A brief history of local churches
January 16, 2020
Often we think of some discovered building seen in our daily travels as simply a structure, but sometimes it is part of a long history. Along Highway 29 near the center of the county are a scattering of churches. Among the variety of denominations represented is the Aldersgate Methodist Church which is rooted in one of our oldest histories.
Religion in early Florida under the Spanish excluded Protestants. In 1821 the new territory under the U.S. was established and that year the Pensacola Mission of Methodists began under Reverend Alex Talley. For the next thirty years a series of lone Methodist missionaries were lost to yellow fever and cholera as they eulogized primarily along the bays and lower Escambia River. By 1831 as a new Escambia Mission which covered the bay area and Milton grew, the small Pensacola Mission was suffering for membership. By the late 1840s, the Blackwater River region’s population had surpassed Pensacola and the Escambia Mission boasted of up to three hundred and fifty members.
While the growth of the Methodist denomination grew along the bays, the interior was another story. In 1849 the church had only reached the area of Gonzalez. That year Methodist member Mr. P.E. Nicholson who lived near this community wrote, “There were no churches in the county; no places of religious worship of any kind nearer than the city, thirteen miles away.” It should be noted that by this time Baptist circuit preachers of the Alabama border region were testifying among the sparse northern communities in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties.
In 1857 Methodist Reverend Moody began the first of several well attended camp meetings. Participants came from as far as Baldwin County; the crowds were hosted by as many as three ministers. The events were held about halfway between Ferry Pass and Roberts at an area named Brady’s Springs Campgrounds. These revival meetings lasted six days and were usually from daylight until late at night. Among the results of these popular camp meetings was the establishment of Lathram’s Chapel in Barrineau Park.
Around the period of the Civil War, the Methodist Church Mission withdrew from Pensacola and was reorganized as the Pollard Circuit. Congregations grew greatly after the war, spurred on in the 1870s by the great logging and lumbering era. In 1878 the Methodist Episcopal Church South had moved back toward Pensacola and had revised their supervisory region as the Powelton Circuit. The circuit roster of established congregations in 1878 included Bluff Springs – Byrneville, Clear Springs, Alabama, Canoe Station, Williams Station, Ferry Pass, Harmony, Hendrix, Lathram, Pine Grove (Myrtle Grove), Sheppards (Powelton), Walnut Hill, and Crab Trees (Pleasant Grove).
Among the growing mill towns of the mid-1800s was Pine Barren, which had been built by the McMillan Lumber Co. In 1891 the Pine Barren Methodist Church was established under the leadership of Reverend J. B. Tate, brother of the famous Escambia educator J. M. Tate. Over the next 20 years the church grew steadily and by 1907 there were over 200 members. At the beginning of the 20th century however, the logging supply of the mill was dwindling, and then in the summer of 1912 the mill suffered a dramatic accident. Extensive repair costs and a depleted supply of logs soon led to the mill’s closing in 1914. With most properties at Pine Barren owned by the mill, and with no income, residents departed. In 1915 the Methodist Church of Pine Barren ceased to exist.
Most of Pine Barren’s residents moved to the nearby large mill town of Molino and the new Methodists here quickly worked to organize the Molino Methodist Church. By late 1918 a new church building was begun in the middle of town through the gifts of donated land and lumber donated by the Jacobi Lumber Co. The church thrived for many years even though the town dwindled after the closing of the saw mill and several other businesses. In 1941 the congregation grew a little larger as the Baptist church closed. By the late 1950s however, Methodist leadership was suggesting a move for this church in order for it to continue, possibly to a site along the main highway and near the Atmore cut-off. In 1962 the serving minister of the church promoted the merger of this church with the small Barrineau Park and Pleasant Grove congregations. At the beginning of 1963 a conference of the three churches was held and a vote was carried to merge and move. It was Mrs. Reba Barrineau who suggested a name for her new congregation, Aldersgate.
In 1964 five acres of land was purchased from the Clay farm at the cost of $1000 an acre. Work quickly progressed and on October 3, 1965, the Aldersgate Methodist Church held its first service. Among the many community commitments of the new church was the care of those members laid to rest at the old Pine Barren Cemetery. Today the church has served the Molino area for more than fifty years, but represents a religious legacy in this region that is much longer.
At almost all meetings of the ASHS, guest speakers are scheduled. Their expertise ranges from local elders who reflect on their own histories to professional historians. We are glad to host two who fall a bit more into the latter group for February and March. On February 18, expert potter Larry Manning who has taught at the college level and sold his own products for many years will speak on the craft, and on March 17 Ms. Claudia Campbell will speak on the 1812 disaster of Fort Mims and the ongoing efforts to maintain the site. Society meetings begin at 6pm, you are invited.