MELROSE – It has served as a makeshift schoolroom in the aftermath of tragedy and its bell used to alert citrus farmers of impending winter frosts that could damage their crops. Now, 150 years …
MELROSE – It has served as a makeshift schoolroom in the aftermath of tragedy and its bell used to alert citrus farmers of impending winter frosts that could damage their crops. Now, 150 years later, Melrose United Methodist Church at 5802 Hampton St. not only celebrates a birthday, but gets an official state historical marker to capture the church’s place in history.
The official Florida Heritage Site marker was unveiled April 14 at a church celebration. The church is now the fifth entity in Melrose to be granted heritage site status by the Florida Department of State and its Division of Historical Resources. Other Florida Heritage Sites in Melrose include the Melrose Woman’s Club, the Melrose Cemetery and Melrose High School.
“People are interested in history and I think they are very pleased to see yet another marker go into Melrose,” said Ruth Berkelman, historian for Melrose United Methodist Church.
Berkelman completed the church’s application from the State Division of Historic Resources and researched the appropriate information including data, including original maps, GIS data, changes in architecture, and the original build date of the church.
“The designation process lasted approximately two years and consisted of an extensive amount of paperwork and research,” Berkelman said.
Berkelman had to research and locate a lot of historic documentation, either from books or Works Progress Administration records from the Great Depression and pulling out historic references to verify the date the church was built and any structural changes to the building since, said Berkelman. She worked with Historic Melrose, the Alachua County Historical Commission and many members of the community to find the historical information needed.
Once she gathered the historical data, Berkelman sent the application to Tallahassee for approval. The text written on the plaque also required approval of several parties including the pastor, the church’s council and the state, whose board meets quarterly.
The church has a long history of serving the Melrose community as a fire alarm, a warning for freezes and a signal for the arrival of Waldo steamships into Melrose Bay. The church structure that was built in 1879 is the historic site and is the original sanctuary. It was the first church established in the original plat of historic Melrose, according to Berkelman, who spent summers attending the church with her grandparents.
The bell in the church tower is what alerted people to community meetings and it played a major role in the community, said Berkelman. In 1947, after the Melrose school burned down, the church served as a classroom for first-and-second-grade students. Upon expansion of the church halls, the church opened its doors to local Boy and Girl Scouts organizations and YMCA summer day camps. Melrose United Methodist Church also played a role in founding the Lake Area Ministries program, started the Pak-a-Sack Program for children at Melrose Elementary and continues to hold a yearly Valentine’s Day party for disabled adults in the community.
The church’s contribution to the Melrose community and history is what encouraged Berkelman, after becoming the church’s historian, to apply the church for designation as a Florida Heritage site.
The church council, the congregation, and many others in the Melrose community sparked interest when she presented the idea.
The church continues to serve the community with its active congregation of about 35 members. A homecoming ceremony is being planned later this year for a rededication of the newly-placed marker.
Now that the church is an official Florida Heritage Site, “this designation may benefit the church in applying for grants to reconstruct the original steeple and reproduce some of the original features of the church,” Berkelman said.