The First Church on Gasparilla Island
Methodist roots can be traced back to the 1870's, however, prior to the phosphate discovery of 1890 and the railroad that would be built to ship the rock around the world, Gasparilla Island was a pretty isolated place to live. It was and is a barrier island, protecting Charlotte Harbor. The book Fisherfolk of Charlotte Harbor, by Robert Edic, gives a wonderful background to the people who lived here and on the islands that make up Charlotte Harbor.
After phosphate rock was discovered, Gasparilla Island was no longer just for fishing folk. It now became an industrious shipping port. Gasparilla Island was chosen to be an alternative to Punta Gorda for shipping the phosphate. It had a deepwater harbor, where a terminal and railroad would be built. It took two years to finish the railroad, but in early 1908 trains began to run from Arcadia south to Boca Grande.
With the construction and the development of the railroad from 1905 to 1908, a lot of activity was happening. In 1907 the Boca Grande Land Company was created. In 1908 the second of four plats of the town of Boca Grande Land Company was recorded, corresponding to the current Historic District between First and 19th Street. Also in 1908, the land for the "Hotel Boca Grande", later to be named The Gasparilla Inn had been reserved. The hotel was completed in 1911 and was opened for the 1912-13 season. It was during this early period of development when Bishop James Atkins of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South Florida Annual Conference sent Rev. D.B. Sweat to formally organize the first church on Gasparilla Island for the purpose of ministering to the island community.
A Church is Born
Six months after being sent to Boca Grande, on July 10, 1910, Boca Grande Methodist Episcopal Church, South, was chartered by The Rev. D.B. Sweat. Seventeen members made up the original charter as recorded in the Church Register with the official joining on the 20th of July, 1910.
Conference records show that Rev. Sweat was appointed to Arcadia in December 1909 and again in December 1910. Archivist Nell Thrift states, "it is probable that Rev. Sweat began the church and served it as part of his circuit.
The church entered the Bartow District with the Rev. S.W. Lawler as Presiding Elder. For the first ten years of its life the church would be a "station charge."
As the Gasparilla Island and the town of Boca Grande has grown, changed, and prospered, so has Lighthouse United Methodist Church of Boca Grande. To accommodate the growth and missional endeavors of the congregation a new Sanctuary was consecrated in 2006. The congregation currently serves over 26 missional endeavors locally, nationally, and around the world.