HISTORY OF PASCO COUNTY
First United Methodist Church
The following is an article in East Pasco’s Heritage by Catherine McIntosh and Esther Shelton.
The First United Methodist Church of Dade City had its beginning in 1886. The first services were held in a store building that was afterward used as the courthouse when Pasco County was formed from a part of Hernando County in 1887. The building was located on the southwest corner of the present courthouse square. Methodist Circuit Riders had served the pioneer residents from 1870 until 1886. Among the trustees of the new church was W. N. Ferguson, of the merchandise firm of Coleman and Ferguson; his wife was the first church organist.
The first church building was erected in 1889 by James E. Lee, pioneer from Dawson, Ga., who had arrived with his family in a covered wagon in October, 1881. The first wedding held in the new church building was that of his daughter, Annie Elizabeth Lee, who became the bride of Simeon F. Huckabay in October, 1889.
The original sanctuary when first constructed was considered one of the finest church buildings in the state. Much of this sanctuary was preserved in the rebuilding of the church during the pastorate of Dr. W. W. Laite. Sturdily constructed of heart pine and cypress, the church withstood being moved from the corner of the church lot to its present position on the same lot. Church services were held for several months at the Pasco Theater while this work was being done. A Children’s Chapel was donated by Mr. and Mrs. David O. Nihart; this now houses the Wesley Creative School for children, a weekday kindergarten. On Sunday, May 16, 1954, the sanctuary and chapel were opened for worship in a program which included a sermon by the late Bishop John Branscomb, who laid the cornerstone on the foundation of the church tower.
During the pastorate of Dr. C. M. Cotton, 1935-39, the two-story educational building of the church was erected. Under the leadership of Rev. W. Harold Miller, 1956-62, this building was remodeled, some further remodeling was done in the sanctuary, and the Parish Hall, now known as Miller Hall, was built. All exteriors were rebuilt with cypress siding and brick wainscot.
The following is taken from a 2005 Tampa Tribune article by Carol Jeffares Hedman.
At 37628 Church Ave., First United Methodist is the oldest church on the street, with the sanctuary completed in July 1889 of heart pine and cypress. It originally sat at the northeast corner of the lot.
Electric lights were installed in 1910, and a year later, a brick sidewalk was built in front, the interior was painted and the vestibule was remodeled to have steps and doors on two sides instead of just in front. About this time, a bungalow was built for classrooms and social hall. It was later moved to the rear of the church lot.
A two-story education building was constructed in 1939. In 1954, the church sanctuary was moved to its present location where it abuts the northwest corner of the education building. A chapel and the southwest portion of the sanctuary were built at this time to join the two buildings.
Additional modifications included a new school building, remodeling the sanctuary and education building, construction of a parish hall, and rebuilding the exterior.
New stained glass windows were installed in 1975 in the original openings. The front portico on the sanctuary, the west wing and the entrance porch along the north side of the education building were added in 1987 to provide a more modern appearance.
The congregation remains proud of its heritage that dates to 1886 when church services were held in a store building that later served as the first Pasco County courthouse. Located on the southwest corner of the square where the Historic Pasco County Courthouse now stands, the building was owned by W.N. Ferguson, co- owner of Coleman and Ferguson Co. Coleman and Ferguson owned the building that they offered to the county for a courthouse when Pasco became a county in 1887. Ferguson was a church trustee, and his wife was the church’s first organist.
James E. Lee built the existing church on a quarter-acre purchased from Reuben Wilson in March 1888. Lee, originally from Georgia, had recently built the First Methodist Church in nearby Enterprise. Lee was a steward at the Dade City church.
Methodist Roots Deep In Dade City
This article appeared in the Tampa Tribune on Sept. 26, 2003.
By CAROL JEFFARES HEDMAN
DADE CITY - The whitewashed First Presbyterian looks to be the oldest church gracing the historic district downtown, but members of First United Methodist are quick to claim their church as the oldest.
Louise Edwards, 83 and a member since 1945, said an old friend, a member of the nearby Presbyterian congregation, used to tease her that the Methodists arrived in Dade City on horseback while the Presbyterians waited until the trains came.
According to information Edwards gathered, her Presbyterian friend was right - the Methodists did come on horseback, as circuit riders offering worship to congregations throughout the area.
The circuit riders served pioneer residents from 1870 until the Methodist church in Dade City was organized in 1886.
Services for First United Methodist were first held in a storefront on the southwest corner of what is now the historic Pasco County Courthouse square, on Seventh Street and Meridian Avenue.
The next year, Pasco County was formed from the southern portion of Hernando County and the Methodists left the building so it could be used as the first county courthouse.
The congregation of 200 was one of four small churches on the Fort Dade Charge of the Orlando District of the Florida Methodist Conference. The history of those churches - Mount Zion, Enterprise and Richland - is closely linked to that of First United Methodist Church of Dade City.
The Fort Dade Charge was served by the Rev. W.F. Alexander, according to history collected by the late Katherine Huckabay McIntosh, who joined the church in 1904.
Alexander’s $400 salary was paid by all four churches, with the Dade City church chipping in $75; Mount Zion, $150; Enterprise, $125; and Richland, $50.
The Legacy Of Lee
One of the early members was James E. Lee of Dawson, Ga., who came to the Dade City area in 1881 in a covered wagon. In 1878, Lee built the first church at Enterprise after initial services were held there beneath a palmetto-thatched arbor, according to the information from McIntosh, Lee’s granddaughter.
Lee built the original First United Methodist Church building about 10 years later of heart pine and cypress.
Church trustees at the time included merchants W.N. Ferguson and F.S. Daiger, who came to Florida in 1881 with his parents. The Daigers attended church at Enterprise until moving to Dade City in 1887.
By July 1889, the Rev. C.E. Ledbetter reported to the presiding elder, today called the district superintendent, that the “church at Dade City is sufficiently completed to furnish a shelter for our people.”
The builder’s daughter, Annie Elizabeth Lee, was first to exchange wedding vows in the church. She and Simeon F. Huckabay were married there Oct. 17, 1889. They were Katherine McIntosh’s parents.
The next year, the church conference suggested to the Rev. A.E. Householder that he look after Methodists living in Macon, today’s Trilby.
Householder also asked the bishop that year to borrow money to finish the church. The women’s organization, first known as Helping Hands, also assisted in paying off the church’s first building debt.
Electric lights were installed at the church in 1910, during the pastorate of the Rev. J.F. Bell. The following year the church was refurbished, adding sidewalks in front of the church and parsonage, as well as remodeling the vestibule to have steps and doors on both sides instead of one front entrance.
The Rev. Fred Pitxon, who led the church from 1911 to 1914, preached to some 200 members of the Dade City church and then held afternoon services at the Enterprise and Richland churches.
By this time, the Mount Zion church had merged with the Dade City church. Several members of Townsend House Church, near the Pasco-Hernando county line, transferred to Dade City in 1911. Others came from Providence Church in Darby.
In 1925 the deed of the Enterprise church was turned over to the trustees of First United Methodist. This was the second Enterprise Methodist Church building, constructed in 1903. The Enterprise Baptist congregation rented the old building at one time from the Dade City Methodist Church. Enterprise church was deeded to the Florida Pioneer Museum Association in 1976 for preservation at the museum off U.S. 301.
The Church Keeps Growing
While the small churches vanished, First United Methodist Church was growing in membership and facilities. Led by the Rev. C.W. White, the conference Sunday school field secretary, the congregation added a small building dubbed “the bungalow” to provide more room for Sunday school. The building was also used as the church’s social hall and later moved to the rear of the church lot.
Between 1935 and 1939, a two-story education building was constructed for $4,000.
The church underwent a major remodeling and construction project in 1954. The original sanctuary was moved from the corner of the church lot to its present position on the same lot and used as the nucleus of a new church.
On May 16, 1954, the sanctuary and chapel were opened for worship in a program that included a sermon by Bishop John Branscomb, who laid the cornerstone of the foundation for the church tower.
In the 1960s, Gwen and Freeman Polk donated a lot and building east of the church. Thelma and Charles F. Touchton Jr. transferred membership from the Presbyterian church and gave land on 10th Street for a parsonage in memory of Thelma Touchton’s mother. It was constructed in 1966 for $33,191 and is used today as the home of the Rev. Jim Renault.
In 1972 the parish hall was renovated and named Miller Hall in memory of the Rev. W. Harold Miller, pastor at the time of its construction. He was killed in a car accident in 1971.
In 1973 a Saville organ was donated by L.C. Hawes in memory of his wife, Ethel.
Plans also were made for a memorial window above the altar. Led by Thelma Touchton, the project sparked interest in adding stained-glass windows throughout the sanctuary. The windows, depicting scenes from the life of Jesus, were donated by residents and made and installed by the Mueller Studios of Zephyrhills.
German artist Karl J. Mueller was well known for his stained glass windows, which also adorn Saint Leo Abbey’s Church of the Holy Cross. The windows at the Methodist church were dedicated on Jan. 19, 1975.
In 1986, the church celebrated its centennial and was placed on the Pasco County Register of Historic Sites and Places.
The church underwent more remodeling and the addition of a Christian Life Center in 1997. The center is the site of the Belfry program for middle school students.
Other examples of the church’s community involvement include serving as Dade City’s central collection agency for relief for Hurricane Camille victims in 1969.
In 1968 the church opened a public kindergarten, and in 1972 the long-running Wesley Creative School for Children, a prekindergarten program led by Betty Milton, was started.
The church also helped the educable mentally handicapped at the former Moore-Mickens Middle School; sponsors Boy Scout Troop 402 and Cub Scout Pack 301; and has co-sponsored Church Street Christmas since 1980.
The web site of the church is here.