The First Presbyterian Church had its origin with families meeting in homes in the 1830’s. In 1839, they began soliciting pledges for a building. They were officially organized as Monticello Presbyterian Church July 4, 1840, a member of Georgia Presbytery. Florida Presbytery was not formed until the next year. Joshua Phelps was the pastor. Meetings were held in the courthouse or Jefferson Academy until the building was erected. Lot #55 was purchased for $200 on January 20, 1841, and the building was erected shortly afterward, using native woods and bricks hauled by ox carts from South Carolina. In 1853 a manse was built on East Washington Street on land given by Ellen A. Beatty White.
The church building is one of few remaining Greek Revival religious buildings from the mid-nineteenth century in Florida. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and The American Presbyterian/Reformed Historical Sites Registry. The porch and columns of the red brick building are plastered and painted white. There are shutters and eight tall, twenty-four pane windows, which have most of the original lead glass panes. The simple cone-shaped steeple, on a square pedestal, houses the five hundred pound bell installed in 1882. A central double door with stained glass transom is flanked on either side by single doors. Inside is intricate, handmade woodwork. A Roman arch behind the pulpit frames the Gothic-styled stained glass window, given by Dr. Thomas Palmer in memory of his daughter and son.
Very little is known about the earliest pastors or the exact dates they served. In 1861, the Presbyterian Church was divided into northern and southern branches. During the Civil War, Rev. W.E. Hamilton asked for leave of absence in July, 1864, to “pastor the Army of Tennessee”. After the war, the church building was destroyed by fire and rebuilt the following year using some of the original cleaned bricks.
Rev. Fraser started the first Sabbath School in 1867. When his great granddaughter wrote for information on his two children “buried in the church cemetery”, we sent pictures of two small graves built together, with a metal cross, but no names, in the old cemetery. We asked for a photo of Rev. Fraser, and some time later she sent one obtained from a Decatur church where he was pastor. We framed it along with photos of our other pastors.
During the long ministry of Rev. B. L. Baker (1871-1910), the building was refurbished, interior paneling completed, and electric lights were installed. A marble plaque in the sanctuary honors him. Following him was Rev. Robert Orr (1911-1914). In 1913 a new organ and pipes were installed, covering the memorial window. This caused much disagreement, but it seems no other place could be found for them.
In 1911, Synodical of Florida Synod was formed here in our church with Miss Rose Denham, member of a founding family, elected to serve as first president. Women were very actively engaged in every aspect of church life.
A marble plaque in the sanctuary honors Rev. Henry Holmes for his many years of faithful service. (1921-1940). He started a successful children’s organization, Christian Endeavor, and changed prayer meeting from Friday afternoon to Wednesday night; so many more could attend. His wife was the former Miss Katie Budd, a member of the congregation.
An education building was built in 1941 while Rev. Melrose Avery was pastor. Before this, children’s classes were held in two small rooms on either side of the choir loft, and adults met in the sanctuary. We had a station wagon for transporting children who had no other way to get to church, and for special outings for fun and fellowship.
In 1951, Rev. Robert Wallace led the church to add a second story to the education building which greatly helped the Sunday School program. Mrs. Wallace was the former Elizabeth Denham, also a descendant of founding members. She was an excellent teacher and choir director.
Having sold the old manse, the church bought a house on East Pearl Street to serve as our manse in 1953, just before Rev. Keith and family came. This one was also sold in the 1980’s.
In 1959 when the education building was enlarged again and a new organ console was installed, Rev. Merrill Keith‘s wood working skills contributed to the sanctuary’s renovation. One example is seen in the panels on both sides of the choir loft, carved with symbols from the Presbyterian Seal. Members were overjoyed to see the lovely memorial window uncovered after nearly forty six years. Several broken panes were carefully removed; exact replicas were made in Atlanta, and Rev. Keith installed them using the original lead.
We have been blessed with many pastors, some who served for only a year or two, but with unique talents for ministry, they made enduring friendships. Some, like Charles Landreth, John Dudley and Henry Gregory, came straight from seminary, with youthful enthusiasm, to one of the oldest churches in Florida. In 1983, while Rev. Gregory was here, the northern and southern churches were reunited, forming the Presbyterian Church, USA.
Clarence Payne, while an FSU doctoral student, was our pastor for only one year, but he kept in touch from far away places, came back for special baptisms, marriages and funerals, and now he visits from Tallahassee. We had many retired interim pastors who brought wisdom and knowledge from years of loving service to God, and we benefitted from the leadership of all.
In 1983 we had our first homecoming. At the time we were without a pastor; so former pastor, Rev. Landreth, came to preach for us, and many members who had moved away came to help us remember, rejoice and give thanks.
The education building was completely renovated in 1985 while Rev. Joseph Griffitts was here. Then Rev. Jack Morris, retired minister of Tallahassee, led our church successfully for two years. By the Grace of God, we saw the completion of the Woodrow Malloy Fellowship Hall in June, 1995, while Rev. Douglas Hughes was pastor. The church gathered thankfully in that building for a second joyful homecoming in November.
Two retired ministers led us faithfully and lovingly in the last years before our present pastor was called; Rev. Carl Hanks, from 1997-2004, and Rev. James Urquhart, from 2004-2007. Rev. Sharon A. Schuler, was ordained and installed in our church after her eagerly anticipated and welcomed arrival in August, 2007. She and her husband, John Schuler, were recent graduates of Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta. Sharon Schuler’s tenure here ended in 2011. R.C. Griffin III is now the 27th pastor, staring in 2014.
Our history reveals that the congregation has been involved in Christian service through the years, at home and abroad. Early records tell us of unusual and interesting ways our forebears found to fund their many service projects, not only in good times, but during difficult years of depression. The church still serves in many ways to help those in need here and around the world, and the joy of serving is shared in fellowship with one another in our church and in the community.
As we gather for our third homecoming, this time to celebrate the one hundred seventy years the church has served in this place, we rejoice again and give thanks! Over the years, the church has survived many trials, by God’s Grace, and with His guidance, we look forward, with hope, to the days and years yet to come.
Pastors of First Presbyterian Church of Monticello, Florida
|1. Joshua Phelps||1840 – 1842|
|2. Joel Graves||1843 – 1850|
|3. William E. Hamilton||1851 – 1866|
|4. Donald Fraser||1867 – 1870|
|5. Benjamin L. Baker||1871 – 1910|
|6. Robert H. Orr||1911 – 1914|
|7. F. Ray Riddle||1915 – 1918|
|8. Thomas G. Watts||1919 – 1921|
|9. Henry Holmes||1921 – 1940|
|10. Melrose S. Avery||1940 – 1941|
|11. Robert T. Wallace||1941 – 1952|
|12. A. Merrill Keith||1953 – 1965|
|13. Charles L. Landreth||1966 – 1968|
|14. Clarence C. Payne||1969 – 1970|
|15. William A. Hearn||1970 – 1972|
|16. John C. Dudley||1972 – 1976|
|17. Alexander Gillander||1976 – 1978|
|18. Henry D. Gregory, IV||1978 – 1983|
|19. Walter H. Styles||1983 – 1984|
|20. John Ter Louw||1984 – 1985|
|21. Joseph P. Griffitts||1985 – 1991|
|22. Jack E. Morris||1991 – 1993|
|23. Douglas E. Hughes||1993 – 1997|
|24. Carl Hanks||1997 – 2004|
|25. James Urquhart||2004 – 2006|
|26. Sharon A. Schuler||2006 – 2011|
|27. R.C. Griffin III||2014 –|
The list of pastors was compiled by Mary Budd Holmes through 1983. The first two are from baptismal records and the dates are approximate. Others are from the Session Book.