Our History

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Dr. J.D. and Luella Bennett: Co-founders of Our Church

In 1883 Crystal River was a sleepy fishing and tourist village with a saw mill and an industry that made wooden crates for the shipment of oranges. The post office was maintained in the postmaster’s home, and the mail arrived by boat from Cedar Key every two weeks. The only railroad was 40 miles away. As members of the First Presbyterian Church of Crystal River, we trace our roots back to this year because this was the year that Dr. Joseph Davis Bennett arrived here in Crystal River. Dr. Bennett had made the decision to move with his family to a warm climate from Illinois because he was suffering from tuberculosis. His theory was that the warm weather would cure his disease. He chose Crystal River because it was the place “..,where pine trees grew down to the seawater.” His initial hope was that he would be able to prolong his life for a few years. Instead, his TB was cured, and he lived to be 80 years old.

He practiced medicine here and also invested in the saw mill. As a graduate of Westminster College in Baltimore, MD, Dr. Bennett was a staunch Presbyterian. His wife, Luella, also a staunch Presbyterian, was a college graduate who had a great love of music. She actually brought her grand piano with them to their new home. Perhaps this is why our church has such a rich history of good music. Both the Dr. and Mrs. Bennett were instrumental in starting our church. Mrs. Bennett began a Sunday school the first Sunday they were here in a spot under a pine tree on their property. Dr. Bennett organized gospel singing and Bible reading under a tent. Dr. Bennett encouraged the “hands” from the saw mill to attend Sunday services.

FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OF CRYSTAL RIVER

The Beginning of the First Presbyterian Church of Crystal River In 1889, a sanctuary was built. This was the first church to be built in Crystal River, and it served the Presbyterians for the next 90 years. At this time, The Earnest Workers were formed. This was a women’s society whose object was, “to secure funds to assist in buying lots for a Presbyterian Church in Crystal River and to help build and furnish the church and parsonage.” To build the church, men donated a day’s work, and men and women wrote back home for gifts. Occasionally a wealthy northerner came to vacation and fish in Crystal River and made a monetary contribution to the church.

By 1910 the Bank of Crystal River had resources of $49,336. The cedar mill had been in operation for 27 years, and the Oxford Crate Company was five years old. There were four wholesale fish dealers, an ice company, and even two prosperous turpentine farms nearby. There were both hotels and boarding houses. At this time our church had a total of 76 members.

Over its history, our church has had three manses. The first manse burned to the ground in April, 1924. The fire occurred when the Earnest Workers were on their way to their meeting. Coincidentally, the minister, Dr. Witherspoon, his wife three daughters were in the process of moving to Marvel, AL for his retirement. Their furniture was already crated up, so their losses were minimal. Unfortunately, the church records (minutes of the Session) were burned or lost.

The Struggling Church The Estey Organ Co. heard about the new congregation and offered to help with a pump organ. The church paid the company $15 and transportation for their first organ. The first Elders of the church were Mr. Nick Barco, Mr. Par-doe, Dr. Bennett, and Mr. Clifford Herrick. The congregation was still small and struggling, and for the next two years they had no permanent minister. A Dr. Wilson came on horseback from his home in central Florida two Sundays a month. On the alternate Sundays services were held by reading the Bible, reading printed sermons from local newspapers and singing hymns.. The photo below of the first church was taken in 1927.

The second manse was in what was called “Michigan Town” where many parishioners lived. It was near Hunter Springs, which is near the restored “old town” area of today. The third manse was not far from the church and had to be added onto because Rev. Newburg had a number of children and the manse space was small. This manse was sold in 1986. Our pastors have procured their own homes since that time.

 

The Struggling Church

The Estey Organ Co. heard about the new congregation and offered to help with a pump organ. The church paid the company $15 and transportation for their first organ. The first Elders of the church were Mr. Nick Barco, Mr. Par-doe, Dr. Bennett, and Mr. Clifford Herrick. The congregation was still small and struggling, and for the next two years they had no permanent minister. A Dr. Wilson came on horseback from his home in central Florida two Sundays a month. On the alternate Sundays services were held by reading the Bible, reading printed sermons from local newspapers and singing hymns.. The photo below of the first church was taken in 1927.

The second manse was in what was called “Michigan Town” where many parishioners lived. It was near Hunter Springs, which is near the restored “old town” area of today. The third manse was not far from the church and had to be added onto because Rev. Newburg had a number of children and the manse space was small. This manse was sold in 1986. Our pastors have procured their own homes since that time.

Get in touch

Location

1501 SE US HWY 19
Crystal River, FL 34429

Contact Us

Phone : (352) 795-2259

Email : admin@lifetreechurch.org

Our Hours

MON-FRI 09:00 – 19:00

SAT-SUN 10:00 – 14:00

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