Stop 31: The 1891 Saint Mary’s Episcopal Church
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church at 37637 Magnolia Avenue is 132 years old as of 2023. The third oldest parish in the Diocese of Southwest Florida, in 1891, citrus grower, Henry D. Harrison deeded a small tract of land west of Lake Pasadena near Handcart Road, southwest of Dade City to the Protestant Episcopal Church. On October 10, 1891, the first Eucharist service was celebrated in the church structure with 40 parishioners in attendance and Archdeacon J.H. Weddell officiated. After a freeze in 1895, and subsequent economic disruption to the local economy and particularly Lake Pasadena, the St. Mary’s Mission fell into disuse.
Arrangements were made in 1909 to move part of the church building from Lake Pasadena to its current location in Dade City. The expense of the move by wagons and mule train and subsequent renovation cost $895 which was paid by fifteen people, eight of whom were members of St. Mary’s Mission.
In 1938, the stone edifice of “Parish Hall” was built and dedicated as Leach Hall in 1950 in honor of Father Barnaby H. Leach, and served as a church office until remodeling in 2001. Leach Hall now serves as the sacristy. The vestry approved plans in 1948 to build a rectory north of the church with native stone used in the construction, which was subsequently dedicated as Bamford Hall and now serves as practice and storage area for the adult and youth choir. In October of 2016, St. Mary’s celebrated the 125th anniversary.
The historical plaque on the building states:
“The Reverend James Neville-Thompson was ordained there in 1892. After the ‘great freeze’ in 1895, the building fell into disuse while remnants of the congregation held services at the Lock home in Dade City. In 1909 the structure was moved to its present location on Magnolia Avenue by mule train. The sacristy was added in 1921, the chancel in 1927, and the body of the church was enlarged in 1975.”
One of the oldest churches in all of Pasco County, it is considered Tropical Gothic Architecture. The church office building construction of native rock incorporates stained glass windows from the Episcopal Church in Thonotosassa dating from about 1886.