Very few organizations in Orlando date back to the 1800s. Many of the ones that do are places of worship. Several local churches’ roots date back to the years between the Civil War and Grover Cleveland’s presidency. The Orlando churches on the 100+ year list include St. Luke’s Cathedral (1892), First Baptist (1856), United First Methodist (1859), St. James Cathedral (1885), Mount Zion Missionary Baptist (1880), and First Presbyterian (1876) pictured above.
In the 1870’s local school was held during the week and several churches met on Sundays in a facility called the “free school” or “free church” building. This is where 11 Presbyterians began meeting in 1876, before building their first church on Central Avenue around 1884. About 5 years later, the new church was lost to a fire. The displaced church group met in the county courthouse and at the opera house for a few years.
With over 100 members, they bought land and built a new sanctuary at the corner of Church and Main (now Magnolia) in 1889. Now 125 years later, they are on the same property.
As Orlando grow, the wooden sanctuary needed to grow. They remodeled and added stucco to the structure in 1915. Within 40 years, the congregation again outgrew their space. A new sanctuary opened facing Church Street in 1955, which stands today.
The church built Yowell Hall on the spot of the original 1889 building. The hall is named for Newton Yowell. Mr. Yowell was an important business figure in early Orlando. He grew his dry goods store into the 4-story department store at 1 South Orange Ave in the Yowell-Duckworth Building. Later he served on the boards of Rollins College and Orange Memorial Hospital. Mr. Yowell taught the young men’s class for over 40 years at the First Presbyterian.
The church website sums up their history nicely, “Our church family has seen it all: trains cut through Florida’s jungle, miles of orange groves, the opening of Disney World, and now the advent of SunRail (back to trains!). Things may change, but the Word of God endures for ever.”
- From Florida Sand to “The City Beautiful” : A Historical Record of Orlando, Florida; 1951 by E.H. Gore
- First Presbyterian Church of Orlando website
- Historic Orlando Facebook Group
- Morning Sentinel, November 22, 1914