First Presbyterian Church of Lake City
Founded in 1856
In the spring of 1856, a young minister was visiting relatives in Alligator, East Florida (Alligator is the original name of what is now known as Lake City). Finding several families of the Presbyterian persuasion, he prevailed upon them to petition the Presbytery of Florida to organize them into a church.
On May 30, 1856 a meeting was held in the First Methodist church to have eight people presented into membership. Shortly thereafter, in 1887, a frame building was built facing Alachua Street, between Nassau and St. Johns Streets, (also known as US 41). The first frame building served as sanctuary for more than 30 years.
The conditions were primitive in 1856. At this time, no railroads had been built in the area, and the public roads were deep in sand in dry weather. During flood times, the creeks and rivers were impassable. Columbia County, which at that time comprised also lands now in Gilchrist, Baker and Union counties, was listed in the census as having a total population of 5,221 whites and 1,940 slaves.
The first pastor remained only 2 years. The minutes of April 9, 1861 list the Rev. John Montgomery as moderating the meeting. He was the grandfather of the later pastor, Dr. E. F. Montgomery, who would serve the church 40 years in that position.
After the battle of Olustee, February 20, 1864, the wounded of both sides were brought to the Church, some 10 miles west of the battlefield, where they were laid on the floor and the pews to be cared for in a make-shift hospital setting.
The big freeze in Florida that wiped out the citrus industry in 1896 caused great difficulty in paying the salary of the Pastor, even though it was only $600 a year.
Dr. Edwin Fleming Montgomery, Sr. (known as “Dr. Mont”) served the church from February 1926 until 1966. Less than 10 years later in 1975, the son of Dr. E. F. Montgomery, Rev. E. F. “Ed” Montgomery, Jr. was called and served until 1992.
Dr. Mont was considered the “father of camping” in Northeast Florida including serving as Scoutmaster for the church’s Boy Scout Troop for 40 years (his father had been Scoutmaster in Jasper). He was involved in numerous Northeast Florida camps for 59 years. The Montgomery Camp and Conference Center, the presbytery’s camp, was named for him and his legend has long been recognized. In October 1982, the the church celebrated Dr. Mont’s 90th birthday, a year before he died. This event was covered in this local newspaper article.
As the church continued to grow, additions to the original church sanctuary were added, and services held there for 73 years. The current church property-on Baya Drive overlooking Lake Montgomery was purchased in 1961. Services were held in the Fellowship Hall until 1966 when the sanctuary was completed. The first service held in the new sanctuary was on that Easter Sunday. Less than 6 years later, on January 9, 1972, the mortgage was burned and the debt-free buildings were dedicated.
A compilation of documents and remarks made throughout the years detail the rich history of the church and can be read here. The remarks offer historical and cultural context that could not be summarized in this brief article.
Thanks to the administrative office of First Presbyterian Church of Lake City, FL.