The churches were the glue that held small communities together in the early part of the 20th century. The cycle of life, birth (baptism), weddings and funerals were all connected to one’s church. Taft was no different. Life revolved around a person’s church, this included social as well as spiritual life. If you did not belong to a church you were considered an outcast. Older residents relate how a person could go into any home on Sunday morning and make breakfast, take a nap, then make lunch for the owner was sure to be in church and people did not bother locking their doors. There is evidence that the first Sunday school was formed on January 23, 1910 at 4 P. M. as the notes from the Methodist church declare, “ A Sunday school was formed.” Here are some of the churches in Taft. We were limited to the available history on the various churches, but realize that all of the churches were important to their members and Taft itself.
The First Baptist Church
The First Baptist Church, 9284 2nd Avenue, originally known as Missionary Baptist Church, was organized in 1910 by Reverend W.E. Murphy, and had a membership of fifteen. Reverend Murphy was one of the early influential citizens of Taft. There existed a wonderful sense of cooperation between him and his Methodist counterparts, an attitude that exists today. His accomplishments were numerous and when he died he left a void in the community. His obituary of December 27, 1947 noted that; “Dr. Murphy was known throughout Central Florida for his neighborliness and good deeds; his acts of kindness toward those who had run afoul of the law or those in dire need knew no limit.” Residents fondly remember that his only vices seemed to be his love for chewing tobacco and his open-air roadster. Friends and family quickly learned when riding with him never sit behind Reverend Murphy as the combination of wind and tobacco juice proved to be a messy one. Reverend Murphy stood shoulder-to shoulder with his neighbors, working the sawmill by day and sawing timber after hours to build his church. The first church was not pretty, it was a rough structure with sand floors but the hard work and sweat that had created it made it beautiful it the eyes of its members. That same year the church was accepted into the Wekiwa Baptist Association, which today is known as the Greater Baptist Association.
The building burned down in 1912, and the church, under the leadership of Rev. Murphy, was able to purchase a building on Boggy Creek Road and moved it to a lot donated by the Sphaler brothers, where the church stands today. Rev. Murphy was assisted by church pioneers Mr. Hyatt, Mr. Davis and Mr. Locke. He served the church for twelve years and during that time he helped organize churches in Tavares, Conway and Stuart. In later years, Dr. Murphy would ride to and from Taft in his antique Ford. The vehicle became familiar to many central Florida residents.
Reverend Smith followed Reverand Murphy and a few years later the church was led by Reverend Cox who received an annual salary of $220.43.
The church reflected the fate of the community and felt the blows dealt by the hurricane of 1926 and the Depression. Membership dwindled to 12 members in the mid 30’s, but it survived. Later that decade would see the church ordaining three deacons, Mr. French Perdue, Howard Tyson, and Joe Harley.
The church membership gradually grew during the following years. The church, reflecting a need to the congregation’s young people, built a Sunday school addition in 1948. Two years later, October 15, 1950, the church held its first sunrise service, celebrating Thanksgiving. The first minister to have a phone in his home was Reverend Albert Itterman and it was installed August 12, 1956.
The decade of the 60’s saw the church hold a groundbreaking ceremony for the present sanctuary on October 30, 1960. This project became a reality in December of 1963 when the church celebrated the Dedication with a dinner on the grounds. In 1968 the church was able to pay down its pastorium and church benefactors. Mr. And Mrs. William Gillette paid off the remainder of that debt.
Tyson Dairy gave the church a corner lot in 1970; this would be used for parking as the church grew its membership. The John D. Mallory Fellowship Hall was completed in 1972; its name honored church pioneer and activist John D. Mallory. A new pastorium was built in 1977.
A few years later the church bought the house and land that fronted the sanctuary and later refurbished the annex that is used for Sunday School Youth Department. The church also built a volleyball court in the back of the annex and later added horseshoe pits.
The church held a “mortgage burning” ceremony in January of 1991.Today the church has 70 members and is led by Pastor Charles Thompson.
Livingston Memorial Methodist Church
The Livingston Memorial Methodist Church, located at the corner of 4th Street and 2nd Avenue, has served the spiritual needs of the citizens of Taft since 1910. Early services were held in a vacant lot just west of the railroad, later at the school building. Soon the parishioners built a small tabernacle that was enclosed only on the north end and had no floor.
In 1911, Dr. R.A. Carnine, District Superintendent of the St. John’s River Conference, organized the Methodist Episcopal Church in Taft; I.B. Santee served as its pastor. Mary J Thomas, Minnie O. Riley and Mr. And Mrs. A.L. Wright were all charter members of the fledging church. The same year the church members raised $100 and built a parsonage, church members did the actual work on the building, with Mr. Sphaler donating the land. The bottom floor of this building was used for services and the top floor served as the minister’s quarters. The interior of the building contained an open stairway, slat benches facing the pulpit, an old organ and two benches for the choir. One of the nuances of the building was the support posts created problems following the minister as he preached, worshippers were forced to move side to side to keep up with the preacher. An American flag adorned the area behind the pulpit. Sunday school was also taught at the church, the primary class using the low benches in the southeast corner of the building, later the classes would be moved upstairs when the minister moved into his own quarters.
The church continued to grow. In 1921 Mrs. J.F.Harrington’s Sunday school class, dubbed “loyalty class” raised money for the church. Children were rewarded with gold stars for achievement and these items were worn with pride. Member Mrs. Brickley solicited money from her northern friends and the church was able to make some much-needed repairs. Mr. Brickley led a group of ambitious volunteers that resulted in the sealing and staining of the walls, removal of the sight obstructing posts, additions of a rug and 52 chairs to replace the uncomfortable benches. These improvements resulted in a new sense of pride. In 1923 the church held its first “Homecoming.” Services were held morning, noon and night with a basket dinner served at noon. It was a celebration of the church and its members and the tradition continues today.
The killer hurricane of 1926 actually lifted the church off its foundation and moved the building a few feet. Little damage was done and with a $300 donation from the Livingston Board, the church was braced and two small Sunday school rooms were added. The Board would help the church a few years later when it supplied the funds for a new roof.
The 30’s saw the church move the pulpit form the west end of the room to the southwest corner and two small rooms were built on the east end of the building. The members did these projects with J.W. Langley, C.R. Brickley, M.N.Soper, A.L. Bernard, F.M. Taylor and Albert Langley spearheading most of the projects. In 1938 the church, under the leadership of Dr. William E. Craig, embarked on one of its most ambitious projects, the construction of a recreation and dining hall. Once again the Livingston board would come through with financing. The same year, due to a unification movement, the Church became known as the Methodist Episcopal Church.
The recreation and dining hall became a reality on July 6, 1941 when the building was completed and named Craig Livingston Hall, honoring the two men who were instrumental in its development, William Craig and the late C.O. Livingston. Mr. Livingston’s contributions to the church where again recognized on August 6 of that year when a resolution passed at the quarterly conference renamed the church Livingston Memorial Methodist Church.
Money donated by The First Church of Orlando and land donated by J.W. Langley led to the building of the parsonage in 1948. The first minister who lived there was Miss Gladys Marsh, sharing it with her mother.
The first Easter Sunrise service was held on April 14, 1963, 48 attended, the later 11o’clock service attracted 137 people. But the 60’s would prove to be trying for the church as a disagreement among the membership brought a split in the church and membership declined. The parsonage was sold and money was put into a CD for future use. The church survived through these tough times although at times the year would end with less than a dollar in the treasury. The Methodist Church and the United Brethren Church united in 1968; it became the United Methodist Church, this lead to the renaming of the church to the Livingston Memorial Methodist Church.
The church bounced back and in 1970 a new church building was built with funds borrowed from the Methodist Conference with Jim and Eleanor Langley donating the land. A few years later the church experienced sadness when popular Sunday School Superintendent, Mrs. Loraine Smith, was shot and killed as she worked at the Gotha Post Office.
The orginal church was torn down in 1987; it had served the members well during its life. The following year the church started a food basket program as well as sponsored a Boy Scout troop.
Church member Rodney Shippey built a beautiful sign, in memory of Leona Bauer, to let travelers in the area know about the church in 1990. The same year the church held its first Christmas Eve Service and received a street address-808 2nd Street, Taft Florida, 32824. 1991 proved to be a special year in the history of the church; using funds from the sale of the parsonage and with the help of church members, who gave tirelessly of their time, Livingston Hall was refurbished in time for the annual Homecoming event. That Homecoming was also remembered for Reverend George McAulay’s wonderful bagpipe playing and songs from Katherine Lloyd, a skilled opera singer. One member, Mary Hartmeyer Allen was loved by all and was lovingly known as the “ Angel of Taft.” She painstakingly compiled a wonderful history of her beloved church and when she passed away all felt the loss.
The church has had its ups and downs through the years, membership has fluctuated; 12 in 1912, 65 in 1939, 108 in 1972, 30 in 1986, 42 in 1992 and 40 today. But one thing has remained constant, its influence on the lives of many Taft residents.
Taft Missionary Baptist Church
Mrs. Catherine Baiety founded the church that originally was named St. James A.M.E. and lead by Reverend E. Page.
The church flourished under Rev. Page’s leadership and would be completed by Reverend Henry McKinnon who served from 1963 until 1968.
Reverend James Lynn followed after serving a visiting preacher for a year at the church. Rev. Lynn changed the name of the church from the Taft Community Church to the present day name. He also oversaw improvements to the church such as; purchase of a refrigerator, addition of new pews and runners and a remodeled annex. In May of 1970 the church was remodeled and the cornerstone was laid on July 25, 1971.
Reverend Benjamin Holmes accepted the pastoral ship in 1998 and acts in that capacity today.
The Church of Jesus Christ
The Church of Jesus Christ, 9534 7th Ave., was built in 1957 under the leadership of Minister Robert S. Merrel. He and his wife Mary raised eight children and were known for their compassion and generosity to the drifters and hobos that frequented the area.
The family involvement continued with their daughter, Mary Alice Hatcher. She began her ministry at the tender age of 15 and ministered the church for 33 years. She is still active, serving as Assistant Pastor of the church today.
Elder Thomas J Squires became Pastor on April 1, 1990 and under his able leadership the church witnessed a period of growth. He, along with church members and Taft citizens spearheaded a project for a new church dining hall and classrooms. The project commenced on May 3, 1997 and after three arduous years was completed on June 16, 2000. The first service was held the following day, which happened to be Father’s Day.
Pastor Squires has a sense of history and fully restored the original little church, located on 7th Ave. This building had witnessed countless worship services, weddings, funerals, baby dedications and he thought it would be a wonderful place, regardless of church affiliation, for the faithful to pray and meditate. This Rockwell like church is a beautiful piece of Taft history.
St Mary’s Missionary Baptist Church
1902 by Rev. A Williams
This church has served the area well since its formation in 1902, under the leadership of Reverend Williams. Reverands Helms, Bings, Filbert and Gordon would ably follow him. The church would receive a severe blow in 1934 when the killer storm of that year destroyed the small building. Undaunted the parishioners, under the leadership of Reverend Peter Lias, banded together and rebuilt their church.
The church would again suffer from disaster in 1957 when a fire gutted the building. The church was not covered by insurance so once again the congregation, under the superb leadership of Pastor P.M. Mount, and using fundraisers such as fish fries, dinners, and bake sales, rebuilt their beloved church. Pastor Prince McKinley Mount had come from a very spiritual family, his father was a pastor, was much loved in this community. “Prince” as his friends knew him, was a perfect example of what a pastor should be. He was always involved with his parishioners, one local resident described Reverend Mount with these words,” he was a great leader, pastor, and a true man of God.” He led this church for many years, stepping down because of ill health in 1995. He passed away in 1997 and is still missed by his flock.
Reverend Jackson and Rains led the church the next few years. In March of 2001 Reverend Gary Key took over the leadership of this small but wonderful church that last year celebrated its 100th anniversary of seeing to the spiritual needs of Taft residents.