First Baptist Church, Winter Garden, was conceived in the mind of God and in the hearts of Rev. J. A. Richardson and a group of nine baptized believers. They were:
J. A. Richardson, pastor
J. W. Kelley, treasurer R. J. Biglow, clerk
Solomon Seegar, deacon J. M. Nunn, deacon
Margaret Kelley Galena Guyman
Mollie T. Swann Jennie Perkins
Ellen C. Vining
The church met together for the first time on August 26, 1888. The new church was made up of a very small body of souls, but on that date sufficient power was given to enable it to send its light down through the ages for over 100 years of steady growth.
An ordination service for the deacons was held six months later, on the third Sunday in February, 1889.
At the second meeting of the church, September 16, 1888, the church adopted a Declaration of Faith, the Church Covenant, and the Rules of Order, copies of which were placed thirty-three years later in the cornerstone of our current building.
In the beginning, services were held only once a month. In 1913, under the pastorate of D. J. Blocker, services began being held twice a month, and, finally, in 1921, weekly church was begun.
Sunday school was started in 1890 with an enrollment of nine people. Mr. J. W. F. Bray was the superintendent, Mr. J. L. Dillard was the secretary, and George Swann was the only teacher. At that time, Sunday school did not seem to hold large value in the minds of the older people of the church because, in keeping with the general trend of that day, it was felt Sunday school was for children of secular school age. In 1910 the church began to keep records Sunday school was expanded to include adults.
On October 26, 1888, the first revival meeting began. God blessed the effort with seven conversions and one addition by letter. The first baptismal service was held at Lake Primer Vista on Sunday, November 11, 1888. Thus the church began in its infancy in fulfilling her chief task—making disciples and baptizing new believers.
The young church made its first home in Ocoee, two miles from where it is presently located. God seemed to have ordained that it should not remain there, however, because several unsuccessful efforts were made to secure property to begin a building. In 1896 Bro. J. L. Dillard offered the church an attractive lot and $250 if they would move to Winter Garden. The church felt that God was in the offer and, therefore, it was accepted. Soon afterwards, on the fourth Sunday of August, 1896, a newly erected building was dedicated.
At the time the church was moved, the membership totaled 19 members. They felt they received confirmation of God’s desire that the church move when the membership began to immediately grow and the building had to be enlarged in 1909.
On September 12, 1909, the church elected as its first trustees W. L. Story, J. H. Cooper, and A. W. Hurley, all men who served our church in a variety of capacities for a number of years.
As the work of the church progressed, growth continued. In 1921 Dr. C. W. Duke, the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Tampa, Florida, was invited to conduct a revival here. Many souls were saved during those meetings and the entire church membership was revived. The church was impressed with the need for a new building, and the fruitful efforts of the revival meeting seemed to stir them to action. The following resolution was adopted on May 28, 1921:
“Resolved that we proceed at once to start a campaign to raise funds for the purpose of erecting a new, adequate house of worship.”
On May 30, 1921, only two days after the adoption of the above resolution, a total of $75,000 had been pledged toward the erection of the new building. Again Bro. J. L. Dillard donated the site and the cornerstone was laid in 1922.
Even though it was not entirely complete, the first services were held in the new building on September 30, 1923. A Pilcher pipe organ was installed, at a cost of $13,000, and the building itself represented an expenditure of approximately $150,000.
Records reveal that in the twelve years before the building was started there were 65 additions to the church by baptism. In the same period, $18,783 was raised for all causes. During the twelve years following the beginning of the building, there were 371 additions by baptism, with $228,371 given through the church.
During the pastorate of D. F. Sebastian, the church began using its new facilities with only the auditorium completed. The basement and educational space were still without wall partitions and plaster finish. The boom years of the early 1920’s soon turned into depression years, and the church struggled to maintain her ministry and missionary tasks. However, all notes of indebtedness were paid when they came due, while other churches in Florida suffered terrible loss during these years.
In the Golden Jubilee, a short history of our church written in 1938, it is noted: “It may be well to mention here that our finances are in splendid condition despite the “depression.” For the past two years we have had tithing taught, with no canvass or pledges made for sums other than the tithe. Many members have become tithers, and found the joy that only one can know when he obeys God’s word regarding his money. Through this plan our needs have been met, and the church is getting along about the best financially that it has in its history. Surely God will bless the church, and individual, who obeys Him.”
In the later 1930’s, after the nation’s economy had improved, the church reached out under the ministry of E. J. Daniels. A bus was purchased for transporting people to the church services from neighboring areas, a service which continued until the late 1980’s. In addition, our first church paper—The Golden Rule Advocate—was published and sent to hundreds of homes in the Winter Garden area.
Another outstanding accomplishment during these years was the construction of a pastorium at 31 East Newell Street, one block north of the church. It was built in 1939 and appraised then at $5,500. It was enlarged and renovated in 1957 at a cost of $4,000. In 1968 the church sold the pastorium on Newell Street and built a new one on the corner of Main Street and Division Street. That pastorium was later sold and our pastors now own their own homes.
Under the leadership of Rev. Albert A. Stulck, the entire church plant, basement and educational space were completed. One of the highlights of his ministry was the dedication of the entire church building—debt free—on June 13, 1942.
A former pastor, D. F. Sebastian, who was present for the dedication service, wrote a descriptive article for the Florida Baptist Witness. Here is a brief excerpt from his article:
“This is one of the best constructed and most beautiful Baptist meeting houses in Florida. Constructed of the finest bricks and Bedford stone, columns 24 feet high gracing the entrances, hardwood floors, opera chairs in the double balcony, the best modern pews in the auditorium, a $12,000.00 pipe organ, beautiful art-glass windows with no memorials, pictures or images, 85 feet from the basement floor to the top of the dome, situated in the center of a city block, surrounded by well-arranged palms, shrubbery, and large oaks, it is a thing of beauty and grandeur.”
“At a total cost of about $160,000.00, the building was declared free of all debts with a surplus of $3,100.00 in the treasury for repairs and redecoration. The pastor and deacons gathered on the platform and with joy and triumph burned the notes and mortgages (good Baptist incense.)”
During the war years, in 1944, the church pastorium was paid for, and, later, the auditorium was redecorated and acoustical tile placed in the ceiling.
In 1967 an elevator was installed which serviced the basement and the first and second floors. The cost was $22,172. In 1974 the elevator was extended to reach to the third floor, at a cost of $12,850.
In 1978 construction began on the A.A. Stulck Education Building (Building B).
In 1980 an activity building was constructed but was later torn down in 1987 in order to make room for our $35,000 Building C, which includes additional classroom space.
In addition to the above-mentioned buildings, several other properties have been purchased in our neighborhood. These include the Winter Garden Depot parking lot, the old telephone company building, and several homes. In fact, our facilities have become so large that part of Agnes Street was closed in order to accommodate the growth.
On Sunday, April 24, 1994, the church celebrated the additions of our Christian Life Center as well as Building D, which houses additional classrooms. The cost of these buildings was $2.3 million, and they were paid off in 2000.
In June of 2005 the church purchased the house across the street at 72 North Woodland Street and renamed it The Blessing House. Its purpose is to minister to visiting pastors by allowing them to stay in our area without charge. The house is now used as a staff residence.
Bethel Baptist Mission (Park Avenue Baptist Church)—during the early 1950’s the church took her first steps in organizing local mission stations. On January 7, 1952, the Bethel Baptist Mission was organized on Jackson Street in the Burch Subdivision of Winter Garden. By 1959 the mission needed more space for future growth and in March of that year the church purchased two lots on the corner of Park Avenue and Jackson Street at a cost of $7,000. The lots contained two old buildings, which were used for a time as Sunday school space. It was at this time that the name of the mission was changed to Park Avenue Baptist Chapel.
In April, 1960, plans were begun to construct a new educational unit containing an auditorium. The building was completed in November, 1962, at a cost of $8,000.
On January 7, 1962, exactly ten years since its origin as a mission, Park Avenue Baptist Church was constituted. First Baptist granted 349 letters to the new church for its charter members.
On May 14, 1997, at a regular business meeting, the congregation of the Park Avenue Baptist Church voted to disband the church and to return the property to First Baptist Church of Winter Garden. Through God’s leading, the church was reopened, this time as a Spanish mission. The church was named Iglesia Bautista de Park Avenue and was later renamed Iglesia Bautista Maranata. However, the church did not thrive and in 2001 the property was sold to Chief Cornerstone Love Outreach Center.
Oak Level Baptist Church—on Sunday, May 18, 1952, services were held for the first time in the Oak Level area under the oak trees on the property of T. M. Ward, north of Ocoee. Thus began the Oak Level Baptist Mission. In February, 1958, the church purchased three lots adjoining the Oak Level Mission at a cost of $600. They were to be used for a future pastorium. In March, 1958, construction began on an educational unit to be joined to the present buildings. This new unit was dedicated on February 22, 1959. Then in April, 1959, the church voted to build a pastorium for the Oak Level Mission at a cost of $9,500. Thus, after providing for anticipated needs, the church made plans to constitute the Oak Level Mission into a self-governing church. The organization took place on September 25, 1960. First Baptist paid three years worth of notes on the newly- constructed pastorium and the letters of 134 people were granted to the new church at the time of its organization.
Starke Lake Baptist Church—in February, 1958, First Baptist Church assumed sponsorship of the Starke Lake Baptist Mission, which had been started by the Beulah Baptist Church of Winter Garden. The Starke Lake Mission, located in Ocoee, had a small building and had been functioning as a mission for two and one-half years when First Baptist assumed sponsorship and their $1,000 indebtedness to the State Revolving Fund.
In October, 1958, a second and larger building was erected at a cost of $8,000, with floor space of 3,200 square feet. On March 1, 1959, the Starke Lake Mission became a fully constituted church, with 107 charter members.
Windermere Baptist Chapel—in 1959, two and one-half lots were purchased on the main street of Windermere, Florida, at a cost of $4,750. First Baptist began holding services in the Windermere area on March 19, 1961, in the Redi-Market building, which was leased and renovated. First Baptist, Winter Garden’s, pastor, Rev. Fred Williams, preached at the mission in regular Sunday afternoon services until full-time work was started in May of 1961.
The church voted to erect a brick mission building on the lots in Windermere on February 15, 1962. The building was started in May, 1962, and completed in September, 1962. The mission was organized as a church on September 10, 1967.
Centro Cristiano Luz y Esperanza—on Father’s Day in 2006, this church held its first service on our campus. Pastor Patricio Bravo, originally from Ecuador, South America, was living in California when he felt God moving in his heart to come to Central Florida to begin a church. That call was later sharpened and Pastor Bravo knew his mission field was to be the Winter Garden area. His church originally met in our modular building but rapidly outgrew it and they now have moved into their own building. The church currently has three mission churches of its own – one in California, one in Mexico and a new one in east Orlando.
The First Institutional Church Family of Winter Garden, Florida—in 2007, Anthony Brown, an 18-year-old young man, along with his elder, Dr. Ralph Burley, showed up at Pastor Larry Braswell’s office. Pastor Brown felt called by God to start a church in the Winter Garden area and Dr. Burley came alongside him as his mentor. They needed a place to meet and GOBA suggested they contact our church. Thus began our relationship with them. They met on this site for several months but now are on their own.
New Journey Baptist Church—in 2008 a group of people met with our Global Missions Team and asked to use our facilities to start a church that is a mission church of Kingsway Baptist Church in Orlando. Permission was granted and they were given space in our two-story Hosanna House for a few years. They have now purchased their own building. Their pastor is Rev. James Monroe and they also are a thriving church.
In 1958 a church kindergarten committee was elected and Mrs. L. C. Clements was secured to direct our first kindergarten. Approximately 45 children were taught in the school the first year. The pre-kindergarten and kindergarten continued to grow and in 1984 the church voted to expand to include an elementary school. Mrs. Jan Bradford was chosen to be the elementary director and teacher. Mrs. Bradford taught a combined class of first and second graders and Mrs. Ann Jernigan was hired as the third grade teacher. The elementary school had 30 students the first year.
In 1987 the church voted to enlarge the Activities Building to accommodate the increasing enrollment of the school and kindergarten. A beautiful new building was built and was ready for the 1987-88 school year. There were nine new classrooms, a new library and a teachers’ workroom. The classes now included middle school. Later the church voted to expand the school to also include high school.
In 2000 Foundation Academy was incorporated and in May, 2001, 77 acres of land was purchased on Tilden Road at a cost of $1.6 million. By the grace of God, the property was completely paid off by the time it was closed on. The gym is now the site of our third worship service, Foundation Worship.
Ball fields on the property were completed in 2005 and by the time the school was built, they were already being used by Windermere Little League, as well as by Foundation Academy’s baseball team.
Groundbreaking ceremonies for the new campus took place on January 27, 2007, during the school’s Weekend to Roar event.
The buildings for the new campus were constructed at Royal Concrete Concepts in West Palm Beach, Florida, and transported to the school site by flatbed truck
s. Starting on June 26 and ending on July 2, the entire facility was transported and set in place.
The finishing of the first two buildings (the administrative building and high school classrooms) took another three months and the high school moved in on October 29, 2007. The cost of the two pre-constructed buildings, along with site preparation, was approximately $7 million.
The multi-purpose gymnasium was begun in October of 2007 and opened in May of 2008.
An note of interest—After the classrooms were set in place but before the final coating was put on the buildings, church and school families covered the outside walls with Scripture. Our Foundation Academy students are literally surrounded by the Word of God as they sit in their classrooms.
Currently the elementary and preschool school continues to meet at the 125 East Plant Street address, where the church staff is blessed by their joy and enthusiasm.