Despite facing setback from fire in 2021, historic Black church in Clay County rebuilds from ground up

ORANGE PARK, Fla. – After making a vow to rebuild a historic Black church in Orange Park from the rubble that was left after a devastating fire, St. Simon Baptist Church members are finally breaking ground on a new building.

The church hosted a groundbreaking celebration Saturday afternoon to mark new beginnings as it moves forward to rebuild.

The 3,200 square-foot church on Miller Street went up in flames in March 2021, just before Easter. The church, built in 1965, was under renovation for needed improvements. The pandemic, like most, also had an effect on the church because it closed its doors and started having outdoor services.

“It was very heartbreaking,” congregation member Margaret Moore said.

Moore has been a member for five years and said it was had to believe a fire burnt down a place she loved.

“We could really get started again to see it come back because we’ve been working on it a little while,” Moore said.

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St. Simon Baptist Church was left in ruins by a fire

The aftermath of the fire left rubble, causing nothing to be salvaged from the previous building.

Deacon Lester Perry said rebuilding is “the last leg of the journey” for the church.

“It is time. It’s time for us to get back and get the church finalized so we can continue serving the community, serving families, people and friends,” Perry said.

Investigators called the fire “suspicious” and believed that it was caused by arson. Members also questioned how the fire started since the building was stripped out for its total makeover.

Despite having to start from scratch, members vowed they will rebuild.

Now, fast forward to February 2023 and the church has proved that it was committed to fulfilling that vow.

The church is currently holding services temporarily at the Challenge Enterprise Plaza.

About the Author:

Khalil Maycock joined the News4JAX team in November 2022 after reporting in Des Moines, IA.