Posts Tagged With: Orlando Churches

A Grand Cathedral in Downtown Orlando

Magnolia Avenue looking towards Jefferson Avenue.  Cathedral Church of St. Luke's built in the 1920's is partially covered today by the trees lining downtown's streets.

Magnolia Avenue looking towards Jefferson Avenue. Cathedral Church of St. Luke’s built in the 1920’s is partially covered today by the trees lining downtown’s streets.  Top: 1960’s Bottom: 2014

Little has changed on the corner of Jefferson and Magnolia in the last 93 years. A distinguished example of Gothic Revival architecture in downtown, the Cathedral Church of Saint Luke was built here in 1922. The architects of the Washington Cathedral designed the church for Orlando.

The history of Episcopalians in Orlando goes back 30 years earlier. Francis Eppes, the grandson of Thomas Jefferson, moved to Orlando in 1867. He arrived from Tallahassee having been one of the founders of the West Florida Seminary (later to become Florida State). The first Episcopal services in Orlando were held in his home, an estate named Pine Hill, located on Lake Pinelock.

An example of Gothic Revival Architecture

An example of Gothic Revival Architecture

By the 1870’s, services were held downtown in the “free school” building — a shared site for churches and education.

In January 1882, the Episcopal Church bought the property where today’s cathedral stands at the corner of Main Street (now Magnolia) and Jefferson Street. Francis Eppes had died the year before his church moved to a street named after his grandfather.

They built a small church on the property that needed to be enlarged two years later and again in 1892. The first building was moved by 1922 to make room for today’s Cathedral Church. The cornerstone was laid in 1925 and the first services held in the cathedral on Easter 1926. The depression quickly followed, and the economic troubles caused portions of the building to remained unfinished. After 60 years, in 1986 the church was finally completed to the original plans.

Cathedral Church of Saint Luke is one of downtown’s most impressive structures. It’s a rare link to old Orlando as a site where Episcopalians have worshipped for over 90 of their nearly 150-year history.

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The cathedral was not fully completed until 1987.  [image source]

The cathedral was not fully completed until 1987.  image source

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Since 1876: First Presbyterian Church of Orlando

Top:  First Presbyterian Church of Orlando, circa 1920-40 Bottom: Yowell Hall on Presbyterian church campus, 2014

Then & Now: Corner of Magnolia Ave and Church St
Top: First Presbyterian Church of Orlando, circa 1920-40
Bottom: Yowell Hall on the Presbyterian church campus, 2014

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.

Wooden frame sanctuary in the early 1900's

Wooden frame sanctuary in the early 1900’s

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.

From the 1914 Morning Sentinel "Visitors and strangers" were welcomed to all services.

From the 1914 Morning Sentinel “Visitors and strangers” were welcomed to all services.

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.

Today's sanctuary built in 1955

Today’s sanctuary; Built in 1955

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.”

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