Historic downtown Fort Myers church to be demolished

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FORT MYERS, Fla. A sanctuary that’s stood downtown for more than 60 years will soon be no more.

The First United Methodist Church congregation, a group that had been together since 1872, disbanded last year because of a decline in membership. Now, the building at 2466 First St., where the flock gathered for nearly half its existence, is about to follow it into antiquity.

“The property sadly had gone into disrepair, so there are both environmental and structural issues at work in these old historic buildings,” said Jorge Acevedo, the lead pastor for Grace Church, which has been the steward for the property since the dissolution of the Methodist congregation.

Crews will begin demolition next week. The preschool adjacent to the sanctuary will remain open.

Grace Church will sell the building’s stained-glass windows to former churchgoers, Acevedo said. Archived documents and photos are going into the hands of Florida Gulf Coast University.

“We wanted to preserve as much of the heritage of this church as possible,” said Jorge Acevedo, lead pastor of Grace Church.

It’s a legacy that includes a connection to inventor Thomas Edison, perhaps the most famous resident in the city’s history. Edison’s second wife, Mina, taught Sunday School in one of the congregation’s former buildings. A bell that hangs in the existing structure that was given by the family of church founder F.A. Hendry will be preserved and stored.

The church’s roots are humble. Hendry started it in a log cabin at the site of the current sanctuary.

And in a few weeks, when Acevedo anticipates the crews will be finished, there will be nothing but rubble on the spot.

“The former members here of course are sad,” Acevedo said. “That’s the overwhelming feeling. And I would even take it beyond sadness, they’re grieving.”

The property is worth between $5 and $6 million, and Grace Church is considering its options about what to do with it next, Acevedo said. But for those who went to the church every Sunday, its value goes beyond numbers.

“At the end of the day it’s bricks and mortar, but it’s what happens inside the bricks and mortar, it’s the relationships, it’s the tender memories,” Acevedo said. “And I think people are grieving the loss of that.”

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