Two Historic Monuments Unveiled in Alachua Help Preserve Important Church Community
Janet Malphurs, 63, grew up on Old Bellamy Road in Alachua. She remembers celebrating Christmas, Easter and other holidays on the lawn of Spring Hill United Methodist Church as a young girl.
She is still an active member of the church and said her family has been involved with it for as long as she can remember. But few young people are involved in Spring Hill and most of its congregation is 50 or older. As a result, she feared it would soon be forgotten.
“We don’t want this church to die,” Malphurs said.
The Alachua County Historical Commission on Sunday unveiled two new historical markers in the town of Alachua, one commemorating the history of Spring Hill and Old Bellamy and the other commemorating William Henry Traxler Jr., late 19th and early 20th century store owner. Both counters total 70 in Alachua County.
These historical markers will protect the church from oblivion and preserve the story of William Henry Traxler, Jr, whose store was vital to “building up commerce and establishing credit,” according to the marker.
Old Bellamy Road was Florida’s first federal highway. It was commissioned in 1824 and completed in 1826 by John Bellamy, a plantation owner from Monticello, who used slave labor to help build part of it.
The road was wide to accommodate railcars traveling east to west and connected Pensacola to St. Augustine with Tallahassee, the capital, as the midpoint. It now stretches from Columbia County to Alachua County.
The original path wound around a lot of rough terrain. Tree stumps cleared to build the road were cut to within a foot of the ground. Frequently, wagons would hit these stumps due to height inconsistencies, which would shake the wagons. This is how the road earned its infamous nickname: “Stump-Knocker”.
To be considered a Florida landmark, “a building, structure, or site must be at least 50 years old and of regional or national significance in the fields of architecture, archaeology, Florida history or traditional culture, or be associated with an event of national or national significance that took place at least 50 years ago,” according to the Florida Division of Historic Resources.
To be considered for a marker, a landmark needs a sponsor to submit an entry. The sponsor researches the site to see if it has any historical significance and writes the marker text before submitting it.
Once submitted, applications are reviewed by the State Historical Marker Council. The board may suggest a change to the tag text. The Office of Historic Preservation will notify the applicant of the changes so that the text can be finalized.
Carolyn Traxler Testrake, 84, sponsored the two new scorers. She is the granddaughter of William Henry Traxler Jr. She stood beside a table covered with photos and books of her family’s history at the event and was thrilled to see Traxler’s name commemorated at the alongside the family who came from out of state to witness the unveiling. Testrake wants the markers to remind people of his grandfather’s influence and the resilience of the church over time.
“I did this to help us remember what’s here and what’s not there anymore,” Testrake said. She wants the markers to be a reminder of how the church has persevered over time and that even though William Henry Traxler Jr. is dead, his memory will not be forgotten.
William Henry Traxler Jr., born in 1857, was the son of former slavers and pioneers. In 1879 he purchased 360 acres of land on Old Bellamy Road and built a general store. He was also president of the First National Bank in Alachua until his death in 1928.
The introduction to the dedication ceremony was led by James Richardson, the pastor of Spring Hill. Richardson has a deep love for the church and has pastored there for more than a decade.
“Spring Hill’s history is ultimately responsible for our presence here today,” he said.
He told the dozens of people seated on lawn chairs outside the church about the rich history of Spring Hill United Methodist Church, including that the pews in the church are handcrafted originals by slaves. According to the marker, the original church had two front doors for whites and a rear door for slaves.
Spring Hill United Methodist Church has been around since 1860 and was built by local Methodists. The land was purchased by five men for a total of $50, according to the marker. During the Cedar Keys hurricane in 1896, the church was badly damaged and had to be repaired. In 1915 the church was completely rebuilt but still contained the original pews and organ which still remain.
Alachua County Commission Chair Marihelen Wheeler and Historical Commission Chair Karen Kirkman accepted the markers on behalf of Alachua County.
Wheeler felt a personal connection to the dedication because she grew up in a Methodist church community in Kentucky when she was younger. She said it’s important to commemorate history, especially the history of a church that has a community.