The Old Meeting House: A Story of New beginnings and the 1887 church

Josiah and Mary Gates (Left) The earliest religious meetings at the Village of Manatee was in their home. In 1849 the Georgia-Florida Conference sent the circuit preacher Lesley (Center) to establish a local church in the Village of Manatee. Nine charter members joined and elected Dr. Franklin Branch (Right) leader. Images: Manatee Village Historical Park Collection.

Churches acted as the center of both religious and social life in frontier towns like the Village of Manatee. The 1887 Old Meeting House Church, was home to the Methodist Congregation from 1888 to 1974, housing the faithful for 86 years. When the congregation needed a new building, this structure was moved to its present location and became the first building at Manatee Village Historical Park. Now it serves as a reminder of the importance of faith to the early community and the power of civic engagement in historic preservation.

The county seat moved to Pine Level, in current day DeSoto County shortly after the Civil War. In 1866, the congregation bought the 1860 Courthouse (Left) to use as their church and moved it to land donated by Josiah Gates. It served as the church’s home until 1888. Rev. Ezekiel Glazier, who had originally built it, remodeled the interior and made new benches and other furnishings. In 1887 preparation began for a new building. After the new church was built, the Courthouse remained on church property and was used as a parsonage until 1906. After that, it was sold and became a private residence.

Image: Manatee Village Historical Park Collection.

Setbacks, Challenges, and Growth

Construction was halted in 1887 due to the Yellow Fever outbreak in Tampa. The resulting quarantine cut off building supplies to Manatee. Prompted by local residents, the contractor smuggled building materials into Manatee from Tampa. Yellow Fever soon broke out at John Harllee’s general store. Harllee, Dr. E. E. Johnson, Rev. J. R. Crowder of the Methodist Church, and many others died.

Grave of Rev. J. R. Crowder in the Old Manatee Burying Ground. Images: Manatee Village Historical Park Collection.

After completing the church, the congregation found that the walls bulged from the weight of the roof. Installation of iron rods with turnbuckles helped with stabilization. Around 1902-1903, the pressed tin ceiling was added. This improved the acoustics.

Pressed tin ceilings were a popular and inexpensive way to create a finished look. They were commonly painted white at factories to imitate expensive plaster moldings. They were made by stamping a mold onto a metal plate. Today, ceiling tile manufacturers continue to make them in the same way. Some even use original stamps cast from molds that are over one hundred years old.

Image: Manatee Village Historical Park Collection.

The Church and new Parsonage in 1906 (Left) and the Church in the 1970s. Images: Manatee Village Historical Park Collection.

By 1912, the congregation had grown and a new brick church was considered. To make room for expansion, this building was moved 50 feet. Despite this, the brick church was never built and the congregation decided to remodel the 1887 church instead. The anterooms were removed to create more seating, Sunday school rooms were added, and the memorial windows were installed behind the pulpit.

A Time for Change

In 1974, the congregation broke ground on a new sanctuary and a year later purchased the property next door which included the old Courthouse. Original plans called for the demolition of both buildings. A group of dedicated ladies decided to save them for future generations. After attempting to get the Methodist Conference to take on the preservation, the ladies turned to the community.

Successfully recruiting County Commissioners to their cause, a historical commission formed. The Manatee Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller was made a permanent member. The 1887 Church and the 1860 Courthouse became the first buildings donated to Manatee Village Historical Park and were moved to their current locations.

Above: The courthouse as a private home.

Images: Manatee Village Historical Park Collection.

Since then, the museum has grown to include a settler’s home, school house, the Fogarty Boat Works, the Wiggins General Store, “Old Cabbage Head” train engine, and a reconstructed blacksmith’s shop and smokehouse. Many of the buildings have been moved here and restored through the efforts of local residents.

Dedication of Manatee Village Historical Park in 1976. Image: Manatee Village Historical Park Collection.

Come visit the 1887 Church and these other historical structures at Manatee Village Historical Park.