First United Methodist Church can trace its roots back to 1874, making it older than the city of Sanford! While we outdate the city, we aren’t even the oldest Methodist Church in town. St. James A.M.E. Church was founded in 1867 along the south shore of Lake Monroe.¹ The Mellonville Circuit was established by the Florida Methodist Conference of just prior to 1874. The Mellonville Circuit was established by the Methodist Episcopal Church, South (1844-1939) which broke away from the Methodist Episcopal Church (formed in 1784) after the MEC decided Methodists must choose between owning enslaved people and remaining in the church. Eventually the MEC, South rejoined the MEC in 1939. Upon the creation of the Mellonville Circuit, Rev. Robert Barnett was assigned as the district circuit rider² in January 1874.
Arriving by boat, Rev. Barnett found only 15 Methodists in the Mellonville vicinity. Mellonville was founded on the south shore of Lake Monroe, where Ft. Mellon existed during the Second Seminole War (1835-1842). Ft. Mellon Park now sits on this site. Rev. Barnett and his wife stayed in the home of members and later in a cottage owned by church members. An unoccupied residence was used to hold services until a church could be built.
In 1875, Augustus J. Vaughn gave two acres of his homestead on Mellonville Ave. for a church, school, and cemetery. The church was erected immediately and named Ernest Chapel for Mr. Ernest, who lived nearby and was a devout and faithful Methodist. While the exact location of the chapel has been unclear, it is supposed to have been near the site of old Ft. Reid (about 1/2 mile south of Historic Sanford Stadium on Mellonville Ave.³
Happening in Sanford
In 1870, two former Civil War foes arrived by boat, at the wharf of Mellonville: General Henry S. Sanford, and Judge J. Wofford Tucker. Each purchased large tracts of land along the southern shore of Lake Monroe; Tucker 50 acres and Sanford, 12,535 acres.
Joseph “Judge” Tucker hailed from South Carolina. Tucker was a lawyer and state legislator before the war and had also served as the president of Spartanburg Female College. During the Civil War, Tucker ran a team of Confederate agents who burned or sank at least 60 Union ships in 1863 and 1864 along the Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio rivers. Tucker was one of many Confederate leaders who fled to Bermuda to avoid arrest at the end of the war but was granted a pardon in 1870 and returned to the U.S.
During the war, Gen. Sanford, former US Minister to Belgium had run the Union’s secret service in Europe, thwarting Confederate efforts to win allies and raise money and arms. Records show that in 1877, Gen. Sanford was granted a charter, and the town was platted. The main street in the town was Sanford Avenue which led directly to the docks, with boats being the main form of freight transportation.
“Tucker persuaded Sanford to put up $7,500 to establish a slaughterhouse and meatpacking house on the lake. Tucker and eight other men cut 1,200 logs for the pilings and boards for a wharf at the foot of Palmetto Avenue, roughly the site of the city’s hotel-marina complex. A railroad spur ran down to the wharf. Tucker cleared the land and built what became the first stretch of Sanford Avenue and another road along the lake. Tucker also built Union Avenue (today’s Second Street) to unite the new town of Sanford (incorporated Sept. 28, 1877) and Mellonville.”4
Happening in the World
– 1871 – The Great Chicago Fire burned for 3 days
– 1872 – Yellowstone National Park was appointed the United States’ first national park
– 1873 – Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis patent “Blue Jeans”, originally called “Copper Riveted Overalls”
– 1874 – Herbert Hoover, Robert Frost, and John D. Rockefeller Jr. are born
– 1875 – The first Kentucky Derby is run
“A term of historic usage in American Methodism. From the earliest years of the denomination, pastors were appointed to serve a large number of local churches and preaching places located within a large geographic area. These ministers traveled regularly throughout their assigned areas and came to be known as circuit riders.” – https://www.umc.org/en/content/glossary-circuit-rider
“Wartime Foes Unite to Build Brand New Town of Sanford” by Jim Robinson. June 1, 1998. Accessed at: https://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/os-xpm-1998-03-01-9802270999-story.html