You don’t have to go to South American to see Peru. Just take Exit 250 from I-75 and then head North on US-301. That’s because Riverview was called Peru until 1984.
Although the history of Riverview’s commerce from cattle and logging at first, to citrus and “orange fever” in the 1870s, to phosphate mining in the 1880s, and today to 100 tropical fish farms is well documented, not so well known is the contribution of two of its oldest churches.
The first recorded Riverview settler, Benjamin Moody, brought his six motherless children from Tampa in 1842 to settle on the southern side of the Alafia River. Called an “adventurer and Indian fighter” by journalist historian Norma Gooslby Frazier, Moody was, nevertheless, a devote Methodist and was called the “Father of Southern Methodistism.”
Undeterred to learn that the nearest place of worship for his children was 20 miles away in Tampa, Moody built in 1846 a small log church at the rear of his large yard. Three other families constituted the entire congregation.
When L.G. Lesley arrived in 1866 at the close of the Civil War, he built in what was then Peru a new church, named Lesley Chapel. In 1880 the congregation joined the Methodist Episcopal Conference and a Rev. C.E. Pelot was assigned as pastor.
When a new steel and concrete bridge replaced the original iron one with a wooden floor at the turn of the century, the congregation built a new church on the north side where most of them lived and is the site of the present day Riverview United Methodist Church.
The church remains an active contributor to the historical development of Riverview. Pastor Rob Atchley points out, for example, “”Through our Restore Food Pantry, Riverview United Methodist Church has been able to feed nearly 10,000 people per year”.
When the Peru Baptist Church was founded in 1893, it shared a building with the elementary school. Then in 1905, it too moved to the north side in a remodeled general store. In 1919 “the church on the river” moved to its current location and today is the First Baptist Church of Riverview.
This congregation also continues to contribute to Riverview. Says Pastor Randall Hosea, “We have established a food pantry to help feed the needy called ‘Hungry Heart Food Pantry.’ We hosted a health fair with free screenings for the community. Our Women’s Ministry has partnered with Daystar in Gibsonton and handed out “bags of love” to the homeless. On May 29th our whole church will be doing a grill out, serving grilled chicken with all the fixings for the homeless at Daystar. We have a MOPS groups that ministers to mothers of preschoolers.”
Much of the written history of Riverview owes its existence to journalist historians like Norma Frazier, especially her work titled “A Light in the Wilderness.” Among them are Elizabeth McAllister, East Hillsborough Tribune; Joe Rice, East Bay Breeze; and Norma Edelson-Chuplis, Shopper Observer News.
For more about the history of the Riverview Methodist church, read Dee Lindsey’s third book, “Living in the Spirit.”
For more about the history of the First Baptist Church of Riverview read Virginia Little’s “A Labor of Love” focusing on Pastor Ben Earnest, who served for 30 years.