7 historic Lakeland churches

DYK many of Lakeland’s most historic churches are over 100 years old? Some were even around before the inception of Lakeland. From their magnificent altars shipped from Italy and Gothic-style sanctuaries to hand-carved wooden pews + stained glass ceilings, these architectural marvels help complete the beauty that is Swan City.

All Saints’ Episcopal Church | 202 S. Massachusetts Ave. | Est. 1884

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All Saints’ Episcopal Church | Photo by Lakeland Public Library

This nearly century-and-a-half-old congregation was founded in 1884 in the now defunct town of Acton and is older than the city of Lakeland. However, after an 1890s freeze destroyed the crops of the Acton, many members of the congregation were displaced and had to move elsewhere. The Reverend of the time obtained permission to move to Lakeland and arranged for a team of oxen to assist with moving the building to the corner of Massachusetts Avenue + Lemon Street.

The architecture of today’s sanctuary building (built in 1924) reflects the Spanish Revival style, boasting the original structure’s furnishings like a hand-carved altar, a bell tower, ornate mahogany, a classic pipe organ + stained glass windows. (A Guide to Historic Lakeland)

First Presbyterian Church | 175 Lake Hollingsworth Dr. | Est. 1885

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First Presbyterian Church | Photo by Lakeland Public Library

First organized in a community schoolhouse, First Presbyterian Church has been in existence for over 130 years. Just two months after its creation, the reverend opted to construct a new sanctuary — which became the first church building in Lakeland on south Tennessee Avenue.

A few buildings later (due to fire, strife + membership growing rapidly), the congregation built its current sanctuary on the shore of Lake Hollingsworth. The church reopened in 1978 and its sanctuary is home to stained glass windows, chandeliers + a one of a kind organ. A commemorative 125th Anniversary book written by two long-time FPC members is available in the church office + at the Lakeland Public Library. (A Guide to Historic Lakeland)

Bethel Baptist Church | 3125 W. Socrum Loop Rd. | Est. 1863

Located in Socrum sits one of the county’s first churches, founded originally inside the confines of a log cabin. As the unofficial geological heart of unincorporated Lakeland, Bethel Baptist Church quickly became a member of the Alachua Association of the Baptist Church in 1863 and was a host of the organizational meeting of the Florida Baptist Association.

After the construction of several different buildings, two sanctuaries still remain on site today and are the third + fourth houses of worship for Bethel. The Collegiate Gothic-style sanctuary structure was completed in 1928 and was used for services until the newest sanctuary was completed in 2006. The church maintains the Bethel Baptist Cemetery, which is home to burials predating the Civil War. Learn more about this historic Lakeland landmark here. (A Guide to Historic Lakeland)

St. Joseph Catholic Church | 118 W. Lemon St. | Est. 1892

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St. Joseph Catholic Church | Photo by Lakeland Public Library

It’s stated that St. Joseph’s first started out as a mass service in the homes of Mrs. J. Elliston + Mrs. M. J. Malloy near downtown Lakeland. Services were held this way for 16 years until the first building was erected when Mrs. Malloy donated a building site for the Parish church. Funds were then raised to build a small house of worship in 1906 on Missouri Avenue + Lemon Street.

Ground broke in 1936 for the present-day church after great need for a larger building arose. The nearly fireproof Romanesque structure is built of iron, brick, and concrete with a nave that seats 500, an altar imported from Italy, and fourteen high-relief marble Stations of the Cross.

First United Methodist Church | 72 Lake Morton Dr. | Est. 1884

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First United Methodist Church | Photo by Lakeland Public Library

Originally known as Methodist Episcopal Church South, the first members held their services in a school house at the corner of Tennessee Avenue + Lime Street in 1884. In 1887, a $500 lot was purchased and a one-room building was erected. Soon after, the building was moved across the street and a larger frame sanctuary was built.

Needing a larger space, the congregation purchased property at Lake Morton and was enlarged again in 1956. (A Guide to Historic Lakeland)

First Baptist Institutional Church | 932 Martin L King Jr. Ave. | Est. Mid 1880s

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First Baptist Institutional Church | Photo by John P.

Founded in the mid-1880s at the time of Lakeland’s creation, First Baptist Institutional Church was originally called St. John’s Baptist Church. Though the original wooden sanctuary burned down in 1898, it was replaced with a “small frame building” on Orange Street + Lincoln Avenue. Limited space in this building pushed members to hold services outdoors until enough money was fundraised for a replacement sanctuary.

The church that stands today finished its construction in 1992. The red Gothic brick building with art glass windows was praised by The Lakeland Evening Telegram as one of the city’s premier 1921 building projects.


The King’s Church | 730 Florida Ave. S. | Cumberland Presbyterian Church was Est. 1888

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Cumberland Presbyterian Church | Photo by Lakeland Public Library

The building that The King’s Church began occupying in 2022 was once formerly known as Westminster Presbyterian Church (and before that Cumberland Presbyterian Church). Though not too much information could be found on Cumberland, the 7,000-sqft Gothic-style sanctuary building housed Westminster Presbyterian since the 1920s.

The church today still keeps its Gothic-style architecture and structure and elevated ceilings.

Wondering why Lakeland has so many churches?

  • According to a National Congregations Study (NCS), there are roughly 384,000 churches in the US + 34,000 denominations in the world. Within that range, 70% of people in FL recognize Christianity as their main religion. In Lakeland alone, we have over 117 churches.
  • The bible belt. The bible belt - coined by writer H.L. Mencken in 1925 - is geographically located throughout the Southern US and includes states like TX, NC, AL + KY. Though Florida may not be entirely in the bible belt, the sunshine state sees a lot of influence from its Southern neighbors as well as the number of people who move to FL each year.
  • There are over 1,000 nonprofits in Lakeland, many with a religious base. These nonprofits, such as One More Child + Gospel Inc. depend on the goodwill of locals to help their missions succeed. Much of this support comes from nearby churches.
  • We’re home to colleges such as Southeastern University (a private Christian liberal arts school) + Florida Southern College (which has an affiliation with the Methodist Church). These staple schools partner with churches in the community.

Any other historic buildings you’d like to know about in Lakeland? Let us know by replying to this email.