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Early African American Churches

Hardy County Early Black Churches

By Spessard Stone

Used with Permission

Chester Grove Baptist Church

According to Lucy G. Crumley, Chester Grove Baptist Church of Bowling Green, constituted October 14, 1902, held services in the home of Cornelius Mumford until a church building was erected in 1904. Through error, the church was erected on property owned by the School Board and was sold to the School Board about 1910.

A rectangular, wooden structure with a high gable roof belfry over the front entrance was then built on property adjoining the first church, located in the Negro quarters, 1/4 mile west of Highway 17, with the first services held July 17, 1910. Rev. C. C. Leslie, its first pastor, served October 1902 to October 1904. In October 1939, Rev. Andrew Warren, who had served since October 18, 1934, was pastor, Reuben Thomas church clerk, and Anthony Epps a deacon.

Macedonia Primitive Baptist Church

Macedonia Primitive Baptist Church of Bowling Green was constituted in October 1908 in St. John A.M.E. Church. Services were held in the home of the pastor, P. F. Fisher, until the first building was erected in 1909. After it was razed (no date given), services were then held in Chester Grove Baptist Church.

In 1939, a rectangular wooden structure was built, with first services September 24, 1939. In June 1938, Rev. J. P. Ash of Homeland, whose service commenced in October 1936, was pastor. Christina Williams was clerk.

First Baptist Church of Limestone

As related by Zella E. Johnson on February 13, 1940, colored Baptists and Methodists, about 1915, built a small house on a hill just north of Limestone, east of Seaboard Railway, and named it a union church as visiting preachers of both denominations used it.

In 1917, Rev. A. Anthony there organized a Baptist church, New Hope Baptist Church. Beginning in December 1919, it was called First Baptist Church.

Soon after its organization in 1917, the house of worship was built in the colored section of Limestone, east of the Seaboard Railway. The little union church building was moved to town later and used as a school house for colored children.

The church was a rectangular, bungalow style wooden building, painted white, with a belfry and large bell, furnished with wooden benches and two pianos, and a seating capacity of about 200.

Its first settled pastor was Rev. M. F. Boone, who served 1919-1921. In 1937, Rev. Wm. H. Cade of Nocatee was pastor. Floretha McCullough was Sunday School secretary while Mrs. Florence Clark was church clerk and Ruth Smith was the B.Y.P.U. secretary. Nathan Price was a deacon. Shy McKinney was formerly the church clerk; his wife was Sallie.

St. James Baptist Church of Ona

St. James Baptist Church, as related by Zella E. Johnson on January 2, 1940, was organized about 1914. Rev. S. C. Caldwell conducted meetings in a tent for several weeks, organized the church, then the church house was built right away, just south of the village and west of the Seaboard Railway.

Remodeled in 1938, St. James was a bungalow wooden building, unpainted, nearly square in shape, with a seating capacity of about 150. In 1940, the membership was small as the majority had moved away.

For a number of years, the church had no regular pastor as they could not pay one. Services were held occasionally when a visiting preacher could come.

In 1940, Rev. Wm. H. Cade, who had served since 1936, was pastor. Mrs. Lena McNeal was church clerk and Allie Smith was Sunday School secretary. Flossie Pinckney was formerly church clerk.

Of the Rev. Cade, Ms. Johnson remarked, "The present pastor is doing a good work among them, building has been remodeled and he is being paid a salary; church is also donating to missions."

First Baptist Church of Wauchula

As recorded by Zella E. Johnson on September 26, 1939, the First Baptist Church was constituted in 1913 and held services from 1913 to 1925 in a little square, unpainted church in the southwestern part of Crate Mill Quarters.

Rev. J. C. Conley was the earliest known clergyman, having served two or three months in 1913. Rev. McCoy was the first settled pastor.

The next building was an unpainted wooden school house in the same section used 1925-1930. In 1926, a building lot was secured in the northeastern corner of Magnolia Manor subdivision, about a mile east of the school house. This ground was dedicated in 1926, and a house of worship was begun in 1927.

In 1928, when nearing completion, a storm blew off the roof. As no funds were available, the roof was not rebuilt until 1930 when the first service was held.

The church was a square structure of concrete blocks, colored grey, with a tin roof, and a bell. A piano was furnished. New wooden pews were installed in 1938.

Rev. J. A. Smart of Sebring in 1939 was the pastor, which tenure he'd held since 1935. Charles Corbet was a deacon. Gussie Mae Felix was church clerk. Mrs. Mary E. Wilson was president of the Woman's Missionary Society. Mrs. Rena Hart, a charter member, was the only member living near Wauchula prior to 1932.

St. John's First Baptist Church

Organized in 1935 by 18 persons, St. John's was first called Harmony Baptist Church, but its name was changed in the latter part of 1935 to St. John's First Baptist Church.

It was constituted in a small frame, unpainted church house, with a seating capacity of about 50, in the southwest corner of what was formerly called the Crate Mill section, about two miles south of Wauchula.

The church was never moved and continued to occupy the same building until it was disbanded in November 1938. Its then six resident members went back to the First Baptist Church (Colored).

Its first settled and only pastor was Rev. E. D. Dowell, who served 1935-November 1938. Charles Corbet was deacon. G. M. Battles was assistant Sunday School superintendent. Gussie Mae Felix was clerk.

St. Paul's Baptist Church of Zolfo Springs

St. Paul's Baptist Church was constituted in 1914 in Paul Washington's home, a frame cottage, just west of U. S. Highway 17. In 1916, a small, square, wooden building, with a belfry was erected on the south end of town on U. S. 17.

The first settled pastor was Rev. S. Randolph, who served from 1914-1920. From 1926-1928, the church lapsed.

In October 1939 the pastor was Rev. L. M. Williams, who began his tenure in 1936. Paul Washington, a charter member, was deacon. Viola Williams, also a charter member, was deaconess. Rosa Evans was church clerk.

This article was published in two parts in The Herald-Advocate (Wauchula, Fla.) of September 28 and October 12, 1995.