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Kanapaha Presbyterian Church: Rooted in History and Relevant for Today

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Much that’s known about the church’s history comes from the diary of Serena Haile. It chronicles the laying of the cornerstone, the arrival of the church bell, the dedication ceremony, and the erection of the chandelier throughout the months of 1886.

“As our website says, the beautiful redbordered stained glass windows were purchased with monies earned by selling homemade ice cream from the back of a horse-drawn buggy,” Karen explained. “They remained intact until a tragic act of vandalism in 1972 destroyed them.” She personally spent a great deal of time last year digging around the church’s foundation and managed to find bits and pieces of the original red glass.

In the later nineteenth century, the abolition of slavery, Reconstruction, and the mechanization of agriculture changed the nature of life in north central Florida, shifting it from a rural farming economy, to a city-based/industrialized one. Kanapaha Church membership was depleted in the twentieth century by the two world wars, the Great Depression, the infestation of the boll weevil on cotton crops, and the transition from rural to urban life. The church had to close its doors for a couple of years in the 1940s.

But even a ten-year shift of holding services in another facility closer to Gainesville could not extinguish the spiritual appeal of the original sanctuary. In 1970, a huge renovation project got under way to rehabilitate the structure, eradicate a bee infestation (honey was said to be flowing down the walls from the belfry), and fully refurbish the interior with carpeting, central heat and air, and new electrical wiring. In 2005, the church began a capital campaign to build a larger, more spacious fellowship hall. Memorial Hall, a 3,500 square foot building, was dedicated on June 4, 2006.

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