Stop 69: The 1886 Saint Paul Missionary Baptist Church
St. Paul’s Missionary Baptist Church at 14518 7th Street, Dade City was founded in 1886 on a small piece of land that Washington Irving Porter donated. It was first led by Henry Williams and the small wooden structure served the congregation for 34 years. Later a parsonage was built from the original church and a baptismal pool was added.
The red brick church of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church is on the corner of 7th Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard, and was built in 1919, and subsequently dedicated on January 1, 1920 by Pastor C.J. Smith. The church used a baptismal pond that was one-half mile from the church. The pond that was owned by Dade City, was dredged and cleaned out for a city park in 1988. It was tradition for those to be baptized to walk in white robes with towels wrapped around their head to the pond, singing. When the pond became too mucky, the church turned to a baptismal tank built inside the church.
In 2012, the congregation recognized a need for expansion and enlargement. They conducted fundraising efforts and earned the handsome sum of $235,000.
Dr. Robert Judson of Pasco Hernando State College was instrumental in the leadership during the fundraising. Pastor Nathaniel Sims and Judson worked with Randy Watson Designs and hired local tradesman including a general contractor, Dennis Emmanuel.
Frank Bessenger who was then chairman of the Dade City Historic Preservation Advisory Board praised the renovation efforts which maintained the historical demeanor and character of the church building. The preservation board originated the board with the city of Dade City in 1983 with an ordinance that stated the purpose was:
“To promote the educational, cultural, and economic welfare of the citizens; to strengthen the economic integrity of the city and to preserve property value and encourage new buildings, art works, and development in accordance with the character of the historic environment.”
A particular obstacle in the project was the exquisite 12 by 12 leaded glass windows, and a manner to preserve them during renovation. Pastor Sims came up with a plan to move the panels for use on the entrance doors.
The expansion added two classrooms, two offices, and an elevated baptistry platform. The more open concept at the pulpit area was pleasing and they were able to maintain the bell tower, elegant archways, and carved wooden pews.