History of Sapling Woods, Florida, and the Methodist Church Which Relocated to Elfers


Sapling Woods and the Methodist Church

This article was last revised on Dec. 16, 2018.

Ella Mae Hay Patterson recalled that Sapling Woods was a settlement at East Elfers Cemetery. The cemetery is located just southeast of New Port Richey.

A July 8, 1893, newspaper refers to “Sapling Woods village.”

On Feb. 16, 1894, the Tampa Weekly Tribune reported, “Oranges have been picked off of the grove of Mr. P. L. Webster, out in the Sapling woods. The yield, as reported by Mr. Hill, was about 500 boxes.”

On July 30, 1895, a newspaper reported, “The Whiddens grew up in what is called ‘The Neck,’ in which they were thrown into contact with sea-faring adventures, smugglers, etc. …”

According to Florida Cracker Days, in the early part of 1900 the Sapling Woods Methodist Church was moved to the NW corner of SR 54 and SR 595. Later, the church was moved just east of where Rev. Mitchell lived.

West Pasco’s Heritage has:

In 1910 the little block church was sold and another was built on an acre of land in Elfers donated by J. M. Mitchell, who also furnished the material from his own saw mill to build the church. Sam Baker was the head carpenter. This building was used as a social hall after a new sanctuary was built during the pastorate of Rev. Henry E. Partridge, 1917-1918.

Information provided by the Methodist Church for a WPA survey has: “1910, church erected on Rd. #19, in Elfers. This building was used until present rectangular, white, frame building erected in 1916.”

About 1918 or 1919, a new sanctuary for the Methodist church was built at the corner of Pine and Orange Streets, during the pastorate of Rev. Henry E. Partridge. (One of the first services held in the new sanctuary was the wedding of Miss Jennie Edwards to Harvey O. Sheldon on June 18, 1919. According to Florida Cracker Days, “About 1915, a new facility was erected and the Rev. J. M. Mitchell preached there for many years. This church was located a quarter mile from State Route 595, and two blocks east of the Rev. Mitchell’s home.”)

In a letter to the New Port Richey Press published on Jan. 12, 1922, Mrs. J. O. T. Brown wrote that earlier names for Elfers were the Neck, and Sapling Woods. However, it appears more likely that Sapling Woods was located northeast of what became Elfers.

On Jan. 26, 1922, the New Port Richey Press reported, “Rev. C. W. Cotton has been appointed pastor of the Elfers Methodist Church for the ensuing year. He and his wife arrived last night.”

West Pasco’s Heritage has:

It was not until 1925 that the Elfers Methodists were able to build a parsonage. In the fall of that year, Rev. Paul Redfearn moved his bride into the new parsonage and was immediately given an old time charivari by the young people of the neighborhood. The new minister did not know of the custom and, instead of accepting it in the manner and spirit it was intended, he took it as a personal insult. The occasion caused tense relations between the members of the church and the minister. However, the Baptist minister, acting as a mediator, extracted an apology from the minister and pleaded with the congregation for understanding. Rev. Redfearn became well liked in the community and served the Elfers circuit another year. Since then he has risen high in the Methodist Conference and has received the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity.

West Pasco’s Heritage has:

The crash of 1929 made it necessary for many people who had been employed in Elfers to seek work elsewhere and this affected the entire community, including the church attendance. The Florida Conference abolished the Elfers Circuit and added Elfers to the newly formed New Port Richey charge which included New Port Richey, Elfers, Hudson, Odessa, Lake Fern and Keystone. Rev. P. S. Anderson was appointed to the New Port Richey parish and chose to live there. The Elfers parsonage was rented until 1933 and then was sold. After the Elfers Methodist Church closed its doors in 1940, one final service was held in the church that summer. On August 24, Mary Lou St. Clair and L. G. Knight were united in marriage by Rev. Felton Whittle, pastor of the New Port Richey Methodist Church. In 1944 the building was leased for a year to be used as a Baptist Church and was then sold to the Baptists. The parish has prospered as is now known as the First Baptist Church of Elfers.

On May 1, 1940, the Evening Independent reported, “A meeting was held last Sunday at the Elfers Methodist church by the members of both the local and Elfers churches to discuss the merger of the two. It is expected the Elfers church will join forces with the New Port Richey church and the church and the church building at Elfers torn down to be rebuilt as a Sunday school room on the local church site.”

Sapling Woods Methodist Church

The following is taken from Methodism: Growth and Glory by Mary Lou Knight and Helen Irene DeCoudres.

Seeing the needs of the Methodist group for a meeting place, the Lake Butler Villa Company, A. P. K. Safford, President, on November 10, 1885, deeded five acres of land to the Methodist Conference to be used as a place of divine worship for the ministry and membership of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. This church, when established, became known as the Sapling Woods Methodist Episcopal Church, South. The land was located in section 10, Township 26 South, Range 16, East, in the county of Hernando. It was near the Pithlachascotee River about five miles east of Trouble Creek on what is now Trouble Creek Road. Trouble Creek got is name from the fact that at low tide the fishermen encountered difficulty in getting their boats in and out of the cove and into the bay to fish.

On this five acres of land known today as the East Elfers Cemetery, a one room church was built. A descendant of one of the pioneer families, Joe Baillie, describes it as an “old block house.” Today a naked spot of ground in the cemetery marks the spot where the little church stood so long.

There follows a long list of ministers who served this little Sapling Woods Methodist Church, one year at a time, for the next twenty-five years: W. H. Parker, J. L. M. Spain, S. B. Black, W. J. J. Whidden, Benj. T. Rape, J. P. Durrance, W. H. Parker, J. M. Diffenworth, T. H. Sistrunk, G. W. Gatewood, J. M. Mitchell, M. T. Bell, Tom McMulon, W. F. Fletcher and R. Ira Barnett. …

By the year 1910, the area began to show signs of growth. New settlers were attracted there and began to form a community nearer the bay. A new store had been erected and the first post office was being built. When it came time to name the newly established post office, Elfers, a name rich in tradition but whose origin is uncertain, was chosen. [Note: the origin of the name Elfers can be found here.]

In order to be nearer the center of population, the little Sapling Woods Methodist Church, which had served the early settlers, was abandoned and a new building site was sought in the vicinity of the new post office.

On April 10, 1910, J. A. Sheffield, a pioneer land owner, deeded one square acre of land in section 17, in Township 26, South, of Range 16, East, to the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, as a place of divine worship. Encouraged by this gift, Rev. A. M. Mann, pastor, began plans for the new building. J. M. Mitchell, business man and leader in the life and development of the new town of Elfers, furnished material from his saw mill and the men of the church volunteered to do the work. The construction of a large one room church building progressed rapidly with Sam Baker as head carpenter.

Eventually the “old block house” was sold to Henry Witt who used the material to build a house on the backside (east) of where the Seven Springs Golf Course is now flourishing.

The following is an oral history by Ella Mae Hay Patterson (who died at age 102 on March 1, 1994), taken from Florida Cracker Days in West Pasco County 1830-1982.

My earliest recollection of the Methodist Church was a small wooden building located in the settlement of Sapling Woods, now known as East Elfers Cemetery.

There were two rows of wooden benches. The women and children sat on the right side and the men on the left. The space at the rear was left for mats or blankets used as pallets for children who fell asleep, as they often did, when the minister preached for two or three hours.

The mothers would bring cookies for their children so they would not get hungry and cause a disturbance. My father disapproved of this practice so we had to wait until we got home to eat.

My mother told us about an incident that occurred one day when a woman was passing out cookies to her children. My sister Sadie was sitting by her and asked the lady for one. When she was ignored, she reached over and took a bite out of her knee. This caused quite a disturbance and embarrassed my father so that he allowed my mother to take cookies to church, too.

My father, William Byrd Hay, and mother, Mamie Baker Hay, met in this church and were probably married there. I’m not sure.

After they were married, they lived in a grove about three miles northeast of Elfers. They had four children, Olan, Sadie, Mattie and myself.

My father passed away in 1895 and my mother continued to live there until we were old enough to attend school.

My uncle, Jessie Hay, exchanged homes with my mother, and we moved to Hudson because there was no school near us at the time.

My brother, Olan, died in 1918 and was buried in Hudson.

My mother moved to Tarpon Springs and lived there until 1949. Sister Mattie died in 1970 and Sadie in 1974.

I am the only survivor of the William Byrd Hay family and, as far as I know, of the Abraham and Sarah Hay family, my grandparents. I never knew them as they died before I was born.

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