Historically Speaking: “Red Letter Day” Enhanced by Old Photos and Papers

This picture is from 1938. Notice that people are gathered on the left side of the church instead of the direction of the fellowship hall.

The gang from the Historical Society is busily trying to pull together all of information that we can find about the 10 people who will be featured in our Cemetery Walk on May 19 from 4-6 pm at the Baptist and Payne cemeteries. Eight are among the leaders of our community in the 1890s and all were deceased by 1910. The last two are “criminals” who were buried in the pauper section of the Baptist Cemetery.

The stories that we are finding are fascinating, sometimes sad, and intertwined with each other. It is hard not to write what we are finding now, but you won’t want to come to the Cemetery Walk if “the cat is let out of the bag” too soon. We got the idea for the walk from Forest Hills Cemetery in St. Elmo and from the walking tour of the National Cemetery which is narrated by National Park Historian Jim Ogden on Memorial Day weekend. An official name for the walk will be forthcoming, but save the date (May 19 from 4-6 pm) and plan to join us.

Sometimes the historical tales are dropped in my lap. Marty Moore Gronek, Melissa Moore Kinney and Wally Moore continue to dispose of the belongings and memories of the estate of Lamar and Roselyn Dyer Moore. Rose being an old librarian (as am I) couldn’t stand to throw things away that had historical significance. Such is the case with some papers of which the “kids” thought that I needed to have custody. I knew about the papers because Rose had rescued them from the trash at our church a few years ago. Someone had decided that the 1910-1950s membership book (which listed all of the preachers and baptisms, births, deaths and marriage dates) and the minutes of the church and the women’s group up to the 1950s. Now, the average person would not see the value in keeping this old “junk,” but Rose knew (as do I) that these papers give details of the lives of, not only the church, but also the membership.

At Christmas, we at Trenton Methodist had a service in our newly refurbished old church building. The new preacher, Brad Scott, being a historian himself, asked me to tell some of the history of that building. I found plenty of sources, 10 to be exact. The story of Trenton Methodist has been chronicled in almost every church directory which has ever been printed.

The 100th-anniversary edition of the Dade County Times which was printed in April 1938 had detailed articles about every important event, church or activity. According to Mrs. Ibbie Killian Shankle's article in that paper, “the first church building was used by the Methodists, Baptists and the Presbyterians. It was owned by the Presbyterians and stood just off the courthouse square from the 1840’s.”

An article on Sept. 20, 1945, stated that it had stood on the square from the 1840s “until it rotted away from disuse in 1945.” I wish that it could have told us of the activities of the Union soldiers who used it as headquarters for about two weeks in August of 1863. It was used for court after the second courthouse was condemned in 1926 and 1927. The Methodist Church worshipped there from 1925-1931, when the old church across the railroad burned until the new one was completed in 1931.

The one-half acre lot for the M.E. Church across the railroad was donated in 1887 by James A. Case. The new building was one large room, which was later subdivided to four rooms and used as a school during the week. Even though it was near the Trenton Academy, there must have been quite a few people who could not afford the tuition and thus the church made a school to meet a need.

The morning of Dec. 6, 1925, arrived with the bell having been rung and some children already in the church when the fire started. The building was old and was hard to extinguish once started. The piano, the pulpit chairs and the carbide light tank were rescued before the building was too dangerous to enter; so said the Dec. 11, 1926, Dade County Times. Sunday School and church services were held in the Presbyterian church and the new high school auditorium until another church was built.

Between 1925 and 1931 the new church was built on a lot just north of the Square which was donated by William Gross. To raise money, the church and school groups hosted socials and plays. During court week, the women of the church sold lunches from the back of Case Hardware. In the minutes of the women’s group (today called United Methodist Women and then called Ladies Aid Society) there was a nugget which said that they had raised $1500. They also sold quilt squares which then had the person's name embroidered on them. According to the minutes which Rose Moore salvaged, the quilts were then raffled and the preacher’s wife, Mrs. Tate, won them. If you visit Trenton Methodist today, you will find their handiwork hanging in the Commons area. Mrs. Tate’s daughter, Olivine, married Raymond Morrison and made Trenton her home and where she remained until the last decade. She is the reason those quilts are in the church.

Also found in the minutes was a notation about the husbands of the ladies who earned the money for the church. Those husbands bought a stained-glass window (in the back of the church) in honor of their wives who worked so hard to build a new church.

The DC Times announced the open house for the new church for May 24, 1931. Congregants continued to raise money for the next seven years. A short article in the paper on March 31, 1938, announced their plans for a celebration of the seventh anniversary on May 22. They also hoped that the indebtedness would be paid off and that they might celebrate by burning the note. They encouraged members and friends to contribute one dollar or more and join in making it a “red letter day” in the history of the church. Another treasure of the “Rose Moore rescue” is the photograph which accompanies this article. The photo is from the dinner on that day. It also shows the church with the windows open, which I have never seen, and it was before the Fellowship Hall and kitchen were built in 1956-57.

In August 1940, the church was saved by soaking quilts and placing them on the roof, when Mr. Dyer’s second and new store (opened in 1939) caught fire and burned. He replaced the wood-framed building with the brick building which today houses Gross Furniture.

One more interesting tidbit that was found since Christmas: the bell inside the belfry at Trenton Methodist Church was recycled from the Presbyterian church when it was torn down in the 40s.

I thank “Rose the Recycler” for saving papers which will allow other interested history buffs to find new tidbits about all things Dade County.

--Donna M. Street

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