Present members of the Ocklawaha Bridge Baptist Church are the benefactors of the courage, foresight and labor of pioneer men and women who moved into this section soon after Florida was purchased in 1821. There seems to have been no permanent white settlement until the 1830’s, when Ft. King was established. The policy of Indian removal brought on the second Seminole Indian War, 1835-1842, which drove most settlers out and discouraged others from coming in. The conclusion of the war and the benefits of the Armed Occupation Act of 1842, which gave ex-Indian fighters land, enticed many settlers into what is now Marion County. Some of these adventurous families established homes east of the Ocklawaha River. Among these were the familiesof Dr. Moe, Mr. Mothershed and Mr. Williamson. The families of John Conner Graham, Lemuel Griggs, William Chalker, Rev. Gabriel Long, and William Holly later followed them. In later years the family names of Smith, Lovell, Marlow, and Morrison were heard in this section.
Some of the settlers came by crude boats, up the St. Johns and Ocklawaha Rivers to Silver Springs. Others came overland by ox cart and covered wagon, bringing with them the family milk cow several hound dogs, some furniture, cooking utensils, and muskets - for defense against wild animals, as protection against marauding Indians, and to bring in wild game.
Once a home site was selected the task of building homes from logs cut in the forest, making furniture, and planting crops began. The women usually tended a kitchen garden.
The pioneer condition of this section did not keep out the preachers. Far out into the wilds came ministers to proclaim the gospel. Baptist and Methodist circuit riders made frequent appearances at the homes of the settlers. They were usually welcomed, not only for spiritual purposes, but as messengers between settlements and families. In their saddle-bags would be letters and papers that had been passed from hand to hand in a pioneer postal service. Nearby families would be invited over for prayer service or a “camp meeting” would be arranged near some well-known spring, at a boat landing, or in a hammock noted for the beauty of its trees.
It is known that the Rev. S.T. Stanaland and the Rev. Willis Sellers came from South Carolina and settled in this area. In 1847 Elder Stanaland was pastor of New Hope, a church that disbanded prior to 1889 and united with Summerfield Church.
The William Holly family of ten children arrived on the east side of the river from South Carolina in 1854. According to a speech by Brother Joseph Stanaland in 1940, “In 1854 Uncle Billy Holly moved near Sharpe’s Ferry. Since there were a few families in this community, Uncle Billy, with his slaves, and a few neighbors rived out cypress boards and dressed them for the building of a new church.” This church was built near what is now known as the “Old Cemetery.” It was called the “Ocklawaha Bridge Baptist Church” because Uncle Billy lived near the bridge that crossed the river.
In 1856 the Alachua Association met at Ft. Clarke in Alachua County. Brother Stanaland was named to serve as missionary in the eastern and northern part of the association. The salary named was one dollar per day. A yearly report showed that he was paid $169.30. The Association at this time was composed of all of Florida east of the Suwannee River. This church first entertained the Association in 1863.
Again in 1883 and 1888 the Association met at this church. In 1895 they were admitted by letter to Marion Association, which had been organized in 1884 by twelve churches that were released by Alachua Association for that purpose.
From the meager information obtained from the minutes of 1870 to 1875, we note that there were many different moderators, none serving more than a year. It is noted that in 1879 prayer meetings were organized by Rev. J. P. Parker to be held the third Sunday of each month.
In 1881 Mrs. N. A. Bailey was appointed the first State Secretary of Woman’s Work. In a scrapbook prepared by her and preserved is found a record of the organization of the Ocklawaha Bridge Missionary Society in 1882. Mrs. P. L. Durisoe was president, Mrs. Julia A. Henderson was vice-president, and Miss L. E. Henderson was secretary. Three young men were honorary members, William T.Henderson, William T. Dudley, and C. T. Henderson.
The church minutes of 1883 record a problem facing the church:
“Dec. 1883 Deacon P. L. Durisoe notified the church that the land that our church and graveyard was now occupying, no more belonged to the United States Government, and was now held and owned by individual property holders. A committee of five was named to devise the best measures and means to secure the land necessary for church and graveyard purposes.
Those were P. L. Durisoe, E.M. Henderson, W. B. Holly, J. B. Griggs, E. W. McDonald.” No satisfactory arrangements being made with Mr. S. Blodgêtt, owner of the property, it was decided to move the church to spot on the north side of Mothershed Lake, to property then owned by E.M; Henderson."
In November of 1884 a building committee was named: P.L. Durisôe, M. F. Barksdale, W. B. Holly, E. M. Henderson and J.B. Griggs. A graveyard committee to lay off the graveyard was appointed: Durisoe, Henderson and Griggs.
In August of 1885 a request was made that each member of the church contribute one dime to help pay on the church lot, a part of which had been given by S. A. Long and E. M. Henderson. Total cost of the church was $455.29, unceiled. On a Friday in November of 1885 a workday was held at the church so that necessary arrangements could be made in order to hold the next worship service in the new building.
In 1885 the Sunday School was moved to the Ocklawaha Bridge Church from the Henderson school house where it was first organized by a schoolteacher, Miss Mamie Weldon, in the year 1882. An 1885 church minutes states that the church library was available for use by the Sunday School.
A church organ was acquired when Mrs. M. E. Holly gave one to the church in 1889. She served as organist until at least 1900.
The First World War came in 1917-1918 and many young men of the church went into the armed services. Two of these gave their lives in “the war to save democracy” - Carlos Reynolds and Virgil B. Randall.
On Sunday, October 29, 1924, between the hours of eight and nine in the evening, the church house burned down. Worship services were held under the oaks on the church grounds until a church could be built. Bros. William A. Cate, R. C. Fort, B. C. Boatwright, Lonnie Randall, W. C. Henderson and Sisters N. A. Fort and B. F. Smith were selected as a building committee. C. H. Rogers was chosen as a purchasing agent. It was decided to build a concrete house, the blocks of which were constructed on the grounds.
The building committee secured the blueprints and specifications from the Baptist Sunday School Board in Nashville.
So our next church was built. And, a report made in August of 1926 states that the church was out of debt. We judge that it was around April of 1925 when services were first held in the new church.
The minutes of the church record that in October of 1945 a motion was passed to build a Pastorium. In a tradition long established, a committee was appointed: T. L. Randall, Ethel Rogers, Ethel Henderson, W. C. Henderson and M. B. Owen. A committee to raise the money was also appointed: Percy Griggs, Robert McDonald, Barbara Mills, Barbara Parker and Mrs. L. B. Griggs
The Pastorium, a wooden frame building, was completed and the church building was modified with the addition of the Education Annex.
There have been many changes in the life and affairs of the church since its beginning, even though the essential purpose and needs remain the same. Families come to church from miles around in a matter of a few minutes, whereas their forefathers came by wagon, boat, horseback, or on foot and had to bring dinner with them. The people of the church still stand outside before and after services to exchange news and pleasantries even as in former, less hurried times. The same need for a Savior and Comforter brings the sons and daughters of the atomic age to the altar of God.
There have been two obvious changes, that the young might not notice. A quotation from the minutes of February, 1888, states, “Any male member knowing of any other male member being absent for three successive conference meetings, it shall be the duty to report the delinquent Brother to the church and he shall be cited to the next conference and if he obstinately refuses to attend he shall be considered in disorder and subject to be dealt with.” The minutes record many instances of members being cited and investigated for profanity, immorality, unseemly quarreling, mistreatment of family, non-attendance, and drunkenness. The church does not follow the practice of open criticism any more.
There were many other significant changes, for instance the rise of women to equal status with men. That was so gradually adopted that there seemed to be no change at all.
On August 3, 1952 a motion was passed to help a group of people establish a Baptist Mission at Salt Springs which is now the First Baptist Church of Salt Springs.
On November 6, 1955, Ocklawaha Bridge Baptist Church celebrated its first one hundred years of church history with the pastor, Walter I. Lampp, presiding. In the afternoon Robert L. McDonald displayed a map with an explanation of the territory where a number of churches had once existed but had disbanded, and many members came to the Ocklawaha Bridge Baptist Church. Visitors were introduced, and Edward Bruce Henderson of Tallahassee spoke on “Our Baptist Heritage.” Mr. Henderson is a grandson of Edward Marion Henderson (1837—1898) who gave the first five acres of land. Sixty members and guests signed the register for this day.
In April of 1956 plans for another Sunday School building were accepted.
January 8, 1957 a committee was appointed to plan for repair of the auditorium and to acquire new pews for the auditorium. During 1957 the second Sunday School building of the Ocklawaha Bridge Baptist Church was completed.
In August 1958, a new piano, the gift of Mrs. W. B. “Pat” Holly, was gratefully accepted.
January 5, 1960 the committee to repair the auditorium and purchase new pews was activated with a special addition of enlarging of the choir space as the goal.
May 28, 1961 the committee of January 1957 was thanked and dismissed for the work done in having the floors renewed and the new pews installed. The auditorium had also been painted.
The long hand-made pews from the auditorium were given to the Moss Bluff Baptist Church.
July 10, 1962 a small marker was placed at the grave of Samuel Thomas “Uncle Thomas” Stanaland, the first known pastor of this church, in the Chalker Stanaland Cemetery near North Lake Bryant.
April 9, 1963 letters of resignation were read from the pastor, Walter I. Lampp, and from Mrs. Lampp, as custodian, to become effective June 22, 1963. They planned to retire.
December 18, 1963, Raymond L. Estes, LaFayette, Alabama, was extended the call as Pastor. He and his family moved into the Pastorium on January 25, 1964.
In March of 1968 an “Expansion, Survey and Planning Committee” was named to make a study of the need for more room. The needs were outlined as follows: 1. a sanctuary to seat five hundred; 2. more educational space; and 3. a new Pastorium. This report was continued to the August meeting to allow time for further thought and consideration.
On August 14, 1968,after lengthy discussion, a ballot vote was taken. The recommendation of the committee was accepted unanimously. The same planning committee was to continue, and a Finance Committee was named to look into means of financing the new church sanctuary.
On March 9, 1969, the Rev. Tom Hodgens of Miami, a representative of the A. B. Culbertson Company, Houston, Texas, preached at the morning service and in the evening explained a method of financing for building churches. “Church Bonds” would be sold at 7% interest, with the financing company secured by a first mortgage on the church property to assume all bills during construction. The estimated cost of the building was $85,000 and financing cost $2,750.
On August 6, 1969, a voice vote accepted the committee report that the old church building must be razed and a new one built in the same area.
By November 5, 1969, all bonds were sold, Saturday, November 8, 1969, moving and storing began. The last service was held in the old building on Sunday, November 9, 1969. On November 30, 1969, a Ground Breaking Service was held at the close of the regular morning worship hour.
Until the new Church was completed, two morning services and one evening service, were held each Sunday in the Fellowship Hall.
On July 8, 1970, T. C. Grant representing the Building Committee asked that the Church to accept the building from the contractor, Mr. H. C. Eubanks of Ocala, as completed with the exception of a few minor details. He stated that the $85,000 was about spent and that all bills were paid.
The time finally arrived for our church building to be complete; and on Sunday, July 5, 1970, we worshipped for the first time in our new comfortable building.
Dedication Day and Homecoming were combined and held on Sunday, September 6, 1970, with Dr. Harold C. Bennett, Executive Secretary of the Florida Baptist Convention doing the preaching at the morning Worship Hour. The Rev. Clyde Harless, Regional Missionary, brought the afternoon message. Following the dedication of the building, the congregation moved outside for the unveiling of the cornerstone.
On December 8, 1971, a Pastorium Committee, consisting of J.R. Peebles, Jr.(Chairman), Mrs. Jack Keller, Mrs. Sam Greene; Mrs. John Rogers, Mr. Ralph Beedle, and Mr. 0. 0. Harrington was appointed. A site west of the present church building was selected and plans approved. Ground Breaking Ceremonies were held, on February 13, 1972, whereupon the actual work began. Financing was mostly pay-as-you-go basis. With help from the men, women and sometimes the children of the Church, footings were dug, concrete floors poured, roofing nailed on, dry walls put up, plumbing and electrical wiring installed, air conditioning ducts put in, and all the many tasks necessary for the completion of the building were done. Finally on September 5, 1973, after about a year and a half, Robert Peebles reported to the Church, “Pastor Estes and his family have been moved into their new home.” It was a proud day in the life of the Church when, on September 30, 1973, a Dedication Service was held with Rev. W.I. Lampp, a former Pastor, delivering the morning sermon, after which a basket lunch was served. Promptly at 2:30 P.M. the service for the Dedication of the Pastorium was begun with Rev. Clyde Harless bringing the message of Dedication. At the close of this message, Tommy Estes, the younger son of Pastor and Mrs. Estes, sang “Bless this House”, and an Open House followed.
An inspirational part of our Church program has been the Brotherhood breakfasts. On December 8, 1971, Ralph Beedle reported that fourteen members and two visitors had attended the first one, and as time has passed this number has increased, and all look forward to Sunday morning when they can gather to enjoy fellowship and delicious eggs, grits, bacon, sausage and coffee.
In early 1972, the Church Council was formed. The duty of this Church Council was to study the needs of the church and to make recommendations. On July 5, 1972, it was decided to hold the Church Council meetings regularly once a quarter. Later it was changed to monthly. The Church Council is composed of the Pastor, Clerk, Sunday School Superintendent, Church Training Director, W.M.U. President, Brotherhood President, Literature Librarian, Chairman of Deacons, Treasurer, Music Minister and/or Youth Director and Chairmen of Standing Committees.
In 1973, a Properties Committee was appointed. The duty of this committee was to make recommendations concerning the Church property such as cemetery, Pastorium, sanctuary, educational buildings, etc. One of the first problems facing this committee was the disposal of the old Pastorium. On September 5, 1973, it was decided to offer it on bids to the membership. No bids were submitted either from the membership or the public, so it was sold to Jerry Fairchild for $113.00. He dis-assembled it and moved it to his property on Highway 314.
On March 10, 1974, 0. 0. Harrington reported on plans for finishing the upstairs of the Church. He asked that his committee, including T. C. Grant and Jack Keller, be given authority to use the designated fund ($347.00) plus the contingency fund of about $1300.00 to finish three rooms upstairs for classroom space.
Also, at this meeting, it was decided to have the first Easter Sunrise Service on April 14, as recommended by the Church Council, details to be worked out by Mrs. R. L. McDonald, Richard Mills and Rev. Estes.
On April 10, 1974, upon motion by Jack Keller, seconded by R. H. Holly, it was decided to donate the old Communion Set to some Church which needed it. It was given to the Moss Bluff Baptist Church and along with the old Church pews given earlier, was destroyed when their Church burned.
In August of 1974, plans for a Bus Ministry, which would bring more young people into the Church program and better serve the needs of those young people who were already in the Church, was discussed. On August 7, 1974, a committee, consisting of T. C. Grant, (Chairman) John McGovern, Jerry Boyer, Sam Greene) and W. F. Godwin, was named to inspect, bid and arrange funds for the purchase of three used buses from Marion County School Board. (Already in service at this time was one small one recently purchased from Central Baptist Church.) The three buses purchased were repainted and, put into good operating condition by volunteers. And, on December 11, 1974, it was reported that two of these buses were now in operation and the other one to be on the road by December 15.
The Bus Ministry, under the direction of T. C. Grant, is a carefully supervised program, and great care is taken to see that the needs of the bus riders are met. Bus Workers, as they are called, meet each Saturday morning for breakfast at the Church, followed by a devotional. At the close of this devotional, each bus, with its driver and its Bus Workers, is driven on its assigned route for the purpose of contacting regular riders, as well as prospective riders. On Sunday morning, these young people, and some adults who indicated their desire to ride, are picked up and brought to Sunday School and Church Services, after which, they are returned to their homes on the same bus.
The Bus Workers, who must be responsible young men and women, also help with the bus riders while they are in attendance at Church. As a reward for diligence and faithfulness, the Bus Workers have enjoyed trips to various places, such as Disney World and Opry Land.
As time has passed, all of the original buses have been disposed of and later models purchased. As of 1980, five buses were in operation.
On October 4, 1972, upon recommendation of the Deacons, the first Youth Council, composed of seven youths and two adults, was appointed. They were:
|Donna Henderson||Judy Collier|
|Connie Grant||Louise Bryant|
|Robbie Rogers||Mrs. Jack Keller|
|Tom Estes||Mr. William Gore|
Also at this time Miss Roberta Brant was hired to direct Youth Music at approximately $25.00 per month. However, at the next meeting her resignation was accepted and Mack Harrell of Wyomina Park was hired as Director of Youth Music on a trial basis. It was not until September 4, 1974, that a full time Youth Director, Jimmy Saunders was called.
On November 3, 1974, upon motion of W. F. Godwin, seconded by Mrs. Sam Greene, it was decided to begin Junior Church. Under the direction of Jimmy Saunders, a meaningful start was made with the Junior Church program. On August 17, 1975, Jimmy Saunders submitted his resignation as Youth Director. And, on September 10, Jeff Davis was selected to take his place. On October 5, 1975, Jeff Davis reported that another Youth Council had been formed and was now in operation. Also, the number of bus riders was increasing and Sunday School membership was increasing, with three hundred and forty-eight enrolled, two hundred fifty-two average attendance and ninety-five on the buses.
On December 8, 1976, Jeff Davis announced his resignation as Youth Director to enable him to attend Campbell College, Buie Creek, North Caro1ina. His resignation was accepted and a “Jeff Fund” was set-up to help him with his expenses while studying for the Ministry.
On January 13, 1977, T. C. Grant of the Personnel Committee recommended Charles W. (Bill) Holly, a Stetson University student, as part-time Youth Director. Upon his resignation, Mrs. Kathy Scott served for a short time,and we were without a Youth Director until Gordon Fischer was hired as full time Minister of Music and Youth, as of April 1, 1980.
A recommendation of the Expansion, Survey and Planning Committee, made and approved in 1968, was the need for more educational space. This need still existed in 1977, when Nuby Shealy presented the Long Range Planning Report, stressing as the first priority, the building of the west wing on a pay-as-you-go basis. This was approved and work was begun. Again, as had been the custom through the years, the labor came from the membership and from some of our winter visitors who regularly attended services while here.
After many long months of sawing, cutting, hammering, measuring, painting and all that it takes to make the pieces fit together, this two-story educational building located on the west side of the sanctuary was ready for occupancy. On the second Sunday in October, 1979, this building, with its carpeted floors and ample furnishings, providing classroom space for six children’s department and six adult classes, was first used.
The first of a number of Senior Citizens’ Luncheons was held on November 22, 1977, under the direction of Mr. and Mrs. Barnie Brown, Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Loveland, Mrs. E. L. Wellhoner, and Mr. Robert S Peebles. Later Mr. and Mrs. Richard Mills joined the committee. All Senior Citizens in the Community were invited to these luncheons whether or not they were members of the Church.
On November 8, 1978, a standing Church Historical Committee consisting of Mrs. John Rogers, Mrs. E. L. Wellhoner, and Mr. Richard Mills, was appointed. Mrs. Ernest Farmer joined the committee in July of 1980.
In August of 1979, the Family Night Supper honored Miss Connie Grant, daughter of T. C. and Barbara Mills Grant, who was to leave on August 6, 1979 to serve as a Missionary Journeyman in Florianopolis, Brazil. Connie was the first of our number to answer the call to the Foreign Mission Field.
On October 29, 1979, Mrs. Ethel Henderson was employed as Church Secretary on a part-time basis. On June 4, 1980, Mrs. James (Sylvia) Taylor was hired as Church Secretary to replace Mrs. Ethel Henderson who resigned because of her husband’s ill health. Mrs. Taylor resigned on November 5, 1980 and was replaced by Mrs. Hal (Shirley) McDonell who continues to serve.
Our Pastor, Rev. Raymond Estes, received the recognition as Rural Pastor of the year for 1980. We felt that this was an honor that was well deserved, and as a Church, were pleased and proud.
We were also proud, when on May 18, 1980, Rev. Estes was a part of the team which left Tampa for Korea on the Crusade sponsored by Florida Baptists and the Foreign Mission Board. His wife, Clara, joined him on his return trip and they spent a short, well earned, vacation in Hawaii.
This history compiled by the Church Historical Committee, consisting of Mr. Richard Mills (chairman), Mrs. Fay Holly Rogers, Mrs. Lois Barnes Wellhoner, and Mrs. Caroline Welihoner Farmer, with the help of materials prepared by Mrs. Ethel Stanaland Rogers and Mr. Robert E. Jones.
September 7, 1980
"End of Part I"