Pisgah United Methodist Church
By Charlton D. Moore, Spring 2016
Pisgah United Methodist Church
Located in northern Tallahassee, Pisgah United Methodist Church sits quaintly down a small road not serviced by Leon County. With beautiful, large, and aged oak trees surrounding the property, you are unable to see any other forms of civilization once on property. The small white church, with high ceilings, and a metal roof immediately brings you back to a simpler time. At the end of the drive you are greeted with a metal sign giving some of the church’s history, topped with the Seal of Florida. Pisgah United Methodist is one of the ten United Methodist Historic Sites on their register in the state of Florida, one of two in Tallahassee. The current Pastor here is Rodney West. He is from Tallahassee and has his Undergraduate degree from Florida State University in history. He then went to Chesapeake Seminary in Baltimore where he got his masters degree in Theology.
According to the sign; missionaries that were sent by the South Carolina Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church held services for the Centerville community settlers at this site in the early 1820’s. John Slade, known as the “Father of Methodism in Florida” organized the “society” at Pisgah on May 3, 1830 with 34 charter members. During the Ante-Bellum period, Pisgah became on of the leading churches in Middle Florida. Charter members Jacob Felkel and his wife Rose Anne deeded seven acres to the church’s trustees on December 12, 1858, for only $125 under the leadership of presiding elder Simon Peter Richardson and the pastor. Robert Hudson Howren the pastor at the time had the building erected at a cost of $5,200.
In the early stages of the settlement period of the United States, Methodist and Episcopalian denominations grouped together to assist in organizing these rural settlements. These people like John Slade, as mentioned in the historical sign, were called “circuit riders.” They would often ride horseback because of the great distances between settlements. Methodist riders were always on the move. In the early 1800’s in the United States the bishop would appoint locations to these clergy would not be allowed to stay in one settlement for more than two years.
During the Civil War, Pisgah’s pastor Reverend Simon Peter Richardson was named Captain of the Centerville Old Guard and led the local defense. If you pay attention to some of the tombstones you can find many confederate soldiers buried on premises. One of these was Wilbur Wightman Gramling, buried along side many other members of the Gramling family. Wilbur was released from prison following the end of the war and died at the age of 27 from a lung problem believed to be caused by his imprisonment. His tomb, and the tombs of some of his direct family members are shown in the pictures.
An interesting fact on the history of this institution was that it began as a non-segregated church. Women were required to sit on one side of the church, men on the other, and the slaves were seated in the galleries. Pisgah United Methodist was a big deal in its beginnings. The fact that families and their help could attent worship together must have been a great benefit at the time.
In the summer of 1841 in Tallahassee a deadly outbreak caused hundreds of deaths in the area. This disease was yellow fever. “sometime early in its history, Tallahassee acquired a reputation of being an unhealthy town set down in the midst of an unhealthy countryside,” reported historian Bertram H. Groane in his 1971 book, “Ante-bellum Tallahassee.” With the hot and humid conditions in the south, especially when close to the ocean, diseases like malaria and yellow fever were a common occurrence.
Pisgah United Methodist Church has a cemetery on site. The fenced in area is probably close to an acre in size. Throughout there are gravestones, and slabs dating all the way back to the early 1800’s to recent years. There is one section of unmarked graves. There is this very awkward, open space with no marked graves you will encounter when exploring this historic site. You immediately get the sense that there is something more to this space than just grass. Then, you will find the tablet describing what exactly this open space is. The tablet states:
In the open area before you are the unmarked graves of approximately thirty former residents of the Centerville community. During the spring and summer of 1841 a yellow fever epidemic raged across northern Leon County. Pisgah church had the only cemetery in the area and was used as a common burial site.
- Sleep With The Angels
With an incredible history, along side incredible views, Pisgah United Methodist is, if nothing else, a great place to walk around for a day. Their service is at 11 am on Sundays if attending one of their services interests you. The service is great, uplifting, with a nice traditional flare. The entrance and exit of the property alone is enough to remind you of the “Old Florida” feel this institution radiates.