History of First Presbyterian Church
New Smyrna Beach, Florida
First Presbyterian’s story began in 1875. On April 18, the then Union Church, built by “donation labor” was completed. Four congregations shared ownership of the church building; Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist and Episcopalian. The location was near the present Baptist Church. We Presbyterians had seven members that year. Rev. Selleck, who guided the construction, wrote to a fellow pastor saying that, ‘It was the first Communion service of a Protestant church in this part of the land.’ The church was received by the Presbytery in May 1877 and appeared in the General Assembly Minutes, 1877-1884 as Community Church. The membership rose to an average of twelve.
By the turn of the century the church had grown to nearly 30 members and needed larger quarters. The church’s equity in the Community Church was sold for $50.00. A new building was erected on the beach side of the South Bridge. The new church building was dedicated on April 4, 1926. Bryan Memorial Bible School was approved by the Synod on November 10, 1926. It was housed in the former “The Pelican” on the beach from 1928-1931, when the building was sold to Rollins College.
In 1933 Presbytery’s committee on National Missions made a survey of the New Smyrna field and recommended that the beach site be given up and that the church be relocated across the river in the town of New Smyrna. This was done and a temporary meeting place was secured in the old City Hall at the corner of Live Oak and Lytle Streets. Eventually the space at City Hall was needed for other purposes. For a time, the church met in the Asendorf family home. Two lots were donated by Mr. and Mrs. John Berger on the corner of Magnolia Street and Anderson Street. Work on the new building began December 13, 1933. On March 11, 1934 the church building was dedicated on Magnolia Street.
Another change occurred in the fall of 1947. The congregations of the Presbyterian and the Congregational churches had become small. The churches voted to federate, to meet together and work together “that the Kingdom of God might better be served”. At that time the Presbyterian Church was a Mission Church. That is, it received aid from the Board of National Missions to help pay the Pastor’s salary. During the time of the federation we became self-supporting and no longer needed Mission aid.
When the membership in both churches became larger, the Presbyterians decided to go “home” to their own building which had been maintained while it was vacant. When a new roof had been needed the pews were sold in order to pay for the roofing. After meeting with the Presbytery the church was reactivated. On January 3, 1954 the first return service was held with the congregation sitting on borrowed chairs! Enrollment was about 41 with Sunday School at 30, representing five grades. Because we were a new church we were given a Synod Advance grant of $1,500.00 for redecoration and the furnishing of the Manse. By May of 1954 membership had grown to 90. During the Summer the membership grew again and with gifts from the congregation and a loan from the Synod an organ, new pews and the MacArthur room were dedicated November 21, 1954. More growth in the Summer of 1955, lead to the purchase of the building just north of the church which was used for Sunday School and Church Office space. In 1958, the Pastor and his wife moved from the Manse to their own home. That space became available for class rooms, Boy Scouts and storage.
In 1960, the church made plans for a larger more encompassing church building. The land had previously been purchased on Magnolia to Anderson Street, so an architect was retained and plans for the Georgian building began. Ground was broken on September 28, 1960 and the cornerstone was laid December 11, 1960. The new building was dedicated March 12, 1961. In 1967, Eubank Hall and Robinson Chapel were built. They were dedicated on March 12, 1967.
By 1981, the church was growing once again. Chairs were placed in the aisles to provide enough seating. The decision was made to build a balcony in the sanctuary. Sponsors donated money to purchase the pews and in turn brass plates were installed on them. During the construction, services were held in Eubank Hall. In 1986 a second service was added, starting at 8:30 a.m.
The church parking lot was acquired about 1970. The property just south of the parking lot, the Magnolia House, was purchased in 1990 with creative member purchased bonds and paid off quickly.
A third service was added in 1999, at 5:30pm on Sunday evenings, with contemporary music. By 2005, it move to 9:30am Sunday morning and took the place of the 8:30am Sunday morning service.
In 2015, we humbly celebrated 140 years of worshiping our Lord at First Presbyterian. God has been faithful. Harry Rhodes sums up well in his history written in 1943. He stated that we have sometimes been called the “Miracle Church,” because of being so fortunate in receiving gifts in answer to special needs.
His closing words still resonate today, ‘The growth and development of the church has been interrupted by a change of sites and of organization. At times there has been dissension… However, the church has been a means of grace to many. It has been served by able ministers of the word…former members tell of their affection for the church and happy memories of its fellowship… May the Word be always truly preached and taught as in the past and may leaders of the Lord’s own choosing be raised up to carry on the work with ever increasing power and momentum. May the Lord add daily to the New Smyrna Beach Presbyterian Church “such as should be saved”.’
For further information:
First Presbyterian Church
509 Magnolia Street
New Smyrna Beach, FL 32168
Office Phone: 386.428.2397