Bayshore Community Chapel to celebrate 100th anniversary
Locals call it the original “prairie church.” Founded a century ago this month, Bayshore Community Chapel, like many area churches, from Alva through Pine Island, was started by the original worshiping families that settled in those communities through the years.
Many have passed through the church’s doors, including famed Billy Graham, who even preached there. The TV series “Route 66” filmed at the chapel in early days.
The church was established in 1910, and the current chapel was built in 1914. Today you can find more than 150 worshippers there on any given Sunday, and 300 to 400 there during season.
The 100th anniversary celebration at the church will be held Sunday, June 27.
“Billy Graham would come and preach when he was going to seminary school in Tampa,” said current Pastor Jim Smith. “He sent a thank you letter about giving him that opportunity as a young preacher,” Smith said.
Graham even sent a congratulatory telegram on the chapel’s 50th anniversary.
A true local historic landmark, in 1918 the church was used as a schoolhouse after a fire destroyed the local school. Today it still is a popular place of worship.
Smith has served there for the last three years, succeeding the late the Rev. Rea Means, who was pastor there since 1970.
“It takes me back to my childhood,” said Smith of the church’s style. “It’s just like we worshiped when I was growing up. My father was a preacher in Indiana. Even though I was born there, I love the Southern style of worship.”
“The success the church enjoys today is the direct influence of the Rev. Rea Means,” he continued. “Pastor Rea, with his dynamic personality, has helped make it what it is; he made it more successful.”
Means was a well known and beloved member of the community.
“We moved here in 1970,” said son Dr. Mark Means, who now serves as associate preacher for the chapel. He said that when the Means family came in 1970, there wasn’t much of a salary for the new pastor. His father did a number of side jobs, including buying and selling items. He also worked as an orderly at Lee Memorial Hospital — and even drove a hearse for the North Fort Myers Funeral Home to supplement his income and support his family.
Rea Means was known for his charismatic and caring personality and his love for motorcycles. He was a member of the Christian Motorcycle Association and ABATE (a motorcycle safety promotion organization) and often took long motorcycle trips with wife Fran. He also led “the blessing of the bikes” in the area.
“It’s family oriented, simplistic, with a welcoming spirit,” said Means of the chapel. “I grew up there, since I was 10 years old. The church has had a huge influences on many people’s lives in Lee County.”
Today the Means family is still prominent in the area. Dr. Mark and brother Rick Means run the successful Means Family Chiropractic Clinic, with nephew Casey Means recently joining the practice. Brother Wayne runs a muffler shop in the area, sister Darla works for an attorney in town and sister Cindy lives in Texas.
Family is what the chapel is all about, said several church leaders.
Local pioneer Sam Williams was one of the founding fathers, along with the Williams, Powell and England families. Others included the Whidden, Delacey, Nalle and Corbitts.
“John Powell was the first settler here to move north of the (Caloosahatchee) River, the first to homestead in North Fort Myers,” said Smith. He had a large family, many daughters, and as they married and settled in different areas from Alva to Pine Island, their families established many local churches.
Some of those churches include the North Fort Myers Church of the Brethren, Riverside Baptist, North Fort Myers Methodist and the Faith Assembly of God churches, totaling over a dozen.
The church’s 100th celebration will start with a morning service at 10:30 a.m., which may be extended as many are invited to recall their early memories of the chapel, followed by a dinner on the grounds with live music.
“Some of the congregation is planning on dressing up in period costume from the 1910 era,” said Pastor Smith.
Music has always been part of services at the church. Expect signing and banjo playing at the celebration.
“There’s always the piano and organ, and guitars, and people sing along to old-fashioned hymns,” said Means. “It doesn’t matter what you wear; all feel welcome, everybody’s fine.
“The land was initially donated as long as it remained an inter-denominational church. All are welcome,” Means said.
Many of the current congregation are decedents of the pioneering families, said Smith.
“If anyone is looking for a home church; what a great place to come to, you’ll fit right in,” Means continued.
The Bayshore Community Chapel is located off Old Bayshore Road. and Samville Road. For information, call 543-5683.