Snaps from the Past: St. Michael’s and early neighborhood churches


Becky Dreisbach

Becky Dreisbach

Having grown up in College Park gives me cause more and more often to start my sentences with “Remember when …” or “That used to be …” Watching older homes go down and new ones rise certainly excites the Realtor in me. And though I marvel at these changes, I admit sometimes I stew about them, wishing time could stand still, even if just for bit. While I embrace the changes, I also am grateful for those places that seem more permanent in nature, such as our local churches that have made their homes in College Park.

It was the 1920s boom that brought College Park its first church. Calvary Presbyterian Church was built on the corner of Edgewater and Colonial Drive in 1924.

In 1928, with the support of First Baptist Church, College Park Baptist opened it doors.

The most striking growth to College Park began during World War II and continued throughout the 1950s. That boom brought College Park Methodist in 1943. St. Michael’s Episcopal Church came to the neighborhood in 1948 and John Knox Presbyterian in 1949. In 1951, Central Christian Church was built on Lake Concord, and St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church was formed in 1952.

Back in 1948, the founding members of St. Michael’s first met in Duckworth’s Garage on the corner of Edgewater Drive and Yale Street. As the congregation grew, the members rented a storefront along Edgewater Drive and worshipped there until 1951 when the Diocese of South Florida (now Central Florida) purchased the property on the corner of Westmoreland Drive and Bryn Mawr Street. A parish hall was built for services on the property that year. Its name, Quigley Hall, honored Father Vernon Quigley, the St. Michael’s rector from 1958 until his retirement in 1986.

Worshippers attend the groundbreaking for the St. Michael’s sanctuary in 1957.

Worshippers attend the groundbreaking for the St. Michael’s sanctuary in 1957.

The present-day sanctuary was constructed in 1958. Designed by local architect Richard Boone Rogers, the quintessential midcentury modern architecture showcases one of the outstanding and memorable physical features of St. Michael’s. Rogers also drew plans for the Howard Vernon Motel (Colonial Drive at Lake Dot, 1937), Wellborn Apartments (Lake Lucerne, 1947), Davis Park Motel (Colonial Drive, 1955) and later the old Orlando City Hall (1958) — famously imploded in 1991 and filmed for “Lethal Weapon 3.”

By 1959, St. Michael’s had 500 members and became the home of Boy Scout Troop 200. As of this writing, over 190 young men have earned the coveted rank of Eagle Scout there. The church’s legacy of raising youth — through its programs, Sunday School instruction and preschool — is the result of many dedicated people who’ve shared their time and talents.

The Meals on Wheels program in Orlando had its start in the kitchen at St. Michael’s Church in 1972. “The Gathering,” as it is called today, delivers hot, fresh meals from the church’s kitchen to the Coalition for the Homeless every Tuesday evening. Since 1990, over 200,000 meals have been prepared and served in this ministry to homeless men, women and children.

St. Michael’s also houses a renowned pipe organ and original religious art, including a beautiful wooden Christus Rex hand-carved by West Palm Beach artist William Bohmiller. Bohmiller also carved wooden plaques as stations for the Way of the Cross to enhance the bare concrete walls.

St. Michael's Episcopal Church, Easter Sunday 2017

St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, Easter Sunday 2017

Beautiful, stained glass windows designed and fabricated by local artist James Piercy adorn St. Michael’s. They include a modern-styled creation called “The Apostles Window” and a classically designed rose window depicting Old Testament themes. The “Risen Jesus” and “St. Michael the Archangel” windows grace the Resurrection Chapel, home to the columbarium.

When my stewing, longing for timelessness wells up, it’s here at St. Michael’s where my recollections of the past and hopes for the future combine to fill my heart, soul and mind and ease the sense that time is flying by at warp speed.

All are welcome!

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