John Willoughby: Greene Publishing, Inc.
Picture if you will. The year is 1835, and Florida statehood had not yet been established. The Civil War had yet to take place, and Andrew Jackson was President of the United States, the country that was soon to be 60 years old.
More locally, Alexander Mosley and Richard Johnson Mays, over a steady group of Missionary Baptists, led an organization that is now known as Madison First Baptist Church. Mays, who was a native of South Carolina, not only played a part in creating the church, but also bought the first 160 acres of land for the formation of the town of Madison in 1838.
According to a presentation by Jean McWilliams, a member of First Baptist Church (FBC), FBC’s original name, Hickstown Baptist Church was the first name of the constituted organization. Hickstown came from a Miccosukee Indian Chief, named Tokose Emathala, whose English name was John Hicks. Hicks was driven from the shores of Lake Miccosukee, in Leon County, in 1825, by Andrew Jackson and settled in the area between Madison and Greenville.
There was plenty of resentment between the Indians and the settlers, but due to the friendly nature of Hicks to the settlers in the Madison area, the settlers honored him by naming the church after him.
The first pastor of FBC was William B. Cooper, who – like Mays – was a native of South Carolina. In 1840, the first meeting building was built. More likely a very plain, one-room building. One year earlier, in 1839, the county seat of Madison County was moved to Madison, and the county commissioners at the time set aside a full block for each of the three predominant Protestant denominations: Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian.
These churches were all on the same street, which was called Meeting St. (now called Meeting Ave.), where only the First Baptist Church stands today at the Corner of Meeting Ave. and Base St., in Madison.
In 1843, Elder Henry Ardis became the longest pastorate on record for FBC, serving for 24 years until 1867. Ardis, who pastored through the Civil War and the early days of reconstruction, undoubtedly ministered to the wounded from the Battle of Olustee. It was during Ardis’ time as pastor that he renamed Hickstown Baptist Church to The Madison Baptist Church, in 1850.
After the Civil War, a more beautiful building replaced the small, wooden shack. E.B. Browning, Sr., presented a sketch, which was given to him by an older resident; a sketch representing the building that was of a gothic and Queen Anne style. The building faced east, was rather long and was a wood-constructed building, painted white. Having a traditional steeple and a bell, the building was finally in commission in 1898.
Rev. Stephen Crockett, who led the construction of the “Old Baptist Church,” came to Madison Baptist Church in 1895. Crockett was a native Englishman who is remembered for his effort to build the 1898 white wood building that currently sits behind the newer structure.
According to the presentation, Crockett had considerable skills in building and had a clear idea of what he wanted the new church building to be like. Though the church’s architectural aspects do not follow the traditional and simple lines of religious architecture of the day, it was very innovative in style, shape and decoration.
Many of the stained glass windows are currently under repair, but almost every stained glass window was honoring, remembering or was dedicated by a certain member of the church. Those members being: Rachel V. Parramore, John M. Beggs, Amanda C. Hardee, James B. Hardee, T.L. Whitlock, Jane Olive Mays, Sallie Livingston and Mrs. B.F. Mosley, just to name a few. To the right of the pulpit, one stained glass window was given in honor of Rev. Crockett, by his first American pastorate in Fairmont, Il.
In the baptistry, next to the pipe organ, there was a window. According to an account by Jargo Clark, who was on the building committee of the new church in 1956: “When they started planning for the new building, they took the architect and the contractor to the 1898 church building and showed him a beautiful window behind the baptistry, which depicts the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist,” said Clark. That window was given in 1942 in memory of Jim Hardee by his sisters. The building committee had the window moved into the new church, and it is now the focal point of the sanctuary.
Speaking of the pipe organ, the instrument was a center piece in the 1898 church building. The pipe organ was acquired with the assistance of the Carnegie Foundation and is one of the oldest of its kind still in use today. Originally, it was manually pumped. The story is that when Sister Anna Stanton struck the keys for the invitation song, nothing happened. There was no sound. The congregation stood in silence until a young boy, who was in charge of tending to the bellows, could be awakened and get the bellows inflated. When electricity came to Madison, the assistance was no longer needed, and the organ converted from a pump organ to an electric system. This was also the time when a beautiful chandelier was installed into the sanctuary.
One of the noticeable characteristics about the pipe organ was the designs on the pipes of the organ. The intricate patterns were etched by Rev. W.G. Stracener, who personally cut the stencils and etched each reed with great care and skill. Under the guidance of Willie Clare Copeland, who was also the historian and custodian of the church, the organ was completely restored in 1989.
In 1956, construction on the present brick church building began and was completed in 1957, under the pastoral leadership of Rev. James Barber and the leadership of the building committee, which included: Clark, Van H. Priest, Ernest Page Jr., W.C. Copeland Jr., and Buford Selman. Nearly twenty years later, under the leadership of Rev. Eddie Humes, the present educational building was erected by remodeling and adding to the existing educational building. On Nov. 14, 1978, the 1898 church building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
According to the record books, church membership was at 25 in 1845. As of 2012, the membership was recorded at 465. Since then, 21 new members have been received, possibly more.
With the account of Jean McWilliams, through the time of war and peace, through times of depression and boom, major and minor upheavals within the church body, this Church – the body of believers at Madison First Baptist Church – for 178 years, has stood firm on the foundation of the Word of God and His salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ.