Kanapaha Presbyterian Church, Gainesville
Founded in 1857
This brief history of Kanapaha Presbyterian Church is summarized from the expanded story available on the Kanapaha website.
In 1854, a handful of Sea Island Cotton growers from South Carolina settled in this area [what is now known as Alachua County], then known as Arredondo. A number of large plantations were located in this general area. It did not take them long to feel the need for an established church – a community to nurture and strengthen them in their faith. A number of these planters called an organizational meeting in the summer of 1857 for the purpose of securing a permanent church among them. They sent back to South Carolina for their former pastor, the Rev. W. J. McCormick and he reluctantly agreed. He and his family arrived in the summer of 1857, and the first Presbyterian Church in this county was officially begun. Kanapaha is the mother church for several Presbyterian churches in the area.
All denominations worshipped on the plantation of Dr. Stringfellow, one of Kanapaha founders. Reverend McCormick held services there once each month while construction on both the original Kanapaha Presbyterian Church and Gainesville Presbyterian Church were underway. On the first day of January, 1859, the McCormicks went to live in the new manse, the only one then in this part of the country.
After the completion of the first building in April 1859, the church was formally organized, with 12 members and two elders. The first independently standing Kanapaha Presbyterian Church was a starkly utilitarian structure which was dedicated on the first sabbath in May of 1859. In November of that year, Kanapaha was united with the Presbytery of Florida at Jacksonville.
The church building stood at the western edge of that parcel of land presently occupied by the Kanapaha Presbyterian Church Cemetery, located past Kanapaha Botanical Gardens on SW 63rd Blvd in Gainesville. The church had suffered neglect throughout the civil war years, as many left to serve the confederacy. The Reverend McCormick himself joined as a chaplain to preach to the warriors in tented fields. Finally, in 1864, McCormick returned to resume service at Kanapaha. History is sketchy during these years, but it appears that the original Kanapaha Church remained in use at least until the beginning of 1885.
During 1885, it is important to note that the Archer Presbyterian Church had just been completed, with its design serving as the model by which many, including Kanapaha’s replacement, would be crafted. Because Kanapaha Church had been yearning for a position closer to the railroad, and the condition of the original church following the war was said to be unsafe, the congregation had begun to meet more frequently at the schoolhouse across the railroad on the north side of the property. As the Kanapaha congregation continued to divide its services between the old church and the schoolhouse, elders purchased the site of the new Kanapaha Church, adjacent to the Kanapaha Station, in June of 1886. The new structure was dedicated in October of 1886. The architecture of the new church building was modeled after the Archer Presbyterian Church which had recently been completed. This is the church that is presently standing and in use today at Archer Road and SW 75th St.
The congregation had it’s share of ups and downs, and closed for a bit, but the property has since been restored. Read more about the church’s 20th century history on its website.
Approximately one mile east of the current church property is Kanapaha Cemetery. It is on the site of the first church building. The Kanapaha Cemetery is among the oldest historical sites in Florida. Situated along the western edge of Kanapaha Prairie, it holds the resting places of many of Alachua County’s earliest pioneer families. Maintenance of the cemetery relies upon volunteers from Kanapaha Presbyterian Church, with gracious and welcome support from the families of those interred here, as well as from volunteers from the non-profit historical preservation group, Historic Haile Homestead. The cemetery continues to this day to serve the members of Kanapaha Church and their immediate family, as well as descendants of those who have been buried there. Read more about the cemetery’s history on the church website.
Primary source: www.kanapaha.net