By NewsLine Staff
mail@floridanewsline.com

The William Bartram Scenic Highway Group is now earnestly moving forward with plans to restore the former Switzerland Community Center building and is asking the community for volunteers to help in the work. The group has a lease with St. Johns County permitting it to do the work necessary on behalf of the county and the residents of NW St. Johns County. The Switzerland Community Center sits behind the old volunteer firehouse that is across State Road 13 from Alpine Groves Park. 

The old Switzerland Community Center was originally built as a church around 1900 in the New Switzerland area of St. Johns County. In the 1940s, a new church was built and the original building was converted into a community club, serving as a recreational center until the 1990s. The club hosted many local functions including Sunday dinners, dances, square dances, parties, and other events that raised money for community charities. 

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This historic structure had a vital role in the social history of the community, serving as a school for all races and religions and as a voting precinct where the first registered African American vote was cast in St. Johns County in 1950. 

In 1952, a concrete block building that was used as a volunteer fire station was built adjacent to the community center. In 1999 the block structure was abandoned when the fire department turned professional, and a new fire station was built nearby. The community center continued serving as a recreation facility and antique storage until 2005 when it was abandoned and fell into disrepair. 

Through a negotiated lease agreement with St. Johns County, the William Bartram Scenic Highway organization is working to restore the building as a community center, welcome/education center, and site for senior activities. A recent engineering study of the existing building determined it is structurally sound. The byway organization seeks funding to implement Phase 1 of this restoration project to include roof and wall repairs, new electrical panel plus structure rewiring, security system, painting, repair of utilities and HVAC service. 

The mission of William Bartram Scenic Highway Group is, in part, to preserve the history and heritage of the St. Johns River region of St. Johns County and to serve as a vehicle to help build the local economy. Anticipated benefits that will be the result of this project are the preservation of a unique, historic byway resource which will help tell the story of northeast Florida and the byway, while serving as a gathering point for the Switzerland community. 

“We need your help to volunteer with our present community activities,” said Al Abbatiello of the William Bartram Scenic Highway Group. “Please join us!”

Membership dues for 2022 for the William Bartram Scenic Highway Group are $15 for a single or $40 for a family. Specific donations to help with the restoration of the community center are also accepted. Contact Al Abbatiello at (904) 699-8475 or email alabbat@comcast.net for more information or to make a donation.

Photo courtesy William Bartram Scenic Highway Group
Rendering of proposed restoration of the Switzerland Community Center.

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