry, so they were forced to use the
ocean for their baptisms. In those days cows frequented the
ocean front and the beach, and it complicated matters somewhat. They always seemed to have plenty of conversions and
baptisms in the summer time, but during the winter conversions were few and far between. Guess that is what the Baptists
mean by no back sliding. If you had it strong enough to go
into that icy water in the winter time, you should have it from then on. Today I count ten Baptist Churches in our
community. That has taken an energetic bunch of people.
The Mayport Catholic Church was built in 1897 and we are
told that Judge James Gavagan, who was only a boy at the
time, gave the first dollar toward the construction. Judge Gavagan was the Justice of the Peace and about all of the law that
Mayport had for over thirty years. This church was located on
the road from Mayport to East Mayport and was in the path
of the Navy so it was torn down in 1940. The last mass there
was held in November of that year. The altar in that church
was beautiful, having been made by so many loving hands. For
many years, the larger percentage of Mayport was Catholic,
but I'm not sure about the percentage now. There are hardly
enough people there now to have a percentage, for it continues to shrink.
The St. Paul's Catholic Church was on the ocean front at
Jacksonville Beach. A small frame building, after taking so
many beatings from the storms, it was worn out by the time
the new structure was built on First Avenue North. The Beachcomber Motel is on the lot where the church was. Some time
back, there was a small Catholic Church that served Palm
Valley for years. It was under the auspices of the Catholic
Church at Loretto, where there has been a strong church and
school for years. The father who served the church had to drive
a horse and buggy from Loretto, a distance of several miles.
That was no small feat in itself. Often the services were very
poorly attended except on the occasion of a funeral, then
everybody in the Valley came. One old timer gives this version
of this occasion: "He gave us unshirted Hell!" These were
rough people and if it affected one of them in such a manner,
wonder what it would do to our anemic congregations today.
The St. Johns Catholic Church on Mayport Road serves
that community well. I have only been inside this church one
time and that was to a funeral. However, for a young church,
it now seems to be faring well.
We have two Lutheran Churches, both in Jacksonville Beach.
I believe they are under different Synods. I sometimes wonder
if it is better to have a church broken up into sections or all
in one piece. It seems to me that our Methodist Church has
shown very little improvement since it has become United
Methodist Church. We have the Church of Christ, First Church
of Christ, Scientist, Pentecostal, Holiness, Nazarene, The
Church of God, The Assembly of God, The Holiness Chapel,
and many others that I cannot recall at this time. Everyone of
them is doing a good job, and with things as bad as they are in
general, we could hardly survive without them.
There are two Christian Churches here and, after a struggle,
both are doing well. The First Christian Church is housed in a
beautiful sanctuary on the ocean front at Neptune Beach. The Central Christian Church is housed in the memory-laden structure that originally
housed St. Paul's Episcopal so long and so
well. This building is now located on Florida Boulevard. The
Jehovah's Witness have a nice structure on Sixteenth Avenue
South, and appear to have good congregations. Somehow, they
always seem to get the people out.
For years my friend William Jordan had a desire to build
and pastor a church until he finally could stand it no longer.
Many buildings were being torn down and he secured enough
of this lumber to start in the construction of a church. For
years he labored until he had built a very neat little chapel and
named it just that—"Jordan's Chapel." This became a Methodist Church under the jurisdiction of the central conference
and Reverend Jordan was an ordained Methodist minister, the
only difference being that he owned the church and the Bishop could not move him.
Additions were made to the chapel in order to provide for
a nursery and kindergarten. Food subsidies were obtained and,
as his wife Margaret took over the running of the school and
nursery, it has filled a great need in the community. This
school takes in all races and creeds and does an excellent job.
It is a real treat to go out there and see so many happy little
faces and all of them well fed.
Lillie Simmons ran a small school in her home for years,
with heavy emphasis always being put on the Christian side.
This was all of the instruction in religious life or on what is
right and what is wrong that many of the children ever received. She knew that the scope of this should be widened and she
began making plans for a church. Somehow she secured a lot
and then went out for donations. This was in 1937 and we still
had not recovered from the throes of the depression but she
did get some donations. With this small amount of material and
money, plus a heart full of faith, the church was started. It was
located on Francis Avenue in Atlantic Beach and I remember,
as we stood on the lot for the dedication, noticing that the lot
had been freshly burned off. The dedication was by Reverend
Ernest Dieffenwierth. I thought he took a most realistic text
in view of the circumstances. Exodus 3-5 where Moses faces
the burning bush . . . "Put off thy shoes from off thy feet for
the place whereon thou standest is holy ground."
This church is still prospering but Lillie Mae Simmons has
gone to her reward long ago. Her realism still prevails in the
church for I was reading one of their reports and saw this question and answer at their Quarterly Conference. Question: "Are
all of the preachers blameless in life and conversation?" Answer: "Their characters passed."
How much more realistic can
you get than that? The name of this church is Robert's Mr.
Pisgah A.M.E. Church, and they still have trouble in making
deposits with such a long name, besides just everybody can't
spell Pisgah. The name was taken from the Bible . . . "Mt. Pisgah's lofty heights."
The St. Paul's Methodist Church in Mayport is probably the
oldest Methodist church anywhere near here. It was in a sad
state of repair and enough money was finally raised to put it in
good shape again. The contractor found the structure supporting
the bell in such shape that it had to be torn away. This necessitated taking
the bell from the tower and placing it on the
ground where it lay for a year or more. I was interested in the
bell and since no one else wanted it, the bell was given to me.
Moving the bell was no small job but we finally were able to
get it to our store where it was rung on various occasions. It
had a beautiful tone and some of the old timers said that the
bell was over a hundred years old and had been made in Savannah, Georgia. It must have been one really big job to get a five
hundred pound bell up into a tower without any draglines or
heavy lifting equipment, probably done with a long gen pole
equipped with block and tackle. That type equipment has almost been lost in
this section at least. It always was hard labor
and who wants to labor now?
We kept the bell around the store for a few years until an
antique dealer saw it and wanted to buy it for a client. A price
of $125.00 was agreed on with the customer picking the bell
up. When the customer came for the bell, she wanted to know
how to make out the check. She was told to make it out to St.
Paul's Methodist Church, and we in turn gave the check to the
pastor of this church. I had always heard that it was difficult
to give anything away properly, and now I know.
It reminded me of the boy who was given a boomerang for
his birthday and tried to throw the old one away. When the
congregation found that they had $125.00 free and unfettered,
they really had a meeting to spend it. Guess church people are
not different from anyone else when it comes to spending
money, and this particular meeting almost broke up the
church. This may be one way of getting your congregation
out, but I wonder, out of what? The little church finally settled back into its
normal apathetic way, with its few faithful
followers and the bell is now in Switzerland, Florida, amid
beautiful orange and grapefruit groves.
There is another little Methodist Church that has been here
for ages. The St. Andrew's Church is located on 9th Street
South in Jacksonville Beach, and has done a wonderful job.
The guiding light behind this church was a grand old lady
called Mother Martin.
The Christ Methodist Church on Penman Road in Neptune
Beach was started some ten years ago and has made good progress, having built a
kindergarten, Sunday School rooms, and
a large fellowship hall with an excellent kitchen. They are
planning for a sanctuary and will build one when conditions
are more in line.
On October 17, 1937, the Beach Methodist Church
first meeting in the Beach Theatre in Jacksonville Beach, with Reverend Allen as temporary pastor, and A.N. Inman assisting
him as lay leader. The beach had begun to grow again after
several years of near stagnation, and many people were commuting between the beaches and Jacksonville where their
work was. The 1930 census of Jacksonville Beach, which included Neptune Beach at that time, was four hundred and
nine people. This Methodist church had fifty-nine charter
members so there had been some rapid increase in population.
The church needed a home and it was invited to make use
of the upper story of J.B. Arnot's newly completed bakery
on the corner of Pablo Avenue and First Street, where the
Coliseum now stands. The quarters were free but the congregation felt the need of bigger accommodations belonging to
themselves. They began preparations by buying two lots on
the corner of Fourth Street and Seventh Avenue North for
$200.00 each. A great howl went up from some of the congregation because the lots were in the country and too difficult
to attend services there. Hardly anyone had two cars then and
many people did not have one.
Plans for the new church were drawn and it was decided to
have a coquina exterior, something that would almost be prohibitive
now, but at that time cost less than brick. The congregation raised
$5,000.00 and were given $10,000.00 by the
Livingston Memorial Fund with the provision that if the coming unification of the northern and southern Methodist
churches failed to take place, then the congregation would
have to pay back the $10,000.00. The reason for this was
that the Livingston Memorial Fund was of the northern Methodist and the Beach Methodist was of the southern branch.
The church was built of heart pine lumber from Holopaw,
Florida. I doubt if you could get a crew of carpenters now to
work on lumber as hard as that was. The frames and windows
were all of heart cypress and even the floor was of heart pine.
All of this for $15,000 and the contractor did not go broke. Pews in this church were built by W.P.A. workmen, and I've often wondered what skilled craftsman carved the communion table from heart cypress. He was good.
We have forty churches in and around here now and without them it would not be such a desirable place to live.
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