By Kristin Finney
Greene Publishing, Inc.
With help from Jean McWilliams
Many years ago, 176 to be exact, two men began what was known then as Hickstown Baptist Church. Presently this church is known as the First Baptist Church of Madison and it stands as a monument of the history of Madison County.
The two men responsible for this historic church were Alexander Mosley and Richard Johnson Mays. The church was named after an Indian Chief Tokose Emathala; his English name was John Hicks, in honor of his kindness to the white settlers. The Indian chief was driven out of Leon County and came to an area between Madison and Greenville, which became known as Hickstown. Hickstown Baptist was founded in 1835.
The earliest known pastor of Hickstown Baptist was W.B. Cooper in 1838. Cooper traveled to Florida from South Carolina in search of a cure for health problems. During Cooper’s term as pastor, Hickstown Baptist built their first formal meetinghouse. This occurred in 1840. Along with placing the formal meetinghouse, there was also a small cemetery built on the property. According the Jean McWilliams historical presentation on First Baptist and local legend, some of the gravesites would have been located under what is presently the baptistery, pulpit and choir area of the church.
When the county seat was moved to Madison the county commissioners decided that the three main Protestant denominations, Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian, should be set aside their own full block. This block was and remains named Meeting Street. Though First Baptist is the only one of these churches that is still located on it’s original property.
Following the leave of W.B. Cooper, Elder Henry Z. Ardis became the pastor of Hickstown. He served as pastor from 1843-1867, the longest pastoral term in First Baptist history. It is also believed that, since his time served was during the Civil War, he along with many other members of the church probably aided wounded soldiers from the battle of Olustee. In 1850 the name of the church was changed to The Madison Baptist Church.
In 1895, Rev. Stephen Crockett came to Madison. It was during his time as pastor, in 1898, a beautiful and well-designed building replaced the older and simpler meetinghouse. Today this building is known as the 1898 Sanctuary. Also during his time as pastor church that membership grew over fifty percent, Madison Baptist Church hosted the annual Florida Baptist Convention and he also helped design the 1898 sanctuary.
In 1953, Pastor James T. Barber came to Madison Baptist Church and helped to lead to the building of the new 1956 Building. It was also during his time as pastor that the name was changed to First Baptist Church, Madison, Fla.
The history of the First Baptist church of Madison stretches on and on. Each beautiful stained glass window is in honor of families and individuals whom were important to the formation of the church. The 1898 Sanctuary still remains on the church’s property. Though, on multiple occasions there has been talk of selling or demolishing it. According to McWilliams’s studies, Disney World even thought about purchasing the building at one time.
But through the test of time, First Baptist Church of Madison remains a monument in the city of Madison. In the center of town, it is often referred to as The Heart of Madison. When one enters into the 1898 Sanctuary or even the 1956 present Sanctuary, they will be overcome by the history found within the walls. Every painting, piano, pew, crack in the pew and light has a story behind it. Everything within the walls of the First Baptist Church of Madison has some form of historical value.
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By Kristin Finney