Kanapaha Presbyterian Church: Rooted in History and Relevant for Today
When the Second Seminole War (1835–42) ended, land vacated by exiled Seminoles was cheap and plentiful. That factor, combined with Sea Island cotton crop failures in South Carolina, led to an influx of white settlers and cotton growers in the 1840s and 1850s into what was then known as the Arredondo Grant, much of which is in Alachua County. Among them was Thomas Evans Haile, who paid as little as one dollar an acre for some parcels of his 1500-acre plantation in 1854. He and his wife, Serena, were soon joined by his three brothers, his mother, and two of her brothers. Haile also brought fifty-six enslaved people to work the land; together they harvested the first cotton crop in 1855.
Needing spiritual guidance as well as physical sustenance, a group of planters met together in 1857 to discuss building a permanent Presbyterian church and hiring a pastor for the new congregation. The original Kanapaha (meaning “thatched roof”) Presbyterian Church structure was erected in 1859, and services were led by Reverend William J. McCormick, recruited from South Carolina. It had twelve members and two elders and served its congregants until 1885.
Through the Civil War years, the church building suffered neglect. With even the pastor joining the army as a chaplain, the church was in severe disrepair by the early 1880s. So its members decided to build a new church closer to the recently established Kanapaha railroad station. The stately structure, at its current site near Archer Road and S.W. 75th, was completed in 1886.
Karen Kirkman, president and historian for the Historic Haile Homestead and member of Kanapaha Presbyterian Church commented, “Each Sunday, we ring the original bell cast by Henry McShane & Company of Baltimore, Maryland. Thomas Haile’s youngest son, Carol, born in 1870, was the first person to ring the bell when he was sixteen. We still have the original pews and kerosene chandelier, which we light once a year on Christmas Eve.”