Englewood’s historic Green Street Church has a rich & significant history but it’s latest chapter could be its most fascinating.
On November 16, the Lemon Bay Historical Society cleared the latest hurdle in its effort to move the church from its current location at 416 West Green Street to the site of the Lemon Bay Cemetery when The Sarasota County Planning Commission Board voted to grant a “special exception.” The reason a “special exception” was needed? Esther Horton, vice president and past-president of the Historical Society, explained “Sarasota County didn’t exist when the cemetery was donated to the citizens of Englewood as a burial site in 1900.” In 1974 Sarasota County zoned the entire area, including the cemetery, as single family residential. So, the County had to grant a special exception allowing the church to move to what it had zoned a single family residence.
All this followed the County’s Historical Preservation Board granting a “Certificate of Appropriateness” on October 24, which determined that it was indeed necessary to relocate the church in order to preserve it.
If it was up to the members of The Historical Society, they wouldn’t move the 89-year-old church at all. The Historical Society has owned the building since the Church of the Nazarene transferred ownership in 1988, and is headquartered there. However, The Church of the Nazarene owns the land and told The Historical Society in 2016 that it would not be renewing the Society’s 99-year lease, set to expire in May 2018. Horton said the Board of Trustees for the Lemon Bay Cemetery on Indiana Avenue, agreed to gift land to the Historical Society, for the church. The Board of the Historical Society agreed that it would be worth the effort and the cost to save the building, which is on the Sarasota County Register of Historic Places, and was the first house of worship in Englewood. “The largest enemy of historic preservation is indifference,” said Horton.
The first and biggest challenge would be raising the money to move the church. Horton said the Historical Society estimates that while actually moving the building will cost about $37,000, the entire relocation effort will cost around $200,000. The Englewood CRA has awarded the Historical Society $50,000 and an additional $50,000 match once the group raises $50,000 of its own funds, and says Horton, “We’re really close.” The Historical Society is also applying for historical preservation grants. Add fundraisers like the successful Pioneer Days Mayor for a Day campaign by the Historical Society’s president Charlie Hicks, and the November 26 “Englewood Survived Hurricane Irma Party” at the SandBar, and Horton seems convinced they’ll raise the money for the move. “I do believe the entire town is going to jump on this and get it done,” she said.
But, back to the Lemon Bay Cemetery. That special exception couldn’t solve all the issues complicating an already complicated process. While the Historical Society can now go ahead with permitting and site preparation, Horton says that in 1976 the Cemetery was determined to be “an area of “archeological interest” after a group found something there that may indicate an Indian mound on the property which could have been a trash pile, or much less likely, a burial ground. So the next step is an archeological dig. “The dig has to be handled very quickly,” said Horton, who doesn’t know if the Historical Society will have to pick up the tab. If they do find bones or human remains, the next stop will be an excavation and the move will be temporarily on hold.
If this sounds like a lot of effort and money to move an old building, Horton doesn’t want to hear it. “This building is very well preserved and popular with the public. We feel like it will get more attention and be in higher demand at the new location.” The move will also solve the constant parking problem at the current location, especially when there are special events, performances and weddings. “We will have control of the site. We will own the property. We will have parking,” said Horton.
While the clock is ticking and challenges remain, Horton says she’s encouraged by the support she’s seen for the beloved church and historical preservation. She expects that the Sarasota Board of County Commissioners will give the special exception final approval at a future meeting but nobody knows when the church will hit the road. Horton said, “When we do move the building it will literally be overnight.”
For more information, to join the Lemon Bay Historical Society for just $15, or to donate, visit www.lemonbayhistory.com or call 941-474-2007.