HISTORY OF PASCO COUNTY
Townsend House Church
The picture above and the following article appeared in the St. Petersburg Times on May 29, 1979.
BROOKSVILLE — A tiny green and white sign sways in the wind, marking the dirt road that meanders through acres of orange groves to the Townsend House Cemetery.
The silence of the old oak trees stretching limbs overhead belies the fact that, just a mile away, trucks bustle by on State Road 41 less than a half-mile from the Hernando-Pasco border.
Moss-covered tombstones, dating back more than a hundred years, are on the hill that overlooks lakes and orange trees. Graves of Confederate soldiers who died after the war are found throughout the cemetery, as well as the resting places of those who served the country in World Wars I and II.
Those buried were remembered in reverence by relatives Sunday as about 100 persons ranging in age from a few months to 83 gathered for homecoming at the nearby Townsend House Church. The church has been closed since 1926, but its doors are opened once a year for this special event.
The homecoming is on the fourth Sunday of each May,. said Ethel Hancock, who at age 83 is one of the oldest residents of the area around the church.
Townsend House Church (1935)
The following history appeared in the Dade City Banner on May 31, 1935.
Among the outstanding pioneers who came into this country was John Townsend, more familiarly known as Captain Jack Townsend. He was a brave, good man and settled in a log house about two-hundred yards from where we now stand. This was in the year 1846 or 1848. The old settlers would gather at the home of Captain Townsend on Sunday afternoons and have a form of worship like the old time prayer meetings. Little did these men and women realize the good that was to come from these small prayer meetings, other than the blessings they received themselves, but that was the beginning of the Townsend House church.
During the Indian war of 1856, Captain Townsend’s house was used as a fort and the women and children would gather there for protection while the men were off at war. After the war Captain Townsend moved to what is known as the Jim Burnside place and gave his old house to the community for a church. It was then put on the circuit and a preacher appointed. Services were held in the old log house until it was badly in need of repair, and along in the early seventies the old settlers decided to build a new church. They gathered together, cut logs, rived boards, and built a good substantial building under the leadership of W. R. Nicks, N. D. Eiland, H. W. Hancock. Joshua Mizelle, and Osias Mizelle. Among the first preachers were Rev. Isaac Munden, 1866-1870, Rev. Giles, 1871, Rev. Reynolds, 1872, Rev. Berry Brown, 1873, Rev. J. D. Rogers, 1874-1875, Rev. Collier, 1876.
The old log church was also used as a school building, and some of you men and women here today remember that you had your first lessons in readin', writing', and 'rithmetic in the old church building. Rev. Isaac Munden was the pastor at this time. Services were held regularly for several years, in this building, until the congregation grew so large that it was decided to build another church. Realizing that the church they were now using was built on government land, Joshua Mizell donated an acre of land about one hundred yards west of the old log church, and in 1879 the old settlers came together again and constructed the church which stands here now, in memory of the faithful men and women who had the courage to do things, regardless of the difficulties that confronted them. Brother W. H. Parker, known better, perhaps, as Brother Billie Parker, was the first pastor of this church.
Brother Parker was followed by Rev. S. G. Meadows and Rev. T. H. Sistrunk. Many of us who were small boys and girls at that time remember when the pioneer preachers came into the community to preach and we will never forget how they came on horse back, wearing a high derby hat and a frock-tail coat. We boys would stand around in amazement and those were the days when children, so far as they knew, had the profoundest respect for these circuit riders.
Brother Sistrunk was followed by Brother H. P. Blocker and I am sure that a great many of us remember the great county-wide protracted meeting held during his pastorate. The evangelist was Rev. E. K. Whidden, who lived in Tampa. The register we now have does not give a detail report of the accessions to the church during this great meeting, but all of us who were here at that time remember that the community was never the same after the meeting was over.
During those years, Quarterly Conferences, lasting through Saturday and Sunday, was a common event, and in spite of the fact that the county was sparsely settled, large crowds would gather for these meetings. An old fashioned picnic dinner was served on Saturday and Quarterly Conference usually convened in the afternoon. An event which happened at one of those meetings and will never be forgotten by many of us here today was on a Sunday, about 1:00 o'clock, in 1904. The preacher was just finishing up his sermon when a peculiar noise was heard in the distance, and needless to say that not much more of the sermon was heard by the children of the congregation. Horses and mules began to take notice and in a few moments, a Mr. Lutz, of the firm Lutz and Booth, who owned a sawmill at Pasco Station, drove in sight in the first automobile many of us had ever seen. Of course, it was impossible for Mr. Lutz to get near the church, for fear the horses and mules would break loose from the trees to which they were tied, but preaching was soon over, and the horseless carriage was the chief object of interest for the rest of the day.
Rev. John Perry, 1844.
The preachers that followed Brother Blocker were as follows: Rev. J. M. Diffenwierth, Rev. M. T. Bell, Rev. A. M. Mann, Rev. A. L. Woodward, Rev. S. I. Young, Rev. Samuel Scott, Rev. A. C. Revierre, Rev. M. E. Meyer, Rev. J. E. Skipper, and the last pastor was Rev. Joseph Barton.
Townsend House Church Long Gone But Not Forgotten (2005)
This article appeared in the Tampa Tribune on May 21, 2005.
By CAROL JEFFARES HEDMAN
BLANTON - Each year, they turn out to keep historical times alive.
On Sunday, descendants of Capt. John “Jack” Townsend and those who worshipped at the church named after him will hold their 75th reunion.
The Townsend House Church was demolished years ago, so the group will meet for memories, song and lunch at Townsend House Church Cemetery, off County Road 41 just south of Hernando County.
Townsend House Church stood beneath spreading oaks on property it occupied since the 1850s. Nearby is the final resting place of Townsend and his wife, Nancy Leigh Townsend. The two died within a week of each other in 1868.
The cemetery was designated a historic site in 1981 by the Pasco County Commission and Pasco County Historical Preservation Committee.
Townsend was born in 1792 in South Carolina and followed his father to Florida in the early 1800s, settling in Alachua County. During the Second Seminole War, he formed a company of mounted volunteers who elected him captain in 1840. After months of service as a unit of the Florida militia, it was mustered into the service of the United States.
For his military service, Townsend received 160 acres to homestead. The 1850 census lists him living in Benton County. The name “Benton County” was changed to the original Hernando County in December of that year.
Home, Church, Fort
On the land Townsend homesteaded, he built a log cabin that was open to the community for prayer meetings on Sunday afternoons. The cabin also was a community shelter against bands of roving Seminoles.
Townsend became a well- respected member of the community and in 1852 was elected to the Hernando County Commission. He was elected again in 1855, 1857 and 1863, each time serving two-year terms.
In 1865, the Townsends moved across the nearby lake to be closer to their youngest child, Sarah Caroline, who had married Henry William Hancock in 1846. The Townsends had three other daughters: Jane Elizabeth Townsend Hancock, Elizabeth Townsend Taylor and Eliza Livonia Townsend Standley. They also had one son, Thomas Jefferson Townsend.
The grave of Elizabeth Taylor, who died in 1853, is the oldest marked grave at the Townsend House Cemetery.
When the Townsends moved across the lake, they gave their original log cabin as a permanent home for a Methodist church.
It was the first church in the community and was placed on the Methodist circuit for religious services. Pioneer ministers from the Florida Methodist Conference would come on horseback to preach at what was named Townsend House Church.
Home, Church, Fort, School
About 1870, a replacement church was built by members under the leadership of W.R. Nicks, N.D. Eiland, William H. Hancock, Joshua Mizell and Osias Mizell. This church, too, was log, with split-log benches as pews. The church also was used for three-month school sessions.
About 1880, the Townsend House congregation had outgrown the church, and a one- room frame church was built about 100 yards west on an acre donated by Joshua and Margaret Mizell, Jack Townsend's granddaughter. The church also served as a public school until 1907.
In 1887, with the population growing around the southern section of Hernando County, a separate county was formed and named Pasco. Other churches were established.
According to 1895 records from Blanton Methodist Church, there were seven other churches on the Pasco County circuit: Mount Olive, the forerunner of Blanton Methodist; Prospect; Bethany; Wesley Chapel; Providence; Richland; and Central Chapel.
Townsend House membership dwindled, and services were discontinued in 1928.
The next year, about 25 former members gathered at the church to make repairs. They took a break at noon for a picnic lunch and decided to organize an annual reunion.
The first reunion was in 1930. It is held every year on the fourth Sunday in May.
In 1966, an association and trust fund were established to maintain the church and cemetery. The church was opened annually for the reunion and an occasional wedding or funeral until 1984, but the floors were rotting and unsafe, so the reunion was moved to the cemetery. The old church was torn down.
Yearly since 1911, a group has gathered at the cemetery for a cleanup day. That tradition began after Ethel Hancock attended the funeral of her friend Fannie Riley in the fall of 1910. Cleanup day was April 23 this year in anticipation of Sunday's reunion.
The 75th annual Townsend House Church reunion will begin at 10:30 a.m. Sunday with the singing of hymns. There also will be a program on “Memories of Years Past,” and a traditional covered-dish “dinner on the grounds” will begin at noon.
A color photo of the church take in 1967 is here.
A group photo from a Townsend House reunion is here.