Monday, January 19, 2015

Faith, stronger than greed

Google Images screen grab of Iglesia Cristiana de Deltona Church, which may include the original historic St. Paul's AME Chuch structure.
Historic St. Paul's AME Church building of Garfield may
be part of this Iglesia Cristiana de Deltona church complex.
Source: Google Images
I tend to favor historical tidbits that showcase tolerance, acceptance, and understanding among people struggling to settle a frontier. They're hard to find in the history of the  lost African-American community of Garfield. Hard, because many Garfield homesteads were lost due to back tax issues in the first half of the 20th century. The seized land was sold in the 1960s to the corporation that created Deltona, now the largest city in Volusia County.

Former slaves settled Garfield after the Civil War. I once saw one of the Homestead Act documents that granted 88 acres to a Washington Ferguson in 1888 "to have and to hold, he and his heirs forever."*  Forever lasted until the Great Depression in the segregated South, when descendants of the original owners starting having trouble meeting tax bills. In the 1980s, a then-elderly former Garfield resident told me the land was lost at tax sales in the 1930s and 1940s. He and about 60 other descendants of the original homesteaders were later sued in order to clear title to the land, so it could be sold to developers. Sad story, to be sure. 

The glimmer of light, if there is one, is in how the tight-knit faith community of Garfield held together even after the neighborhood fragmented. The church was organized in 1880, according to WPA records online at Florida Memory.  In 1887, Arthur Benson of Brooklyn, N.Y., sold two acres of land for $1 to some of the original settlers of Garfield, including July Jenkins. The land was near a pond that still bears the name Jenkins Pond, and the property was to be used for religious and educational purposes by members of the local African Methodist Episcopal Church.

But by the 1940s, community members had lost their land and scattered. No one lived near the church anymore. Trustees worried about fire threats to the now-aged building. So in 1948 they moved the small wood-frame structure, board by board, to a parcel they bought for $112 on Lakeshore Drive. Worship continued for decades, long after Garfield ceased to exist. The St. Paul AME Church members had praised God for 100 years by the time I met the last-surviving church trustee, Robert Poole. The congregation that once numbered about 200 had dwindled to nothing. He worried about what would happen to the historic building after he died. 

Another faith community stepped in. Within a few years, the building housed an active, Spanish-speaking Christian congregation, Iglesia Cristiana de Deltona. And, as far as I can tell from Google Images, the church's complex still incorporates the original Garfield church structure - allowing the spirit of Garfield to live on.

In the early 2000s, Garfield was in the news** when the church's original cemetery was rediscovered. I haven't heard anything in recent years about next steps, and the Internet turns up only the original stories. 

I close with a question that nags at me, a non-attorney. Church property isn't taxed. So how could it be lost to back taxes? Doesn't the original church site, that sliver of the larger parcel sold for $1 to five Garfield settlers in 1887, still belong to their descendants? Just a thought.

*Note about the quoted item in the second paragraph: The source is a 1989 article I wrote for the Daytona Beach News-Journal. 

**This GenWeb item includes text from one of the news articles:

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