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This is the current Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church on North Georgia Road, built in 2000. Current pastor is the Rev. Ronald A. Sutton. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: As the Chronicle reflects on 125 years serving Citrus County, we're taking one Sunday a month to reflect on how the county came to be what it is today and look at the relics and legacies of the past that remain today.

Inside the main entrance to Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church in Crystal River is a series of pencil sketches, a visual history of this 135-year-old church.

This coming weekend, from Friday, Oct. 18 to Sunday, Oct. 20, this historical church invites the community to help celebrate their 135 years of history and many more years of future ministry.

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The first Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church was located on NW First Avenue behind A.D. Williams Estate near NW Crystal Street in Crystal River.

The church began in 1884 the way many churches do, with a handful of people and a hope of being a light to the community.

Founding members included Dempsey Riley, Mr. and Mrs. William Porter, Morris Mabley, Harriet Gary and Marda Evans.

The Rev. Washington Thomas served as the church’s first pastor.

Their first building was a simple wood-frame house on Northwest First Avenue near Northwest Crystal Street.

The second building was located on Citrus Avenue.

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The second Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church was located on Citrus Avenue.

The late Annie Mae McCray, a Crystal River native who taught school at the George Washington Carver School, the local school for African-Americans during the times of segregation, was a lifelong member of Mount Olive and served as church clerk for over 50 years. She also served as a Sunday school teacher, president of the Woman's Home Missions Society and sang in the Chancel Choir.

The third church building is still standing and is the home of another church, Advent Hope Seventh-day Adventist Church, on Northeast 3rd Avenue and Northeast 4th Street.

A plaque on the building says it was rebuilt in 1946 by Rev. Wm. Michael of Ocala, Florida.

Mount Olive’s current location, built in 2000, is on North Georgia Road.

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The third Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church was located on NE 3rd Avenue and NE 4th Street. The church still stands and is being used by Advent Hope Seventh-day Adventist Church.

In 2001, as the church moved into its new, modern building, the pastor at the time, the Rev. Cecil Wilson told the Chronicle that the church had grown over the past century.

“Not only have times changed, but the people have changed as well, and this new modern building reflects it,” he said. “It’s no longer the ‘little black church’ as its been known...our vision is to see the church as neutral in color.’”

Today, the church is a mix of lifelong members whose parents and grandparents were part of the church’s history, and also newcomers who came to Crystal River from places elsewhere.

“I came up in the church,” said Deacon Sam Joyner, the son of Roosevelt and Annie Joyner. “I attended as a child, but I joined when I was 16. I joined with Winslow Thomas Watkins — we joined together.

“The church was our life — Sunday school, morning worship, BTU (Baptist Training Union) and then evening service every Sunday,” he said.

The Rev. Leon Thomas, also a lifelong member of Mount Olive, said the church, especially when it was located in the downtown area of the city, has always been a “community within the community.”

He said when they had baptisms, the people wore white robes and everyone walked from the church on Northeast Third Avenue down to the river.

“Dr. Osterhout had a boat ramp and allowed us to use it to get to the river,” Thomas said. “We did a lot of baptizing in those days because we had a lot of young people then.”

Essie McKinnon, who joined the church in 1960, said she thinks she’s the last person to be baptized in the river.

“After that we got a (baptismal) pool in the church,” she said.

Her late husband, Fred McKinnon, grew up in the church and joined at age 12.

One of the church’s newer members, Ted Holmes, who moved to Crystal River from Pennsylvania and has been a part of the church for about 10 years, said he feels honored to be part of something that has deep roots in the community.

“The fact that this church is still here after 135 years — a small church in Crystal River, Florida — and be able to say we’ve been here for 135 years says something,” Holmes said. “As important as it is to look at our 135-year history, what I’d like us to focus on as members of this church is the future.

“Historically, this church was called a ‘black church,’ because at one time people didn’t have options, but now they do,” he said. “Now we are a community-based, open church with people of different ethnicities.”

Contact Chronicle reporter Nancy Kennedy at 352-564-2927 or nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.

(2) comments

RobertRoscow

It’s odd that the Chronicle is celebrating the history of Citrus County but did everything possible to make sure the town Of Etna was partly paved over by the SC 2. You libeled me and based your opposition on total ignorance of the laws governing properties like Etna listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Obviously I did not place the Etna Turpentine Camp site to stop the SC 2. Mitigation aka destruction is an option under the National Historic Preservation Act Of 1966. I did oppose the road but the NHPA is obviously not a good tool to stop a road. In your editorial and Mike Wright’s unresearched article after touring Etna with me said that it was not even on a map from some year in the 18oo’s . There was a good reason for that. Etna didn’t exist until some 10 years later. We can give you many maps that show Etna. Also the rail system would not be mapped as it was narrow-gauge and moved as new areas were harvested. This is a central fact common to all turpentine and logging operations. Although there is a large volume on Etna at the Historic Courthouse apparently you never reviewed it. Etna was called a camp but was actually a town. It had 200 some primarily African American workers and their families housed in 50 dirt floor shanties. There was a post office, commissary, and buildings associated with the industrial buildings and turpentine operation. Etna actually transitioned from the “boxing” method of tapping the sap to be processed into turpentine on the original 9,000 acres leased to the Herty cup collection system. This system was invented after Dr. Herty heard a lecture on the extirpation of the longleaf pines comprising some 90 million acres to 3 million. The method did not kill the tree and later Etna added a lumber mill to process the highly valued lumber. This industry became the primary industry in Citrus County up until 1926 when its operations covered 40,000 acres. So by not protecting the history of Citrus County the mitigation display for the loss will be near Brooksville in Hernando County at the Visitors Center for the Withlacoochee State Forest. So the future of what remains of Etna is uncertain although there is enough left to still make an interpretative park. The preservation of the longleaf pine forests also were a major ecological step. The red cockaded woodpecker was on the verge of extinction and Indigo snake as well. You have been silent or ignorant of the fact that only chain link fence will prevent Indigo snakes, juvenile gopher tortoises, and many other species from getting killed on the road. Last Etna was a key part of African American history that you also totally missed. The atrocious labor practices of debt-peonage and leased-convict labor were practiced at Etna and workers were driven by a woodsrider and whipped if they did not make their quota. We won’t let this history die despite your best efforts to hide it.

CitrusCo Citizen

Thank you, Robert. Roscow This story about about the now paved-over Etna community is so much more historical and fascinating than of the church. It is the story of the daily lives and struggles of a community of over 200 African Americans who lived there more than a century ago. Most likely if the if the historic church had been in the path of the Suncoast tollroad rather than the historic Etna town/camp the church and the surrounding land would have been saved and the highway diverted. Who knows how many centuries-old artifacts are now permanently paved over by the tollroad--historical artifacts that cannot longer be found, researched and placed in a museum for all to view, forever. I am sorry that your valiant effort to protect this site, registered as a National Historic Site, was either ignored or critiized by the roadbuilder, the BOCCC, and the Chronicle and that you were actually libeled. Please continue to keep alive the memory (because that's what it mostly is now) of ths fascinating part of the history of Citrus County. At least We the People, and not those in power, appreciate your knowledge and efforts. To preserve this knowledge, I think a book about Etna town is your next task! By the way, in my opinion, once again, this church story should appear in the Religion section, reserved for religious affairs and topics, and not Local News.

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