The First (Missionary) Baptist Church of Hardee was organized on April 18, 1920 at 4:00 PM. The church has been known for a good many years as Hardeetown Baptist Church. The organizational meeting was held in the Methodist Church in Hardee. The temporary moderator was Rev. John F. Gable, a member of the State Mission Board. The Clerk “Protem” was Mrs. H. W. Arrington. “I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord” was the first hymn to be sung.
The church covenant and the articles of faith by J. Newton Brown, D.D., Editor of Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge and the Rules of Order included in the Sunday School Board, were all adopted by the congregation.
Before the meeting was adjourned, the doors of the church were opened for the reception of new members in “any customary” manner. Mrs. W.L. Tillis came forward making the first profession of faith in the new church. Mrs. Tillis was baptized in Manatee Springs on Monday, April 19, 1920.
A preaching service was held at 8:00 PM on the day of the organization, and Rev. Gable preached the first sermon to the new congregation on “The Good Samaritan.”
The church existed from its organization until December 26, 1920, without a pastor. Other officers were elected the day following the organization of the church, however. Those first officers of the church were: Senior Deacon- John F. Digman; Deacon- Henry Lewis; Deacon- B. B. Harrison; Sunday School Super.- John F. Digman; Church Clerk- B. B. Harrison; Church Treasurer – A. E. Etheridge
The Missionary Society had already been in existence for a year with Mrs. J. S. Fagan as president.
First (Missionary) Baptist Church of Hardee called a very capable man as first pastor. On December 26, 1920, Rev. J. H. (Ham) Martin was called as pastor. The calling was somewhat unique, for it was not done in a business meeting. May I quote the church minutes, dated December 26, 1920 concerning the call of Rev. Martin. “This was done out of conference by Bro. J. F. Digman with a book and pencil by going to each member to get his or her vote.” The call was for one year. The church did not set Rev. Martin’s salary until the next March. His salary was set at “not less than $200.00 per year.”
This group may not have had much money but they did have a will to work and they did want a church building. They got all the money they could together. Then they worked and raised even more to get the building built. With the hard work and sacrificial giving of the people and some friends, especially Correne and A. O. Hardee who gave the land upon which the church stands, and a cash gift of $750. From the State Mission Board, the building that still houses the church was built. The young church was also aided greatly by the W. F. Dukes Lumber Company.
Structurally, the building exists now (1972) just as it did when it was built. There were shingles on the roof and kerosene lamps with reflectors for lighting. The church did buy a carbide light plant in 1926.
Financially, the church reported at the end of the first full year of operation, a total of $181.28 toward the operating expense of the church.
The date of the resignation of Rev. Martin is not certain. It is recorded in the minutes of August 10, 1924, that “Rev. J. H. Martin’s resignation was unanimously voted down” and that “pastor’s salary was raised from $200.00 to $300.00 or more per year.” How much longer Rev. Martin stayed is not clear.
The pastor who followed Rev. Martin was a man named Thompson. There are no records available of church activities during his pastorate. Rev. R. R. Burke was called November 7, 1926. During the tenure of Rev. Burke as pastor, the carbide light and a church bell were obtained.
Rev. Chapin was called to “serve the church” temporarily for two Sunday afternoons a month. Rev. Chapin was called to be the regular pastor October 28, 1928. The records for 1926-44 are almost non-existent; therefore, this section of the history will be sketchy. Rev. R. M. Stanley served as pastor, as did Rev. Horace McElroy during these years. Rev. McElroy served from the fall of 1933 until the fall of 1934.
Rev. J. C. Knight followed Rev. McElroy as is reported as pastor of Hardeetown in the Minutes of Harmony Baptist Association in 1936, 1937, 1938, and 1939. Rev. Knight also served three other churches in the Association at the same time. They were all quarter-time.
Rev. U. W. Rollins is listed as pastor of Hardeetown in the Association Minutes of 1940, 1941 and 1942. Rev. Rollins was ordained at Hardeetown Baptist Church on July 9, 1940. As far as can be determined, Rev. Rollins was the first pastor to be ordained at Hardeetown. The church went half-time during Rev. Rollins’ ministry.
The Associational Minutes of 1943, list as pastor of the church, Rev. T. J. Ellis. During the pastorate of Rev. Ellis, two men were ordained as Deacons. They were Bro. Tyson and Bro. Charlie McElroy.
The Annual Meeting of Harmony Baptist Association was at Hardeetown Baptist Church on October 22, 1941.
R. R. Sledge was called to pastor the church on December 5, 1941, and served until August 9, 1945. E. C. Lerch is listed as pastor in the Associational Minutes of 1946. Rev. Caines was called as pastor on November 1, 1946, and remained less than a year until October 5, 1947. The church reported its first Bible School in the 1947 Minutes of Harmony Baptist Association. The church remained without a pastor until March 28, 1948, when Rev. H. H. Long was called as pastor. He stayed little more than a year, resigning on July 3, 1949.
In September of 1949, the church called Rev. Bob Barwick, a Stetson student, as pastor. Under the leadership of Pastor Barwick, the church began to reclaim some of its vigor of pre-war day. The church voted to go full-time in October of 1951. On January 4, 1953, Albert Goss, L. H. Arrington and B. T. Etheredge were elected deacons. As the church began to grow, the people began to talk about a church pastorium. The property on which the pastorium stands was given to the church by Mr. Hogue. The men set their sails and sent to work. By the winter of 1953, the pastorium was completed. Pastor Barwick resigned in the spring of 1954 and Rev. W. K. Brown was called March 27, 1954.
Under the leadership of Rev. Brown and some of the laymen, there was an attempt to revive the Training Union which had not existed since B.Y.P.U. in the early history of the church. The church was not ready to take the necessary action and this was not accomplished until later. In September of 1954, the six-point record system was adopted for the Sunday School. Rev. Brown resigned on March 6, 1955.
The next man called to pastor the church was destined to remain longer than any other pastor had. Rev. O. B. Hayman came to be pastor May 8, 1955. The church voted to organize the Training Union on October 1, 1955. B. T. Etheredge was elected the director.
The church moved into the first new unit of Sunday School rooms on October 1, 1956. By May of 1957, the church had voted to borrow money to complete the second unit. The third unit was not completed until late 1958 or early 1959. The growth of all organizations of the church is evident in the Association Minutes. Beginning October 1, 1959 the church started Sunday School at 9:55 A. M.
K. A. Graham was ordained a deacon at Homecoming October 20, 1957.
The Annual meeting of Harmony Baptist Association was held at Hardeetown Baptist Church, October 21, 1960. Beginning early in 1960, the people began talking of remodeling the church. The matter was brought before the church on Sunday, July 17, 1960. Once again the people set to work and the work was done. Rev. Hayman resigned March 19, 1961.
Rev. Elwell Johnson served the church as interim pastor during which time the church purchased a new piano, which isnow in the worship sanctuary.
Rev. Robert Byrd was called as pastor on July 23, 1961, and came the first Sunday in September. On January 14, 1962, the church purchased the four lots from the estate of Mrs. Lillie Thomas, joining the church property and on the corner of Lucille Avenue and Second Street. Hardeetown Baptist Church is engaged in an attempt to promote a vigorous program. Work is being pushed ahead in the Sunday School, Women Missionary Union and Music Organization of the church.
Rev. Byrd resigned as pastor in February 1963, and the church was without a pastor until early 1964, at which time, Rev. W. L. Rollins was called.
On November 12, 1964, the Associational Training Union Officer’s and Leaders Conference was held at Hardeetown. Under the guidance of Rev. Rollins, the church added an assembly room for the intermediates and Young People, a church library, a baptistery in the Chapel and air-conditioning and central heat for the chapel.
On April 21, 1965, the WMU Associational meeting was held at Hardeetown. On July 19, 1965, the Associational Sunday School Meeting was held at Hardeetown. Christmas of 1965, Rev. Rollins resigned.
Rev. Henry Powell served the church as Interim Pastor during this time and at other times when he was needed.
In 1966, the church called Rev. W. L. Cooley to be their pastor. The church added to the pastorium a bedroom, bath, dinette, and a utility room. In 1967, the church purchased one-half block of land
completing the block on which the church stands. On April 9, 1967, Joe Giglia, Raymond Ward, Raymond Allen and William S. Cason were ordained as deacons. In 1968, a twelve foot by forth eight foot Educational Building was added to the north side of the other Educational Building. Rev. Cooley resigned in the summer of 1968.
Rev. Hooter was Interim Pastor until December 4, 1968, when Rev. Jack L. Steward was called. He remained less than a year until he resigned on July 13, 1969.
The church then called Rev. Glen Lawhon, In September 1969, who continued efforts to build a new church building that was begun by Rev. Cooley. Work was begun on a Constitution and By-Laws, which were adopted in 1971. Under the guidance of Rev. Lawhon, the church is nearing its dream of a new church building. Everything is now ready with the bonds being printed and should be on sale December 1, 1972.
In 1969, the pastorium was air-conditioned with window units and in 1970, acarport and outside utility room was added. The church’s dream of a Bus Ministry came true in January 1970, when the first bus was purchased. A second bus was purchased in May 1972, and under the guidance of Sammy Cason, this program has reached many souls for Christ. The nursery was remodeled and air-conditioned in April 1970. In 1971, one of the Sunday School rooms was converted into an office for the pastor, and another room converted into a library. One wall was removed in 1971, between two Sunday School rooms because of the increase of the 12-14 age groups.
In August 1971, after a youth-led revival, the youths of the church formed a group (Tell It Like It Is). In October 1971, Mrs. Norma Hutson was elected Youth Director. Many decisions for Christ have been made through this group’s actions, here and at other churches. On September 12, 1971 Tommy George was granted a license to preach. On September 16, 1971, Charles King was granted a license to preach. On September 27, 1971, Fred Barton, a member of this church, was ordained to the ministry. The budget for year 1972, is $22,000.00, an all-time high. Present membership is 320. There has been many spiritual changes to the Glory of God seen in this church. Our continued prayer is that work for the Glory of God will be continued through the Hardeetown Baptist Church for many years to come.
This story is a continuation of the History of Hardeetown Baptist Church that Rev. Robert O. Byrd began while he was pastor in 1962. And, this is the prayer that Rev. Byrd wrote at that time, “I pray that God can use this manuscript to warm your hearts with memories of days gone by and the challenge of days yet to come” .
In 1972, Bonds were printed and by April 1973, Bonds were sold and on April 25, 1973 a Ground breaking Ceremony was held. Work was started on the new sanctuary, with Brother Larry Dodson as Supervisor, then Brother Albert Goss continued and finished the building, except for the front of the Church and Bell Tower sign. The first service was held in the new building in November 1975.
In January 1975, Brother Lawhon resigned, during which time, an all-time budget of 31,500.00 was made and a new sanctuary started and finished, and a newsletter was begun. Many people, businesses and friends, gave generously of their time, work, money and materials to continue the work of the Lord.
The first funeral in the new sanctuary was Mrs. Alberta Arrington, First Baptism, Mrs. Alma Deas, and the First Wedding, David Gore and Karen Cannon.
In February 1975, Brother Henry Powell was called as interim pastor while a search for a new pastor began.
On June 8, 1975, Brother J. D. Hyatt was called as pastor. Under his leadership, Church furniture was purchased, the old sanctuary was turned into a fellowship hall, the recreation area was fenced in, and Choir robes were purchased. On January 11, 1976, three men, Brother John Gillispie, Brother John Webster, and Brother Don Alday were ordained as Deacons.
On January 9, 1977, Brother J. D. Hyatt resigned as pastor.
In January, 1977, Brother C. A. Lundy accepted the call for Interim Pastor and on March 17, 1977, he accepted the call for full-time Pastor. Under his guidance, the furniture has been paid for and the front of the church finished and paid for and a lawnmower was purchased. The Church has given a total sum of $800.00 to members, and others in need in our community.
Gospel Sings are a monthly occurrence and the budget for this year is $35,000.00.
The Church has paid off a loan from the Florida Baptist Convention this past year. We also bought the Pastor tires for his car and a hearing aide for the Pastor.
At this time, October 1978, we have as Charter Members: Mrs. Ida Etheredge, Mrs. Irvie Etheredge Hayes, MrsEthel Jones Wismer, Mrs. Irma Jones Hardee, and Mrs. Gertrude Dykes Locke.
This story is a continuation of the History of Hardeetown Baptist Church that Rev. Robert O. Byrd began while he was pastor in 1962. And, this is the prayer that Rev. Byrd wrote at that time, “I pray that God can use this manuscript to warm your hearts with memories of days gone by and the challenge of days yet to come”