Geneva First United Methodist Church
The First United Methodist Church in Geneva was organized on November 17, 1877 as "The Lake Harney Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church South" with Reverend Selvin L. Smith as pastor. The first meeting was held in a log schoolhouse that stood west of the cemetery toward the E. H. Kilbee home. The first available records of meetings were on October 13, 1879. Names listed in the records were; Judy Cochran, Susan J. Williams, John B. Redditt, Ferely Redditt, Edward M. Faber, Mary Bessie Faber, Emma M. Winegard, Catherine F. Raulerson, William B. Raulerson, Stephen B. Williams, Clara T. Williams and Elizabeth Parrich.
Money for a building was raised in various ways. One lady, Mrs. Mary A. "Grandma" Hart, rode horseback over the entire community to solicit funds. On 13 June 1880, Andrew J. "Uncle Jack" Holder, deeded a building site to three trustees; Stephen D. Williams, Andrew A. Moran Sr. and J. Franklin Jones. A church was erected on the northeast shore of Lake Geneva, (later the home of the Harry Geiger family), and was used until 1912. Lumber for the building came from Jacksonville by barge to Bissett Landing, about 5 miles north of Geneva, and was hauled by ox-team by Mr. S. B. Williams and Mr. Isaiah D. Hart. Until there was money for a musical instrument, Mr. Williams brought his daughter’s organ by ox-team each Sunday that preaching was held. Services were held once a month by the Methodists, and once a month by the Baptists, using the same building.
For many years evangelistic services were held each year, usually in the spring, lasting for a week to ten days. Daily services were held morning and evening and Reverend W. F. McCall is one of the best-remembered evangelists.
As the community grew the church was no longer centrally located. On June 5, 1905, Mr. H. B. Coffee, in a trade with J. P. Musselwhite and William H. Howard, gave a tract of land on 1st Street for a new church and grounds. Trustees at that time were H. H. Baker, W. J. Daniel, T. W. Geiger and J. P. Taylor. In 1911 it was decided to sell the church on Lake Geneva and construct a new one at the present location on First Street. Lumber for the new church was cut at a mill north of Geneva operated by J. T. McLain. This sawmill was near what later would become the Osceola Cypress Mill. J. G. Pomeroy, the contractor, lived in a tent on the grounds until the main portion of the building was completed. The first services were held in 1912, finishing work was done, debts paid, and building dedicated in November 1913 by presiding Elder Reverend Fred Blackburn. The Pastor of the new charge was Reverend A. L. Hope. Reverend Joseph S. Brooke was the last pastor to serve the old church and Reverend D. A. Cole seems to have been the first in the new church. The Church on 1st Street is now the oldest church building in Geneva.
Conferences were held regularly even in the early years, rotating from church to church. Travel was by horseback, wagon or carriage, over poor roads or no roads. Getting from Geneva to Osteen meant fording the St. Johns River near the old steamboat landing north of the Prevatt place. Sermons were conducted morning and evening with basket dinners on the grounds.
The freezes of 1894-95 caused such an exodus from Geneva that it was difficult for the church to survive. The same was true during and after World War I. The depression of the thirties caused the few remaining members to sell two lots in the northeast corner of the church property to Mrs. J. C. Bills in order to re-roof the church. No homes were built on the lots that were sold. When Alice Bryan Coffee Guyton, daughter of the donor of the land, heard of the sale of the church lots, she bought the lots from Mrs. Bills for $1,000 and re-deeded them to the church with a reversion clause in the deed: "If the land is not used for church purposes, it returns to the Guyton family." Mrs. Guyton also helped to establish a park on the lots and donated several dozen azalea plants to help beautify the grounds.
A Fellowship Hall was erected west of the church in 1959 and was used for Sunday School classes and weekly meetings. Later, three more Sunday School rooms were added to the north side of the Fellowship Hall.
In 1968 the church was presented the "Church of the Year" award at the annual conference and was also praised for generous giving to the Methodist Children’s Home at Enterprise. Mr. William E. Myers was instrumental in forming a Boy Scout troop for the area. (In 1982 the Scout program was expanded to include Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts and 4-H Club.)
For many years the church sponsored an Easter Sunrise Service overlooking Lake Geneva. The church is also noted for its Candlelight Service on Christmas Eve. The entire community is invited and it has always been one of the churches favorite and special events.
In 1972, committees were appointed and plans generated to build a parsonage. However, it was not until January 21,1973 that the groundbreaking ceremony was held. Unsworth Builders of Sanford built the parsonage and after it was completed the company presented the parsonage with an air conditioning and heating unit.
In 1976 a bank loan was taken out and a "Youth Hall" built between the Fellowship Hall and sanctuary. This project was completed in 1977. The Youth Hall was opened on Saturday evenings with movies, recreation and devotions for all youth of the community.
The Centennial Celebration was held in 1976 with Bishop Joel McDavid presiding. The occasion of the 100th anniversary was the first time in its history that a Bishop visited the church. There was also a major hailstorm that year, causing more than $14,000 damage to church property. A new roof was required for both the church and the parsonage.
Reverend Isner, the first full time pastor in the church, departed in 1988 after 14 years of service. He was succeeded by Reverend Richard Conner, who served from June 15 until September 11,1988, when he was fatally shot while calling upon families in the community to try and get them interested in the church. A magnolia tree was planted in front of the church in his memory.
Numerous dinners, cookouts and food drives provided contributions that were used to assist transients and needy families. The church opened a day care center in 1991 - the first in the community.
In February 1993, Reverend John Turner, Chair of the United Methodist Church in Northern Ireland, visited us and conducted sermons during the visit. In 1994, the church raised money and sent Pastor Jeanne Davis to the Ukraine. The Moscow United Methodist Church choir performed at the church In 1995, singing in both Russian and English.
The church continues to serve the community through the operation of the day care center, aid to the children’s home, and involvement in the numerous other activities of this small but dedicated community.
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In 2004, the Seminole County Historical Commission placed an historical marker at the Church. It reads:
First United Methodist Church of Geneva
The First Untied Methodist Church or Geneva was organized November 17, 1877 as the Lake Harney Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church South. The first meeting was held in the log schoolhouse west of the Geneva Cemetery, others in private homes.
In 1880 Andrew J. Holder deeded a building site on the northeast shore of Lake Geneva to three Trustees. A church building was erected. Services were held once a month by the Methodists and once a month by the Baptists.
In 1912 the Florida East Coast Railroad was completed through Geneva. As the community grew, and rail transportation became available, activity focused at the rail center: The church was no longer centrally located.
In 1909 Mr. H.B. Coffee donated this tract of land for a new church. In 1911, the Methodist Conference authorized selling the original church property and constructing a new church here—270 First Street. The building was dedicated in November 1913, debt free. > > > >
The church had difficulty surviving after the freezes of 1894-1895, and WWI when many people moved away. The Great Depression caused the few remaining members to sell two lots on the N.E. corner of the property. When Alice B. Coffee, daughter of the land donor, heard of the sale, she bought the lots, and deeded them to the church with a reversion clause.
1951—Four stained glass memorial windows installed.
1959—Fellowship Hall built west of the church.
1967– Sunday school rooms added on the north side.
1967—Parsonage constructed on the property,
1976—Ward Hall constructed on the property.
1983—Seven stained glass windows completed project.
The churches, school post office, and stores built near the rail center are still in the center of town.
Note: A more complete history of the Church can be viewed at the Geneva First Methodist Church and also in the Museum of Geneva History.
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