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Vanishing churches

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By Toni C. Collins, Levy County Historian

In the wooded farmlands west of Williston stands, neglected and forgotten, an abandoned country church. Like a monument to the county’s rich historical past, this church is a silent sentinel and reminder of when our churches were the heart of community life.
In days gone by, the tiny church houses were the center of life and death, where revivals, baptisms, weddings, Sunday school classes and funerals were held. But all country churches had a common thread, a warm homey feeling about them.
Most of the old wooden churches were built from locally cut and sawn lumber and erected by the hands of members of the congregation. There would be a watering trough close by to water the horses and mules and an outhouse could be found somewhere in the churchyard.
Pictured is the Verbena Dale Presbyterian Church located two miles northwest of Williston and one-half mile north of US 27 Alt. Services were held in the white, rectangular, meetinghouse-type frame building from 1923 until 1938. The church had a bell and was formerly utilized as a school house. The building and land were donated to the domination by Mr. Duncan Abercrombie.
The first settled pastor who served from 1923 to 1926 was the Rev. I. Phillips from the Southern Union Seminary in Richmond, Va. The last pastor was Rev. Billie Mathews from the University of Florida, Gainesville who served from 1937 until 1938. Both Rev. Phillips and Rev. Mathews shared their services with the Williston Presbyterian Church and Rev. Mathews also served the Raleigh Presbyterian Church.
Very frequently, the church was among the first structure to be erected when an area was settled and the last to be abandoned when a community died.
The remaining rural church buildings are the cultural anchors of years past and deserve to be salvaged, not torn down or burned.