Crocker Memorial Church
Buildings: Sarasota History
The history of the Crocker Memorial Church begins with Peter Crocker, a Civil War veteran born in Wheeler, New York, who became a lighthouse keeper in Key West, Florida, and who, with his wife Sophia, came to the Sara Sota area of Manatee County in 1873 where he purchased 20 acres southwest of Bay and Bee Ridge Roads. Crocker became a trustee for the Phillippi School and the postmaster of the Crocker Post Office located in his house. He also helped to plan the roads surrounding the Bee Ridge area.
Establishing a church for his community became Peter Crocker's primary interest. In January of 1901 he and two of his neighbors, T. T. Hamlin and L. C. Demings, acquired two acres from the Florida Mortgage and Investment Company for the sum of one dollar. The deed states that the "...land is hereby granted solely for site of place of Divine Worship...and graveyard..." The church was built and named St. John's Chapel Church but it was commonly known as "Crocker's church". The grounds became one of Sarasota's earliest cemeteries. This small, historic cemetery exists today just east of the northeast corner of Bee Ridge Road at U.S. 41.
Peter Crocker died in 1911 and his church gradually lost its congregation. The church had never had a full time minister. In 1926 the Rev. W. C. Sparkman, a Baptist pastor who had preached at the Crocker Church on occasion, encouraged the Bay Haven Baptist congregation in North Sarasota to move the Crocker Church to Old Bradenton Road, where they had purchased property for the purpose of establishing their church home.
The move was accomplished in 1927 by dismantling the Crocker structure and moving the lumber piece by piece. At that time there was no company capable of moving a whole building. The men of the congregation reassembled the church board by board. It was decided to make the dimensions shorter and narrower by six inches so that nail holes and split board ends could be discarded. Builder C. E. ("Uncle Charlie") Gauntt was the construction superintendent and continued to oversee the construction work during later remodeling. Rev. J. N. Potter did much of the interior plastering. Crocker Church became Bay Haven Baptist.
In 1935 fifteen additional feet were added to the rear of the church and a baptistery was installed alleviating the need to travel to the bay front for baptisms. The name of the church changed to Second Baptist Church for a short period of time.
Other remodeling occurred during Rev. John N. Hudson's pastoral service from 1936-1940. A wide cement porch with steps was constructed in place of the "stoop" and wooden awning.. Double doors replaced the original single door. Four columns on the porch supported the roof. Topping this was a four-sided steeple with a louvered belfry and spire. A sunburst pattern which was made of radiating planks filled the Classic-style pediment. The congregation of Bay Haven Baptist continued to grow.
In October of 1984 the Historic Preservation Board of the City of Sarasota recommended that the church located at 3200 Bradenton Road (historic names St. John's Chapel and Crocker Memorial Church) receive a historically significant designation. It was found that the structure "possesses integrity of workmanship and materials; exemplifies or reflects the broad cultural, political, economic or social history of the City of Sarasota, Sarasota County, the State of Florida; is associated with the life of a person who has played a significant role in our local, state, or national history; embodies the distinctive visible characteristics of an architectural style or period." The petitioner was preservationist, Veronica Morgan.
Morgan moved the church to her Florida Avenue property in 1985 when the Bay Haven Baptist congregation began their plans to build a larger church. Crocker Memorial was then rented to various organizations for meetings, music recitals, dances, programs, and was the setting of many small weddings. In 1995 Morgan sold her Florida Avenue property to Rosemary Properties LLC. The Crocker Memorial became The Throne of Grace Episcopal Charismatic Church, servicing Father Jim Nilon, an Episcopal priest, and his parishioners who were predominately homeless individuals.
In 2004 the City of Sarasota rezoned the property and the surrounding acres to accommodate development which would include "affordable housing." The Historical Society of Sarasota County, fearing demolition of Crocker Memorial and its neighbor, the Bidwell-Wood house (circa 1882), presented a resolution to the City Commissioners stating that these structures " are historical treasures of Sarasota; too dear to lose".
Rosemary Properties LLC donated the buildings to the Historical Society upon selling their property to a developer. The Society's goals became 1) The acquisition of a safe place for the church and the house; 2) Historical restoration of both structures 3) Opening the church and the house to the public which will afford Sarasota citizens and visitors opportunities to learn of Sarasota's history.
In 2006 the City of Sarasota approved an agreement with the Historical Society which provided room for the church and the house in city owned Pioneer Park. The City also authorized a financial commitment to aid with the moving expense.
On October 17, 2006, the church and the house were moved. The restoration work, conducted by the Historical Society of Sarasota County at 1260 12th Street, continues.
HISTORIC TIMELINE - CROCKER MEMORIAL CHURCH
1873 - Peter Crocker, Civil War Veteran and retired Key West lighthouse keeper, and his wife, Sophia, purchase 20 acres southeast of Bay and Bee Ridge Roads in the Sara Sota area of Manatee County.
1892 - Their home at the present location of 1814 Bay Road is completed. Peter Crocker helps to lay out the roads in Bee Ridge, becomes trustee for the Phillippi School, and is the postmaster for the Crocker post office located in his house.
June 27, 1901 - The Florida Mortgage and Investment Company deeds to Peter Crocker and two of his neighbors, T. T. Hamlin and L. C. Demings, two acres located on Bee Ridge Road slightly east of U.S. 41. The deed declares that "said land is hereby granted solely for site of place of Divine worship". Peter Crocker begins work on building the church.
1903 - St. John's Chapel Church is incorporated as a Baptist chapel and is served by traveling preachers on an intermittent basis. It is known as the Crocker Church by its neighbors. The adjoining grounds to the east become one of Sarasota's earliest cemeteries.
December 9, 1911 - Peter Crocker dies. His burial services are conducted by Methodist minister, Rev. Grady. The small congregation of the church dissipates.
1927 - The Bee Ridge area becomes more populous and U. S. 41 places Crocker's church in danger of demolition. The Bay Haven Baptist Church moves the church to Old Bradenton Road north of downtown Sarasota.
1935-1940 - The Bay Haven Baptist Church (Crocker Memorial) undergoes remodeling to accommodate a growing congregation.
1984 - The City of Sarasota designates the church historically significant. The petitioner named on the application is preservationist, Veronica Morgan.
1985 - The Bay Haven Baptist congregation outgrows the church and plans to build a larger church. Veronica Morgan moves the church to her property at 841 Florida Avenue saving it from demolition.
1995 - Rosemary Properties LLC becomes the owner of the church and its neighbor, the Bidwell-Wood House. The Bay Haven Baptist Church (Crocker Memorial) becomes the Throne of Grace Episcopal Charismatic Church. Father Jim Nilon is priest to a congregation of largely homeless parishioners.
2004 - The City of Sarasota rezones the property for development. The Historical Society of Sarasota County passes a resolution declaring the church and the house historic treasures too dear to lose.
2005 - The property is sold to a developer. Rosemary Properties LLC donates the church and the house to the Historical Society of Sarasota County to be moved, restored, and opened to the public as a place for the community to learn of its history.
2006 - The City of Sarasota approves a lease-hold agreement with the Historical Society of Sarasota County providing for relocation of the church and house to city owned Pioneer Park.
October 17, 2006 - The historic Crocker Memorial Church and the Bidwell-Wood house are moved to Pioneer Park. Restoration work continues.
Researched information for the Crocker Memorial Church narrative and timeline is derived from the following sources:
"A History of the Bay Haven Baptist Church" - Ollie Fogarty and Dr. Charles H. Beal Interview with the Rev. Beal, April, 2007, conducted by Sue Blue Peter Crocker's Final Discharge Papers (Civil War) February 7, 1867 U. S. Treasury Department; lighthouse appointment records, Sept. 15, 1868 Warranty Deed, Book X Page 459, Manatee County deed records Sarasota Times, Obituary, December 21, 1911
Fannie Crocker Curtis (daughter of Peter and Sophia) interview conducted by Stan
Windhorn, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, March 23, 1958
Historical Society of Sarasota County Board minutes 2004,5,6,7
Personal communication with preservationist Veronica Morgan, July/August 2007
Sue J. Blue
The Crocker Memorial Church was locally designated by the City of Sarasota in 1984.