In the organization of a new church in a pioneer community many difficulties are often encountered and the organization of the Moore Haven Methodist Church was no exception. A graphic account of the beginning days is given by the organizer and first pastor, Rev. A.C. McCall, now deceased. The church is indebted to Rev. McCall for the setting down of these details and presenting the account to the church a few years ago as follows:
“The Florida annual conference in December 1916 assigned me to the Labelle mission as a pastor. Moore Haven was one of the places on the charge. We have no building at Moore Haven and no church organization.
In January 1917 nineteen seventeen I filled my first appointment. On my second or third trip to Moore Haven, the manager of the South Florida Farms sent me to see him in his office. In his talk with me, he said they were bringing a Presbyterian minister to look after the spiritual interest of the community until such time as enough people had arrived to justify other denominations to send ministers. He informed me that their boat was going to Fort Myers and that I might go out on it if I wish. I said, ‘in other words, you are serving diplomatic relations with the Methodist church and handing me my passports’. He answered ‘yes, and a measure’. I informed him that I was sent man and what would of necessity continue my attempt to serve the community until such time as my church should release me. He informed me that the little school building had been sold and there would be no building available for me. I asked if I might not preach on the street corner. I was told that Moore Haven was not yet incorporated into the streets were owned by the company.
I stood up and said, ‘I want to know if I must fight the devil in high places. I will be back in four weeks. Will there be a place for me?’ After sputtering and stammering he said, ‘before you come next time phone me and I will let you know’.
In the meantime I made it known into a number of the best people what treatment I had received. On my return the following month the little schoolhouse was open to me. Worded gotten around to J. J. O’Brien, Vice president of the Florida Farms Company. He looked me up and said, ‘I’m a Catholic, but I will not stand for the treatment you have had. I will soon have a two-story building ready. The upper floor for some time will be one big open hall. If nothing else is available and you may have it to use and it will not cost you one cent. We know we cannot build the kind of community here that we hope to have without churches and schools.’
The Presbyterian preacher was using the theater building for his services, but he did not stay long. The Baptist Board of Missions sent a minister to serve one Sunday each month. When the Presbyterian minister left, the Baptist and Methodist were given the use of the theater on Sundays.
In the summer I engaged my brother, F. P. McCall and his singer, W. B. Bethea to assist me in the meetings at Labelle and Moore Haven. I asked Mrs. Horwitz it would be possible for her to make room for the three of us in her home for the period of our meeting. She said she thought some of the men rooming with her would be gone by that time. She assured me that she would consider it an honor to have us in her home if room was available. On our arrival her secretary met us at the boat and informed me that Mrs. Horwitz was out of town and her house was still full, but she had engaged rooms for us at the new rooming house and meals for us at the hotel. She said that we were to stay as long as we desired and that we were her guest wall there. She afterword became the first mayor of Moore Haven and later Mrs. J. J. O’Brien.
I had engaged the theater for the period of the meeting, it’s it cost only what the manager had to pay for rent. After the Sunday services the manager came to me and said he must have the building to run his movie theater and after his show was over we could have it. I said, ‘No, the Methodist Church does not play second fiddle to any organization’.
A contractor had a store room about finished all but the floor. I asked him if it would be possible to get the room, and he assured me he would be glad for us to have it at no cost, and even fixed up some seats in a platform for the speaker. During our 15 days there we organized a Methodist Church with about 21 members. Our first board of stewards was made up of Dr. John Wesley Mitchell, Charles Wesley Weidrich and Wesley Sams.
My first year cost me more to serve Moore Haven than the people paid me. It was pioneer work. In fact, it was the same for the settlers of the community. During the year at terrible scourage of typhoid fever swept the community. Through the generosity of Homer Hand, who charge never express, and the good people of Labelle, we shipped barrels of buttermilk free to the thypoid patients.
The Annual Conference returned me to the charge for the second year. Owing to World War I, a pastor from Miami City Mission went to YMCA and the army. In the middle of the year I was transferred to Miami and Rev. W.O. Troutman finished out the year.”
Fortunately for the church and for the other churches of the city a community Church building was soon provided which stood at the corner of Avenue J and First Street. This building sufficed for church services and for a meeting place for all other community organizations during the week and was still use by the Methodist as their first building was being constructed by J.E. Smith, a church member and the contractor. This building was begun early in 1919 and was put into use before the end of that year. That frame structure was built on the site of the present sanctuary and was used until 1949 when it was moved westward to be used as a church school building after the new Church was ready for use.
The board of Church Extension gave a generous gift for the new church and an additional loan which was finally paid off in 1925 during the pastorate of Rev. R. B. Templeton. The dedication services were then held. Rev. W. A. Fisher was the pastor when the church was built.
About a year later, during the pastorate of Rev. G. H. York, who succeeded Rev. Fisher, the first parsonage was purchased south west of the church and was used until about 1935.
Rev. J. C. Jones was the pastor when the disastrous hurricane struck Moore Haven on September 18, 1926 and the church building was caught up in the swirling waters and floated some distance west into a field. Fortunately the building itself was not too badly damaged and was put back into its proper location and repairs made early in 1927. The parsonage was also badly damaged in the furniture destroyed and it was repaired and re-furnished in 1927 during the pastorate of Rev. M. E. Thompson, Rev. Jones’ successor.
The present parsonage was purchased and furnished during the pastorate of Rev. J. T. Coulliette in 1934.
Like most small churches during the depression years the problem of financing was acute but the diligent effort of the Board of Stewards which included such loyal workers as Mr. and Mrs. I. P. Scott, Mrs. C. H. Settle, E. P. Ewing, S.C. Stalls and others where all obligations were met and buildings maintained.
In the year 1919 Miss Ellis Switzer came from Orlando and organized the First Mission Army Society and Mrs. C. H. Settle was the first president. When the Northern and Southern branches of the Methodist Church were United the Missionary Society became the Women’s Society of Christian Service and is still the dominant women organization of the church.
Another important organization of the Methodist women of Moore Haven was the Mollie Settle Class, named for its first teacher, with Mrs. C. C. Klutts as the first president. The class was organizing 1928 and was consolidated with the WSCS in 1950. In 1951 a new women’s organization came into being, the Weslyan Service Guild, with the Mrs. L. M. Ford as its first president.
First talk of a new church was started soon after Rev. W. Scott Bozeman came to Moore Haven as a pastor in 1944. To him was assigned the task of organizing a church in building a sanctuary in Clewiston and his time was divided between the two communities. As the new church there was nearing completion he began plans for new sanctuary here and, at a dinner held in mid December 1948 more than 15,000 was pledged by members and friends to make the new sanctuary possible. These pledges were to be made on a weekly basis over a period of two years but there was sufficient money for the building fund that the actual construction was begun in December 1949, just one year later. Rev. J. G. Shaw had succeeded Rev. Bozeman in June 1949 and his ability and organizing and directing construction in obtaining cooperation from the church members and doing a great deal of the work at “work night” parties resulted in his obtaining a much better building then had at first hope for, completely furnished.
First services were held in the new sanctuary in July 1950 during during the pastorate of Rev. Morris Hanley and by the first of 1952 all indebtedness had been paid and Bishop Roy H. Short conducted the dedication services on February 17, 1952.
It was also during rev. those men’s pastor at the church adopted a budget system of financing, paid by pledges from the members and the system is still working very satisfactorily.
On Sunday, February 21, 1954, we observed a Homecoming Celebration. This was during the time Rev. William C. Wood was pastor. It was a happy privilege to have Bishop John Branscomb, now deceased, and District Superintendent, C. M. Cotton with us. Dr. Cotton delivered the message for the morning. This was followed by the presentation of the memorial window given in memory of brother Charles and sister Molly Settle. This beautiful stained glass window depicting Christs dark hour in the garden of Gethsemane, shall remind us the lives of these two wonderful persons and their work with us.
In 1961, with the Rev. James W Wright as our pastor, we purchased additional land, the present parsonage, which is badly needed. Rev. John Whitehead was with us for four years and under his leadership much was accomplished. There had been a great need for a church school building. Soon after Rev. Whitehead began his work with us, plans got underway for raising funds for the present building. We already had $5,000.00 on hand from previous donations made for this purpose. A group of $20,000.00 was set to reach in seven days, December 9-15, 1963. This campaign was a great success, and a girl was oversubscribed. Church officials have the groundbreaking ceremonies on November 1, 1964.
Upon completion of the building, a Concentration Service was held, April 11, 1965. Dr. W. S. Bozeman, District Superintendent was with us and delivered the sermon for this occasion. We are very proud of our church property, our lovely sanctuary, educational building and parsonage.
First Methodist Church, Moore Haven has been served by 28 devoted pastors at the time of these writings:
A. C. McCall
W. O. Troutman
W. A. Fisher
G. H. York
T. M. Lee
R. B. Templeton
J. C. Jones
M. E. Thompson
C. T. Howes
G. M. Glazier
L. M. Reid
J. T. Couliette
E. D. Conway
I. M. Belt
S. I. Hendrix
W. S. Bozeman
O. C. Driskell
W. C. Wood
M. R. Davis
J. W. Wright
J. V. Whitehead
There have been many loyal members, and pastors that worked faithfully through the ears. Some of them are living in some have passed on, but all have had their part and the progress of our church.
Rev. Herman Lumpkin is with us for his first year, and we are moving forward under his leadership. Yes, there has been progress, and already this year we have had a great victory in the “Growth Crusade”, that has just been successfully launched.
Hey girl $25,000 was decided upon, for making necessary improvements, provide new equipment, refinance indebtedness on church School Building and Parsonage and general maintenance.
This was truly a great crusade, as it was a spiritual and financial success. The church membership worked together very hard and everyone seemed to enjoy their part and it. At the close, Sunday night, October 1, 1967 there was a genuine spirit of happiness and thanksgiving. Those that work so faithfully, we’re indeed richly rewarded. The goal of $25,000.00 was over subscribed, and a total pledge amounted to $26,006.96.
This year we are celebrating our 50th anniversary, a most glorious occasion in a history of our church. We hope that this day October 29, 1967 will be a day that all of us, shall long remember.