History of First Presbyterian Church, Dade City, Florida


First Presbyterian Church

First Presbyterian Church of Dade City (2009)

The following article is taken from Our Church: 1889-1989, published by the church.

The First Presbyterian Church of Dade City was organized “Sabbath Morning,” January 13, 1889, by the Rev. L. H. Wilson, evangelist of St. John’s Presbytery of Florida. There were twenty five Charter Members. Elected as the first officers were William Carson and B. C. Campbell, Ruling Elders, and Robert L. Seay and Gabriel Chandler, Deacons.

The Rev. Wilson served as stated supply until March, 1894, when the Presbytery was asked to appoint the Rev. Arthur Rowbotham to give half of his time as stated supply. The Church agreed to pay him $200.00 a year and to furnish him a house. In the fall of that year the Rev. Rowbotham was installed as the regular pastor.

Early Church services were held in the original frame courthouse on the downtown Courthouse Square. In August 1889, the Methodist Church offered the use of their new house of worship, inviting the Presbyterians to hold their monthly meetings there.

On October 6, 1891, a one acre lot on Church Street was purchased from Pleasant Wilson for $l50.00. This land was later mortgaged for $535.00. In May of 1894, the congregation contracted with A. H. Ravesies to build the Church for $595.00. On completion, Mr. Ravesies returned $100.00 to the church. With the mortgage, financial assistance from the Home Mission Committee, and donations, the church and an adjacent manse, described as “comfortable and attractive,” were built and paid for.

The church was constructed in the “style of the day,” with virgin pine walls and hardwood pews. The tall narthex, with its pointed tower, and the shake-shingled roof, were typical of Presbyterian Churches of that time. Early in the 1900’s, the Ladies’ Aid Society and the Woman’s Missionary Society were organized. Sunday School was begun and was well attended.

In 1922 the Church ceased receiving assistance from the Mission Board and became self-supporting.

On March 13, 1929, the congregation voted to organize by electing a president and a secretary, and holding congregational meetings once each quarter. W. K. Barnes served as the first president and Henry Dimery was secretary. Also, in 1929, the Church’s first Annual Christmas Candlelight Service was held, begun by Mrs. Julia D. Massey.

The congregation celebrated the forty-first anniversary of the Church on January 30, 1930. The birthday cake was lighted by Mrs. Sallie Embry, “one of the oldest members present,” whose recollections were given. Mrs. Carrie Seay, Charter Member, recalled the first meetings in the courthouse; Mrs. Emil Haas read an early history, and Jasper C. Carter, active in the construction of the Church, turned over one of the original copies of the contract for construction.

The church felt the hardship of the Depression years. In October, 1932, the Board of Deacons recommended a cut in the pastor’s salary from $150.00 to $125.00 per month because “the financial program of the Church was a bit beyond the ability of the congregation to carry out.” The budget for that year was $2,553.00.

Following the advice of the General Assembly, the rotary plan for electing elders and deacons, with three year terms, was adopted in 1933.

Announcement was made in 1936 that ours was the smallest church in the Synod that was self-supporting. Attendance was increasing steadily during that time.

In 1936, James Reid Boyce, a young member of this church, who was later to become our missionary to Mexico, requested a letter of recommendation for entering the ministry.

Mr. Robert L. Seay, our last charter member, died in 1937.

The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Church was celebrated with a Golden Jubilee Birthday Party the evening of January 12, 1939. Herbert Massey, Congregation President, presided, with ninety-one people attending. The program of reminiscences and history was given by Miss Estella Aultfather, Mrs. Sallie Embry, Mrs. J. R. C. Brown, Mrs. Winifred Latham, Mrs. Elwyn Butts, Mrs. F. G. Stockbridge, and Mr. Wallace Cochrane. Dr. C. A. Raymond of Lakeland spoke on “The Next Fifty Years.”

An Anniversary Service was held on Sunday morning, January 15. Church membership at this time had increased to one hundred fifty eight.

In 1942 the Church accepted the offer of Mrs. Ella Willard to sell her house for use as a manse for $1800.00 and the original manse on Church Street was torn down. A ceremony was held in 1944 to burn the mortgage and notes on the new manse were paid off two years early.

A program of beautification of the church grounds was begun in 1944, with landscaping and the addition of a sprinkler system which had been donated.

In August, 1945, First Presbyterian Church participated in Union Services for World War II V. E. Day and V. J. Day. Seventeen boys who were, or had been, members of this church or Sunday school served in the Army, Navy, or Marines. Our Minister, the Rev. R. L. Nelson, had resigned to enlist as a Navy Chaplain.

A Hammond organ, given to the Church in memory of Dr. Ellwyn Butts, was dedicated on January 4, 1948.

The Sixtieth Anniversary of First Presbyterian Church was celebrated on January 12, 1949. Miss Estella Aultfather, “the member of longest standing,” cut the cake. Mrs. F. G. Stockbridge gave a brief history. Later that year the gift of an abstract to the church property was received.

Beginning with construction of the annex in 1928, the church has had a continuing building program. A vestibule was added to the sanctuary in 1929. A kitchen was added to the annex in 1934. In 1939 the annex was enlarged. The expansion was done in wings to add windows, providing cross-ventilation in pre-air conditioning times. In 1946 a heating system was installed, and the kitchen was remodeled.

In 1950, under the leadership of Mr. John S. Burks, the church was moved to the center of the lot. The chancel was extended, and the annex underwent reconstruction. The dedication of this beautiful complex was held in April 1951, with a reception following.

On May 13, 1951, Dr. James Reid Boyce was ordained in the ministry in our church.

The new building complex was paid for in full by October of 1951. The church budget for that year, including $22,700.00 in building expenses, was $28,957.00.

The purchase of additional banquet tables was approved in 1952 because of increased attendance at the congregational suppers. These evenings, combining covered dish suppers and quarterly meetings, were especially enjoyed.

A decision was made in May, 1953, to store important church records, including the history of the church, in the vault of The Bank of Pasco County. Also, at that time, the amount of financial support for Negro work was determined.

In January, 1954, the month of January was designated for the Annual Meeting of the Congregation.

During 1955, church and Sunday School attendance was setting records. In January one hundred seventy six took Communion, and there had been a 150 percent increase in the Sunday School Beginners Department. An addition to the annex was proposed, and appointed as a Building Committee were James Mays, Oscar Hettema, J. M. Williams, W. C. Phillips and William Potts.

On September 25, 1955, the new addition to the annex was dedicated. A Deacon’s report on the $14,000.00 addition gave Frank Massey due credit for the design, and also praised Col. Harold Stewart and Dr. Harry Brownlee “who by careful planning had increased the seating capacity of the church by twenty percent.”

A scholarship fund, to be maintained by contributions, was established in 1955 for our young people planning to attend college. This fund has been greatly beneficial to a large number of our students.

After serving as President of the Congregation for twenty-five years, Herbert S. Massey requested that a new president be elected in 1958. It was voted to put the church officers on a rotation system. David Congleton was elected to follow Mr. Massey as president.

The church employed its first secretary in 1961 when Mrs. W. B . Petway (Bette) was hired as an “Assistant.”

Another first in 1961 was an invitation to the women to participate in the Annual Layman’s Sunday in October. Mrs. George Ryan, President of the Women of the Church, spoke for the women.

In 1962 First Presbyterian Church of Dade City assisted in establishing the First Presbyterian Church in Zephyrhills. To our loss, fifty-three of our members who were residents of Zephyrhills became charter members of the new church. The two churches still enjoy a close relationship.

Early in 1963 construction was begun on a new manse on the property from which the previous manse had been removed. Building Committee members were David Congleton, R. V. Chadwell, Stanley Cochrane and Mrs. C. F. Touchton, Sr., and the contract was for $15,925.00. On August 25 the new manse was opened for inspection.

In response to the active integration at the time, in June, 1963, the congregation agreed unanimously to seat any Negro visitors “with no show of antagonism.”

A Church paper, “The Herald,” was first issued in May, 1963. In September, another first was the opening of a church kindergarten.

In January, 1964, the Minister reported that our Church had risen from sixty-first in sixty-five churches supporting Presbyterian work to second in sixty-five.

The category of Life Elder was adopted in 1964, and Mr. Stanley Cochrane and Mr. Paul Wubbena, Sr., were given the title of Life Elder. Later, this title became Elder Emeritus. The church is justly proud of those who have been honored with this title.

A look at congregational views changing with the times is given in these records. On November 20, 1965, the congregation discussed placing the name of a woman in nomination for Deacon. Following the discussion, a motion was carried that the Congregation “does not favor having a woman on the Board of Deacons.” On December 5, 1976, this ruling was considered by the congregation, and it was rescinded by more than a three-quarters majority.

In 1969 it was voted to actively support scout activities, including Junior Girl Scouts and Brownies. In earlier years the church had sponsored Camp Fire Girls and their younger group, the Bluebirds.

The addition of children’s sermons to our Sunday Morning Worship Service was made by the Rev. Robert L. Conner in 1969. Children were later given another part in the service when approval was given in 1980 for acolytes to light the altar candles. In 1985 a youth usher program was begun.

The Budget prepared by the Board of Deacons for the year 1970 was $22,943.60.

A committee was formed in 1973 to make long range plans for the needs of the church and grounds. Those appointed to this committee were Jerry Sellers, Chairman, Dr. E. J. Hanley, Mrs. Herbert S. Massey, Sr., and Mrs. George Ryan.

On September 29, 1974, First Presbyterian Church dedicated the memorial gift of a Karl Wilhelm organ designed expressly for this church. A recital by Professor Paul Jenkins of Stetson University, played in the afternoon, thrilled those present. A reception followed the recital.

The church elected their first woman deacon on December 5, 1976, when Mrs. Jon S. Larkin was elected to that office.

Additional property was acquired by the church in 1978 with the purchase of the Croley property adjoining the church site.

On January 28, 1979, the Congregation voted to adopt a unicameral Board of Elders to govern the church. On February 18 the Church’s former Deacons were ordained and installed as Elders. In reorganization of the Session, a quorum was set at seven members. Committees established were: Finance and Stewardship, Building and Grounds, Strengthening of the Church, Education and Youth, Worship and Music, and Church Manpower and Resource Coordination.

On March 18, 1979, the Rev. Dr. C. Patrick Shaffer was installed as our minister. It is under Dr. Shaffer’s enthusiastic and capable leadership that the First Presbyterian Church is planning to begin its second century.

A treasured memento was acquired in 1980 when Mrs C. F. Touchton, Sr., presented to the church an original copy of the Golden Jubilee Bulletin.

The church had its first Photo Registry in 1983, with others to follow.

The Presbyterians have always enjoyed a close relationship with other denominations in Dade City. Joint services for Holy Week, Thanksgiving, World Day Of Prayer, and National Day of Christians’ Unity are rotated among churches composing the local Ministerial Association. The four evenings of Church Street Christmas, with joyful music and displays, are shared by the three churches on the street, the residents, and others. An annual Christmas party for deserving children is a joint church and civic event in which First Presbyterian Church participates.

The ecumenical activity shared by the youth groups of First Presbyterian Church, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church and First United Methodist Church is extensive. Activities under joint supervision of the churches include Sunday evening programs, recreational activities, and community service.

Our church family enjoys a variety of gatherings sponsored by the church and the Sunday School. These social times together include the Coffee and Juice Fellowship following the Morning Worship Service, an annual luncheon in February honoring our winter visitors, the family retreat at Cedarkirk combining recreation, leisure, and worship, a Mother’s Day Breakfast, casual summer evening events, an annual church picnic, and our festive Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.

On December 21, 1986, in a moving service the church dedicated the H. Van Pittman Memorial Carillon. This memorial was given by members and friends of the congregation in loving memory of Van Pittman.

For two years in advance, the Session’s Building and Grounds Committee has been busy with numerous projects, repairing and refurbishing in anticipation of the coming Centennial Celebration in January, 1989.

The budget for 1988, approved by the congregation, was $101,492.00.

Our church,with its aged pine interior and stained glass windows, is never more beautiful than when it is decorated for Christmas. Banks of red poinsettias and many white candles in greenery are an ideal setting for the Crismon tree. A very tall cedar is beautifully decorated in white with gold, trimmed with symbols of Christ carefully made by the children. A large Advent wreath, in recent years suspended in the front of the Sanctuary, has candles to be lighted successively each of the four Sundays of Advent. There is an added candle for our most impressive, symbolic service, the Annual Christmas Eve Candlelight Service.

First Presbyterian Church looks forward to the New Year, 1989, and the beginning of our second century. Our prayers are for continued progress, building on the foundation of dedicated Christian leadership so firmly established in the first One Hundred Years.

The following is taken from Historic Places of Pasco County:

First Presbyterian Church. 516 W. Church Avenue. Dating from the early 1890s, this is the oldest intact church building in Dade City. According to local historian Kate Futch: “First Presbyterian Church of Dade City was organized January 13, 1889. Reverend Arthur Rowbotham was the first regular pastor 1894-1899. During his pastorate the lot was secured and the present church and manse built.” The church was moved in 1950 from the corner of the church lot to its present position. In 1951, the kitchen and Sunday School rooms were remodeled. Its appearance has changed little in the past century. In 1974 a magnificent 15-rank organ, built by Karl Wilhelm, was placed in the church and dedicated to the memory of Herbert S. Massey. Crafted in the style of 18th century German instruments, the organ utilizes the direct-tracker playing action which, according to a review, “responds very precisely to the organist’s fingers and gives the closest possible control over the sounding of the pipes.”

The following is an article is from East Pasco’s Heritage by Mollie Ryan and Bette Petway.

First Presbyterian Church of Dade City was organized January 13, 1889, by Evangelist L. H. Wilson, who served as supply pastor until 1894. The first officers were: Elders, William Carson and B. C. Campbell; Deacons, Robert L. Seay and Gabriel Chandler. Rev. Arthur Rowbotham was the first regular pastor, from 1894 to 1899. During his pastorate the lot was secured and the present church and manse built. In 1948 an organ was presented by Mrs. Elwyn Butts. In 1951 the Sunday School rooms and kitchen were remodeled.

The church is proud of its members who have entered full-time Christian service since 1889:

Katherine Barnes, Christian education;

Dr. John D. Bigger, missionary in Korea;

Dr. James Reid Boyce, medical missionary in Mexico;

Carole DeVore, mission teacher in the Congo;

David Keyser, personnel staff at Loyola University;

William Muirhead, pastor in Tennessee;

Carolyn Northrup, Christian education;

Richard Stone, orphanage director in Virginia;

Miles C. Wood, pastor in Alabama;

William A. Wood, pastor in Illinois.

The Women’s Auxiliary has supported not only local but also foreign missions. The sewing group has provided clothing for the needy in local schools as well White Cross supplies for hospitals and gifts for Presbyterian children’s homes. The Auxiliary has provided laboratory supplies for Dr. James Boyce’s medical mission in Mexico, and has participated in collecting Green Stamps which were used to purchase a Piper Cub plane for the mission. In 1944 Bibles were furnished for German prisoners in the Dade City prisoner-of-war camp.

In 1974 a pipe organ designed by Karl Wilhelm in Germany was dedicated in memory of Mr. Herbert S. Massey Sr. as a gift from his family. Mr. Paul Jenkins, head of the organ department of the Music School at Stetson University, played the dedicatory recital.

The following pastors have served the church: L. H. Wilson, 1889-94; Arthur Rowbotham, 1894-99; V. H. Starbuck, 1899; Albert Pierce, 1900-04; J. M. Auld, 1904-06; Charles Kingsley, 1907-11; C. E. Wildman, 1912; D. L. Lander, 1913-15; R. W. Abraham, 1915-19; J. H. C. Brown, 1919-23; C. W. Latham, 1924-34; D. L. Wood. 1934-37; T. E. Nelson, 1937-39; Ray Nelson, 1939-42; Rev. Everington, 1942-47; Lanny Parnell, 1947-49; James Goad, 1949-57; H. Reid Newland, 1957-62; John B. Campbell, 1963-65; Robert L. Conner, 1966-71; Dr. E. J. Humphrey, 1971-72; Dr. J. Moody McNair, 1972; Dr. Robert W. Kirkpatrick, 1972 to the present.

The following is taken from a 2005 Tampa Tribune article by Carol Jeffares Hedman.

First Presbyterian Church, 37412 Church Ave., was the third church to be constructed along Church Street, now Church Avenue, but it is the only one that retains most of its original configuration and materials.

Built by A. H. Ravesies in 1894, the church is basically T-shaped. It features a dominant gable-roofed facade, complete with a large Gothic-arched stained glass window and a tall northeast corner tower. A Gothic-arched entrance door leads into the base of the tower that features a steep spire with segmental arched louvered vents and gabled dormers on each side.

A rear annex was built in 1928, and additions were made to it in 1939. Originally, the church was located closer to Church Street; it was moved to its current location in 1950. In recent years, the additions were extensively remodeled.

The First Presbyterian Church was organized Jan. 13, 1889, by the Rev. L.H. Wilson and 25 charter members. At that time, church services were held in the frame courthouse owned by Coleman and Ferguson.

That August, they were offered use of the First Methodist Church for monthly meetings. In October 1891, the church purchased a 1-acre lot from Pleasant Wilson for $150. In 1894, the church was built for $595.

The Rest of the Story

This article by J. W. Hunnicutt is taken with permission from the EPHS web site.

It is always good to check something off of your bucket list – especially after sixty-four years. In 1949 my parents had our house moved from Lacoochee to West Howard Avenue in Dade City – across the street from Mrs. Helen Brown Carver. Mrs. Carver was an elderly widow with many infirmities. I was twelve years old with high energy and a bicycle. She soon recruited me as her handyman/errand boy. I cut her grass, picked up prescriptions and helped keep the house and upstairs apartment in order.

Mrs. Carver only paid me for cutting her grass; however, from time to time she would give me something from her collection of family memorabilia: a vintage book, an antique shoe-shaped vinegar bottle, pages from a scrapbook filled with newspaper clippings dating back to the late 1700’s, etc. Early on, in my role of “property manager”, she gave me a small water color picture of the Withlacoochee River and a book of poems, THOUGHTS FOR THE SUNSET HOUR, both by John Everington. I spent many of my early summer days on the banks of the Withlacoochee River, I fished and learned to swim in the Withlacoochee River and my church, First Baptist Church of Lacoochee, baptized in the Withlacoochee River. The Withlacoochee River had a major impact on my youth and childhood. I appreciated the picture very much.

Through the years I attempted to find out who John Everington was, but had no success. After personal computers came along I was able to extend my search, but he continued to be elusive. Recently I was introduced to some web sites user friendly for genealogy research. I was looking through the History Of Pasco County and found a brief history of the First Presbyterian Church in Dade City which included a note that Rev. Everington served as pastor of the church from 1942 through 1947. I contacted the church who confirmed that Rev. Everington’s first name was John. I did a grave search and found that he died in 1965 and is buried in Zephyrhills, FL. This site also referred me to a newspaper in Eau Claire, WI which included his obituary. Rev. Everington was born in England in 1886 and came to the U.S. in 1909. His first wife, Mildred Preston, was from Eau Claire and they had a daughter, Alice. After Mildred died in 1918, Rev. Everington married Ruth Parkins of Fort Collins, CO in 1919. They had a daughter, Mildred. Both daughters were listed as survivors. Alice was married to Oscar Hettema and Mildred was married to Steve Crowley.

I recalled that Oscar Hettema was City Manager in Dade City in the 1950’s. I called my cousin, Vivian Head Sparkman, who worked at City Hall in Dade City forty years. Vivian said she was Oscar Hettema’s secretary. She knew his wife and father-in-law. Every Saturday, during the years that Rev. Everington served the Presbyterian Church in Dade City, Vivian typed a stencil for Sunday’s church bulletin and ran it off on a mimeograph machine. She also has one of Rev. Everington’s water colors.

The obituary also mentioned that Rev. Everington traveled throughout the U.S. giving lectures accompanied by slides of his photographs which he had hand colored. I now suspect my water color is actually a hand colored photograph. The 1940 census gives his occupation as “lecturer.”

I am totally convinced now that John Everington, author of my book and painter of my picture, is Rev. John Everington formerly of the First Presbyterian Church of Dade City.

On June 26, 2013 I met with some First Presbyterian Church of Dade City staff members who had done extensive research prior to my arrival. In 1942, the church’s pastor, Rev. Ray Nelson enlisted as a Navy Chaplain. Pastors were in short supply during WW2 and the church was fortunate to obtain Rev. John Everington, a Methodist minister, as a stated supply pastor for the duration. Rev. Everington served as interim pastor for four and one-half years. During his pastorate he received more than forty people into the membership of the church. Rev. Everington returned to the church in January 1948 to preach the sermon for the dedication of the new church organ.

After serving as custodian of the book and picture for sixty-four years, I gave them to the church for their archives. Closure is good.

We express our appreciation to Linda Carr and Carolyn Madill for their contributions in researching this story.

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