Florida’s First Retirement Community
Advent Christian Village, Dowling Park, Florida
In a horseshoe-like bend of the Suwannee River at Dowling Park, Florida there is a community that is celebrating its Centennial Year. Advent Christian Village (ACV) has the distinction of being the first retirement community in Florida. In 1913, it opened for business as an orphanage and a home for “tired and worn-out preachers and their spouses.”
Advent Christian Village began with a dream. In 1910, Thomas Dowling of The Dowling Lumber and Naval Stores Company at Dowling Park sold his vast holdings to Richard W. Sears of the Sears Roebuck Company dynasty. Dowling deeded 120 acres to the Advent Christian Conference of Churches to establish a church campground. The campground did not materialize until later, but Dr. Burr A.L. Bixler, minister of the Advent Christian Church in Live Oak, Florida, envisioned an orphanage and a home for “tired and worn-out Christian workers.” On December 17, 1913, a family of five children arrived at the American Advent Christian Home and Orphanage at Dowling Park. In July, 1914, Rev. Henry Smith was the first minister to enter the Home.
Orphans at the American Advent Christian Home and Orphanage at Dowling Park enjoy a cart ride by the river. Old Buck, the ox, is the motor for the wagon, circa 1914
The dream of a handful of people at the beginning of the 20th century developed into a secure comprehensive care community on 1,200 acres of woodlands and scenic landscapes along the banks of the Suwannee River. The eight hundred residents choose from a wide range of housing options from homeownership to mid-rise Housing and Urban Development (HUD) facilities, ground level apartments and manufactured homes. The continuum of services includes a 161-bed nursing home and 40-bed assisted living facility.
Through the years, the Home and Orphanage (now Advent Christian Village) adjusted to the changes in society and remained true to its mission to express Christ’s love by providing compassionate care and quality comprehensive services for senior adults, families with special needs, and children in a secure, supportive residential setting and in the surrounding communities.
Advent Christian Village’s Centennial Celebration began by planting 100 flowering trees across the main campus as well as trees along one roadway that will someday become a canopy road. A special centennial event is planned for each month during 2013. The Village Heritage Trail with 24 illustrated markers recounts the early buildings that comprised the Home and Orphanage and church campground. The year ends with a Founder’s Day spectacular in December when a pictorial history book will be unveiled.