175 Years
About Us

8002 U.S. Highway 301 South
Riverview, FL  33578   (813)677-5995
A Brief History of Our Early Church

(Dee Lindsey was the RUMC Lay Leader more 
than 20 years ago. As an author, and as a lover 
of history and our church, she compiled a book
 with pictures that captured our long history.  
This book, “Living in the Spirit” celebrates 150 
years of worship by Methodists in the Riverview 
area. The year 2021 will mark 175 years of 
Methodism in Hillsborough County, Florida--—a 
history proudly shared by our church.)

When Florida became a State in 1845, 
Hillsborough County had already existed for 11 
years. The Legislative Council of the Territory of 
Florida organized Hillsborough County in 1834.  
At the time of statehood, the county was a 
sprawling jurisdiction, comprising what is now 
Hillsborough, Pinellas, Polk, Manatee, Sarasota, 
Charlotte, DeSoto, Hardee, and Highlands 
Counties. Although vast in area, this entire large 
county only had a population of 836 settlers 
(not including Indians or soldiers) on the day 
of statehood.

In 1846, this part of Florida was largely unsettled, and the few brave pioneers in the area still had to be on the lookout for raids by Seminole Indians. Remember that this was well before electricity, paved roads, running water, indoor plumbing, automobiles, air conditioning, and all the modern conveniences we take for granted today. County taxes in 1846 totaled $148.69, and county commissioners were paid $2 per day while the commission was in session. There was no such thing as a courthouse or a jail, downtown Tampa was still not developed, and roads were non-existent.

In 1842, relative peace had come to the Alafia River Valley. Benjamin Moody moved his family of six children to homesteaded property along the river, about 1.5 miles downstream from what is now the William T. Williams bridge that spans the river at U.S. Highway 301 South.

Moody was a devout man and it was important for him to continue religious education for his children. However, the closest church of any kind was 20 miles away in Tampa. So, after enduring that arduous trip for four years, Benjamin Moody and his neighbor, George Simmons, built a small log meeting house at the back of his property on the south bank of the Alafia. Construction was completed in 1846. It is our contention that this was the first building actually built as a Methodist Church anywhere in Hillsborough County. (Granted, the Methodist congregation in Tampa also organized in 1846, but it convened in members’ homes until its first building was dedicated in 1851.)

Moody’s little church served four families and met weekly for nearly a decade. A circuit-riding Methodist preacher held formal services there each month.

In 1866, Ben’s oldest son, William, moved his family from Lithia to Peru on land about a mile upstream from his boyhood home. Peru, Florida—now long gone—was a small town located just south of the Alafia River. People who came south to Peru, took a ferry across the Alafia River. That ferry was operated for many years by the Rev. L. G. Lesley, who also became the pastor of a new Methodist church at Peru.
Rev. Lesley and William Moody raised funds to erect a new church that was built on William’s new property. When completed in 1870 on the river’s south shore, near Lesley’s ferry operation, it was named the Lesley Chapel. Rev. Lesley served as co-pastor of the Chapel until 1880.

In 1880, Lesley Chapel was absorbed into the Methodist Episcopal Conference, and the Rev. C. E. Pelot was named as its pastor. By 1881, Lesley Chapel had grown from 20 members to 36, and, as a Methodist Episcopal church, it continued to grow throughout the 1880s.

Due to the inconvenience of ferry travel, the small community on the northern shore of the Alafia River grew much faster than Peru. Potential residents simply stopped before crossing the river when establishing their new homes. By 1893, the largest percentage of Lesley Chapel’s membership lived on the north side of the river.

Then, pebble-sized phosphate was discovered just a short distance west of today’s US 301 Bridge. This created a short-lived economic boom on the north side of the Alafia. What was once a little settlement boomed, and it became the town of Riverview. Riverview quickly outgrew the small town of Peru.

In 1894, a visiting Methodist evangelist raised money to build a new church on the north shore. This new church, initially poorly constructed, served as an alternative worship site for most of the former Lesley Chapel members. However, that 1894 building soon fell apart during an 1899 storm.

The membership replaced the fallen structure in 1900. And, at the same time, the first bridge across the Alafia was built—eliminating the need for the ferry. The replacement and substantial new church building, together with the new bridge, permanently established Riverview’s Methodist congregation on the north side of the river. That location has served as the sole home for Riverview’s Methodist congregation since 1900.

Today’s sanctuary was built in the early 1960s, and in 2021, the church will celebrate 175 years of service to the community.
These photographs were collected or snapped in 2006 
upon the occasion of Riverview First United Methodist 
Church's 160th Anniversary.  The videographer was 
David Burt.  You may fondly remember many of those 
pictured as former members of our church.  In 2021, 
RUMC will celebrate its 175th Anniversary, as the oldest 
Methodist church in Hillsborough County.
Our Church in the 20th Century
In 1986, two church historians, Eleanor Mayhall (Kim Floyd’s mother) and Mary Crichton (Jan Crichton’s mother), marked “140 Years of Heritage” for Riverview First United Methodist Church by producing a brief history of the church up to that time. This timeline marked significant milestones in our local congregation’s history over the past 140 years.

In 1846, the first small church in Peru (pronounced Pee-roo) consisted of a one-room log cabin serving 4 families.

You will remember that in 1895, the third incarnation of our church, the Riverview Methodist-Episcopal Church, became our first location north of the Alafia River. That building was so poorly constructed that it was demolished in a windstorm in 1899. In 1900, that church was rebuilt as a one-room sanctuary that had a foot-pumped organ and wooden benches. Since this church was constructed well before electricity, it was lit by the carbide gas lights so common in that era.

The next enhancements to the church occurred during World War I. Electricity came in. A pulpit space was built into the north wall of the sanctuary, and the seating was changed. A used pulpit was re-purposed from an abandoned Presbyterian church in Bloomingdale. A belfry was added to the main building, and a wood heater was installed in the center of the sanctuary.

In the 1920’s, a small frame parsonage was built just north of the church. In that decade, our first Brownie, Girl Scout and Boy Scout units were organized for the church. RUMC also started a chapter of the Epworth League, a youth organization that was the precursor of the Methodist Youth Fellowship.

In the 1920’s and 1930’s adult fellowship was as important as worship. The Women’s Missionary Society (the ancestor of today’s United Methodist Women) organized dinners, ice cream socials, quilting bees, and a community garden. The adult choir was first organized in 1938.

During World War II, the church even supported a 21-piece orchestra. The orchestra not only played for worship services, but it was also in demand for appearances across Hillsborough County.

Until World War II, the church was dependent upon circuit riding preachers, but in 1947, the Reverend J. J. Buell became our first full-time minister. Between 1950 and 1951, the final major modification to wooden church was made. A large choir loft was built into the east end of the sanctuary, and the pulpit and seating were moved to accommodate the loft.

The mid-1950’s was an era of explosive growth for RUMC. The Della McLeod Building was a major addition. This building contained our first kitchen and a junior chapel. The chapel was even used as a classroom for Riverview Elementary during the week to relieve school overcrowding. Nowadays, the McLeod Building is home to our church nursery, children’s church, and choir practice room.

The Dorothy Savidge Nursery Building was also constructed during this period. That building supported a Kindergarten school that was sponsored by our Gleaners Sunday School class. Today, that building has been repurposed as the RESTORE Thrift Store. It was renamed after Jean Campbell in 2007 over the objections of many of our long-time members. Dorothy Savidge was the wife of our minister in the early 1950’s, while Jean Campbell ran our Meals on Wheels program for 27 years.

The old sanctuary suffered one final upgrade. The wooden benches were removed from the sanctuary and were replaced by theatre seating.

However, by 1960, membership and attendance continued to explode as the post-war boom brought more and more families out to the county’s suburbs. In 1960, groundbreaking began on the fifth and current iteration of our sanctuary, and in January, 1961, the first worship service was held in our new building. In 1962, an eight unit classroom building, known as the Merle Building, was dedicated. A new three-bedroom parsonage was built on the north bank of the Alafia River in 1964, and the old parsonage was repurposed into a Youth Center.

In addition to new construction, the church continually added programs for its members. The first iteration of our United Methodist Men was created in 1956, the Sunshine Choir for children as organized in 1960, and our church newsletter, The Bell, began publication in 1965. For many years, starting in the 1960’s the men of the church re-enacted the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday of Easter week.

The church library was reorganized, was fully stocked, and put into active use. The congregation established a 24-hour open prayer chapel. Parking lot lighting was added, and a bulletin type sign board was placed in front of the church. Many of our old-timers remember that when they were teenagers in the early 1970’s, the old church parsonage became a Youth Coffee House Mission—and a popular after-school hangout.

The Riverview chapter of Meals on Wheels started in 1970, while the Rev. James Tripp was our pastor. During that decade of the 1970’s, a Young Men’s Choir was formed, a Book Store Mission Group was organized, and Montessori School was tried. The Youth Coffee House became the Carpenter’s House as an early effort to reach out to the community at large, but the old parsonage, after several iterations of use, was finally demolished to make way for the Fellowship Hall.

Work on the Fellowship Hall, begun in 1975--the culmination of the mid-Century building boom at RUMC. The Hall contained church offices as well as a church library and meeting room. It had a fully modern kitchen, and it was the hub for most of the social activities of the church. The Hall, named after long-time church supporter William I. Crichton, Sr. It almost doubled the square footage of the church complex on the corner of U. S. 301 South and Riverview Drive—our current location. Crichton Fellowship Hall was dedicated in November, 1977.

By 1986, our sixth sanctuary, north of the Alafia River, served 150 families in a modern building. Our campus included three education buildings, a fellowship hall with church offices and a full kitchen,and a parsonage. By 1986, over 60 pastors had served as our church’s spiritual leader.

The church continued strong throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s. Riverview Meals on Wheels provided hot meals delivered to seniors five days a week, and there were programs like the SHARE food co-op, weekly distribution of government commodities, health fairs, blood drives, Wednesday Night bible studies and youth and children activities. New colored windows were installed to the sanctuary in 1980. Several Eagle (Boy Scouts) and Gold Star (Girl Scout) projects added a gazebo to the grounds, provided much needed sidewalks, created a retaining wall to the parking lot, and added a firepit/picnic area. For many years, the United Methodist Men sold Christmas Trees from the backlot, and they held an annual auction—activities that netted the church much needed revenue. Every Halloween, the Youth still run a Pumpkin Patch to generate revenue for their activities throughout the year—including scholarships to summer church camp.

Our Recent History
By 2007, the Riverview Meals on Wheels program was showing severe signs of age. Many of its volunteers had passed, or they were too old themselves to continue the program. And the client base for that program had shrunk to less than 20 shut ins. So, Ms. Campbell quietly closed down the program. However, many in our congregation wanted to continue with some kind of community outreach, and the disbanded Meals on Wheels program still had a surplus of about $10,000. With these remaining funds, three United Methodist Women—Claire Bryington, Linda Bauer, and Muriel Harris—began RESTORE.

RESTORE was designed as a combination Food Bank (distributing USDA and other donated food) and Thrift Shop (mainly selling used clothing). The abandoned Savidge building was converted into a two-room Thrift Shop, and Classrooms 1 and 2 in the Merle Building were rebuilt into the Food Pantry. Eventually, Clare and her builder husband, Jim Bryington, took over the management of RESTORE. By 2014, the Bryingtons passed the management torch to Karen and Bill Moore and Carol and Tracy Whidden. Today’s RESTORE is run by a new generation including Dawn Parks, Jan Crichton, Chris Davidson, and Debbie Burt. RESTORE grocery distribution is currently open Tuesday and Thursday, and our operation distributes food to 160-180 needy families every week.

Beginning in 2012, the RUMC welcomed an Hispanic congregation onto our campus. This congregation, led by a lay pastor, Norma Encarnacion, remains small but mighty. They support a prayer ministry, and they tutor classes in English as a Second Language and GED testing—with the help of a partnership with ECHO South County.

In 2017, RUMC partnered with Metropolitan Ministries to distribute hot lunches to local folks in need of assistance. Originally envisioned as a Saturday operation, our Metro Ministry feeding program has moved to Tuesday morning and operates in conjunction with our Tuesday morning RESTORE grocery distribution. During the pandemic of 2020, Metro Ministry is providing bag lunches for take-out in compliance with “social distancing” requirements. Connie Mosley manages our Metropolitan Ministries partnership.

Today, in 2020, our congregation has shrunk to about half the size of our 1986 peak membership. We are still utilizing essentially the same aging buildings that existed on our campus 34 years ago. Like many small to medium sized Methodist churches throughout Florida, we struggle to maintain our mission and relevancy in the face of the growing number of unchurched Floridians.

We have welcomed a Haitian Seventh Day Adventist congregation to use our facilities on Saturdays. We continue to support “Wonderful Wednesday” potlucks, Bible study, and children and youth activities. We have an active Boy Scout troop, and we provide facilities for AA meetings and for a women’s choral organization. Before stoppage by the pandemic, our current pastor, the Rev. Louis Telcy, had begun a few weekly “Fresh Expression” worship opportunities at RV parks and senior care facilities in our neighborhood.

We look forward to restarting a full slate of activities in the Fall of 2020 (pandemic permitting), and to celebrating 175 years of serving the Riverview community in 2021.
An aerial view of Crichton Fellowship Hall, under construction in 1976.  The addition of the Fellowship Hall nearly doubled the square footage of the Riverview First UMC building complex.
The front of the sanctuary of Riverview First UMC today.