The Moss Hill Church is actually in an area that is about three miles southeast of Vernon, Florida. So you might say that it is in a suburb of Vernon, a suburb once known for its Indian population.
The Holmes Valley Methodist Mission was responsible for the church and its actual origination was somewhere between 1821 and 1825. The actual building standing today was built in 1857. The Moss Hill Methodist Church has been refurbished over the years, but still has a rustic feel. It is truly beautiful and a site that is worth going out of your way to see.
The sign out front notes that services are held on the 2nd and 4th Sundays of the month at 2:00 PM. The time of the service seems to corroborate what my Grandmama said about “those Methodists.” She said they like to stay out late on Saturday night and to watch out not to let children take communion because the grape juice they dole out is the “real stuff.”
Honestly, I’m sure the congregation shares a minister with at least one other church, probably more.
Standing in the church, it’s easy to think about all of the folks that have worshipped there, been married there and had funeral services and been buried in the cemetery out on the grounds.
The graveyard has a number of Civil War soldiers in it and their service will forever be lauded. War is a terrible thing, no matter when, where or how, but those who gave the ultimate sacrifice should never be forgotten.
An interesting tidbit about the land around the Moss Hill Church, a fellow by the name of Igdaliah Wood requested and was granted title to the land in 1861 after the beginning of the War Between the States. Union President Abraham Lincoln granted the request on December 5, 1861, almost a year after Florida had seceded. That's just odd.
“Igdaliah” is not a name you hear much anymore. It is pronounced “ig-dal-yaw,” probably “ig-dahl-yah” in the heart of the Florida Panhandle when folks dropped everything to build a church for everybody to use. From a Southern point of view, the name Igdaliah means “God is great.”
The Moss Hill Methodist Church is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, having a sign noting such out front. I did not find out about another interesting story until after my most recent visit. Due to the type of wood used to construct the church, hand and footprints can be seen on the ceiling. The church was built of lumber from pine heartwood, also known as lighter or fatwood (what some folks start a fire with). As this wood gets older, it gets stronger and becomes immune to water and termites.
Those Methodists were pretty smart (even if Grandmama thought they partied on Saturday night).
If you have ever handled this type of wood, you know it is very sticky and usually oozing a resin. This sticky resin on the lumber captured the hand, finger, and foot prints of the folks doing the work. So if you go to the Moss Hill Church, look up!
During this holiday season, it’s a good time to look up everywhere you are.
After I looked closely at the pictures I made, I realized that I had captured some of the children’s and carpenters handprints and footprints without even knowing it.
Vernon, at one time was known as the “World’s Leading Gopher-Shipping Port.” That’s right, Vernon was a “World Leader” in shipping out gophers. On my trip to the Vernon Historical Society’s Archives, I found it in a book. It is true.
First, you need to understand what a gopher is. The type of gophers they were shipping out were not the type of animal that digs holes, tunnels and tears stuff up. These gophers they were shipping out were tortoises.
Gopher tortoises were shipped by steamboat to Pensacola every week between 1885 and 1930 by the hundreds. Not only were they considered a delicacy for the gourmets in Pensacola, but they were carried out to sea by the sailors and fishermen to provide fresh meat and supplement their menus.
Gopher tortoises were pretty easy to keep alive until you were ready to put them on the table.
If you didn’t have money and you needed something in Vernon, the stores would take “gophers” instead of cash. Times were hard, if you could trade a tortoise for a sack of flour, you did it.
Besides, they say that gopher tortoise tastes just like steak and if you cover the meat with a whole lot of gravy you can’t tell what you’re eating.
I had read about the Moss Hill Church still being without electricity, using kerosene lamps and heaters. I saw blankets and church fans on the pews. However, I will admit there was one electric fan that I was careful to crop out of my pictures and I saw one outlet close to the pulpit. I can only speculate that the congregation didn't want the preacher to pass out in the middle of a sermon on the second Sunday in August.
This beautiful church filled with history and the story of how gopher tortoises were used as cash in Vernon, just makes me wonder, “Do you think anyone ever put a tortoise in the offering plate?”
For more stories and pictures of my trip to Vernon, visit me at www.CranksMyTractor.com.