Trinity History

Trinity History

by Carol Dadisman; Reprinted from February 2004 Tidings

“The 1830s were the wildest times for the capital. It was during these adolescent years that Tallahassee gained and probably earned a reputation as a wide open, hell-raising frontier town, where drunken brawls, duels and a minimum of civilized influence were the general order.”

That’s a description of our city’s second decade offered by Bertram H. Groene in his book, Antebellum Tallahassee. In a later passage, Groene adds; “The (Florida) territory was in the depths of…financial depression…The pressure of tight money in those worried times affected not only business but the churches.  From 1837 to 1839 the Methodist Church, the oldest in the city, had almost ceased to function through lack of funds to pay for a pastor.”

Moreover, the Seminole War wreaked havoc in the territory and its fledgling capital. Trinity’s Norman Booth, in a church history published in the 1990’s, writes:

“During (Joshua) Knowles’ pastorate (1836), the foremost difficulty facing Tallahassee was the Seminole War. (Knowles) reported that many Tallahassee families were driven away, and those who remained were frequently upset by stories of nearby Indian activities.”

Yet even in the difficult decade, the forerunner of Trinity United Methodist Church was providing a much-needed ministry and preparing for broader service in the future.  In 1837 the church managed to purchase three lots at the corner of Park and Duval streets, setting the stage for moving one block east of the Methodists’ original location – and establishing the site where Trinity still thrives.

Economic and social conditions apparently delayed use of the new site for several years.  But, by 1840, the national and regional economies had improved, and Tallahassee’s Methodists had regained enough strength and support to begin construction.

The Tallahassee Floridian of March 7, 1840, announced that laying of a church cornerstone would signal beginning of construction at Park and Duval.  Edwin L.T. Blake’s History of Methodist Church, quoted by Booth, picks up the story from there: “This building was located on the present church site…and faced south.  It was of the same style of architecture as the First Presbyterian Church, a colonial building of brick and stuccoed with white cement. There were windows with green blinds upstairs and downstairs. A wide porch extended across the front with colonial columns supporting it.  The interior contained temporary benches, men on one side, the women on the other.  The large gallery which ran around three sides for the use of slaves looked down on a queer-looking semi-circular pulpit.”

The new church was completed in 1841. Four years later, the Florida Annual Conference was organized there, following two decades in which Florida’s Methodists had been part of the South Carolina and Georgia Conferences.

By 1851 Simon Peter Richardson was pastor of the church.  In his autobiography published 50 years later, he wrote: “I was stationed at Tallahassee, the capital of the state, which had a wide reputation for many bloody feuds by the Reeds, Alstons and others.  But those days, with their scenes of horror, had passed away, and peace and prosperity, religion, and morality, had taken their place.”

Tallahassee’s early Methodists, and the new downtown anchor they had established, could claim much credit for the 20-year transformation.