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  • Writer's pictureGrace Episcopal Church

Resilient Grace Part II: Orange Trees Through Influenza

By Eleanor Simons

After the hardship of the Civil War and Reconstruction, the 1880’s and into the early 1890’s was a time of recovery and prosperity. Orange trees replaced previous crops and economic growth returned to the area. The church membership grew and the church had to be enlarged. Two side wings and a bell tower were added. In 1893, the membership could now afford a rector and a rectory was built down the street from the church.

The Rev. Charles Gray was barely settled into the new rectory when disaster struck. In 1894 and 1895, devastating freezes destroyed the orange crops and killed the trees. The economy suffered terribly, as did attendance at Grace Church. The rector’s salary was cut drastically, almost in half. Even though he had a large family, Rev. Gray stayed and continued to serve until things started to improve.

In 1902, the members purchased land and, in 1905, the church was taken apart and reassembled 1/2 mile up a hill to its present location. The whole process took 5 months. Grace Church was still close to the downtown area, but had room to grow. Eventually, a rectory was built beside the church. This short period of ease was brought to an end when difficult years came again in the form of WWI and the draft, which took young men from Ocala to fight in France.

Then, in the fall of 1918, the Spanish Flu pandemic reached Ocala. Eloise Ott, a member of Grace Church, wrote in the book Ocali Country (p. 175) “Schools, churches, theaters and other places of public assembly were closed. Death came to many in the city and county. Whiskey and grapefruit juice were used to combat the disease, with which the doctors had little knowledge.” Grace Church records show that there were a few baptisms, no confirmations, very few marriages, and some burials, though only one burial attributed to influenza. Dr. Hood, who went house to house treating victims, eventually caught the flu and died.

When I think about those early years and those members who came before me, I think their motto must have been Step Out in Faith. Through all these hard times, they still refused to give up, but continued, living their faith as best they could and worshipping together through thick and thin.

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