Saturday, November 11, 2017

The First United Methodist Church of Punta Gorda is 130

You won't recognize the building that once stood near where the First United Methodist Church of Punta Gorda stands today. Now its actually part of residence on Harvey Street. But this building was the original home of the Methodist Church and the first church building (actually used by several religions) in Trabue now Punta Gorda.

On Sunday mornings on the far-flung Florida frontier of the 1800s before Isaac Trabue landed on the shores of the Peace River, there were no church buildings for people to gather for worship. Preachers typically arrived on horseback or sometimes in a wagon if roads permitted. The communities they served comprised a “circuit”, attached to a church in larger town. Most of these circuit-riding ministers were associated with the Methodist faith and it was they who brought the Methodist Church to Florida and places like Punta Gorda.

But the new settlers of Trabue expected a real town with a real church and a school and a place for the people to meet and socialize, and they began demanding just that. So, in 1886, Isaac Trabue provided the land in block 29 for a building that would serve for a time as a multi-denominational church, school and community center. It was then Judge G.W. McLane and F.M. Durrance who spearheaded the movement that led to the establishment of the First United Methodist Church of Punta Gorda in that building in 1887.

Durrance, a local preacher and customs officer for the port of Charlotte Harbor, acted as the church’s pastor until Rev. W.C. Jordan was assigned to the church that December. The first record of members being received was in July of the same year, the first official members were G.W. and Emma McLane.  Initially, the Baptists, Presbyterians and other denominations worshipped along with the Methodists in the communal sanctuary, until 1889 when the building was deeded over for sole use as the United Methodist Church (though apparently the Presbyterians continued to worship there for a time).

Construction began in 1912 of a new church, near the old one that had been badly damaged in the 1910 hurricane. Mostly built by 1914, it was used in an unfinished state until finally completed around 1920. It now stands with its beautiful stain glass window as a beacon and landmark for Punta Gorda’s historic district.  And the old building.. remnants of the sanctuary were discovered at a residence on Harvey Street where it had been moved in around 1914.

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