Lithia man builds church in his front yard
LITHIA - When life handed Billy Allen piles of lumber, he decided to transform the 2 1/2-acre property he shares with Linda, his wife of 46 years. "A couple of guys from the Southern Pine (Timber Products) sawmill started bringing lumber they didn't use," Allen said. "A lot of people today are too sorry to get out and work, so I decided to do something with it." Allen recently completed work on, among other projects, a cracker house and a building he has dubbed the Cracker Church of Lithia. The structures sit on the property — 19007 Dorman Road, Lithia — he shares with Linda, his wife of 46 years. "Building an old-fashioned church is something he really wanted to do, and that was really the only place he could put it," Linda said. "He sees it as an educational thing. He's showing his friends and some of the people he knows about the past."Allen, 66, is aware of the negative connotation the word "cracker" carries. Instead, he sees the word as a reference to rural, early settlers in Florida who were also incredibly self-sufficient. "I was raised in a poor house," said Allen, who grew up down the street from his current home on Dorman Road. "When I was growing up, I watched a lot of Western movies, and this is a tribute to how I grew up." Allen began work on the cracker house in October and completed it in about 12 weeks. Since that time, he has filled the house with antique furniture and appliances, some donated by friends in the community and others purchased by Allen, including a refrigerator and a stove from the 1920s. After that, he built himself a smokehouse and a meal house, where he makes his own grits. "I would go off to work, come back and a little more of it would be done each time," Linda said. Although he got a broken foot and a couple of broken nails for his trouble, Allen's real pride is the 400-square-foot church he finished building in early June. "We were raised at church. I remember my mom carrying us there three times a week," said Allen, who was one of eight children. "Now, I can go out there, get down and pray anything I want to. "I'm getting to the age where I don't want to go anywhere." Though the church is located on his personal property — where he and Linda have lived for the past six years — Allen insists the Cracker Church of Lithia will welcome people beyond his friends and family members. "Doesn't matter what you believe in, the doors always open for anyone who wants to come and pray," he said. The retired refrigeration mechanic — who worked for U-Save Supermarkets for 30 years — allowed himself one modern touch in each of his buildings: air conditioning. He plans to have an official opening for the church in October, but said people are welcome to stop by and check out the church. "I drove every nail on it, and I put a lot of blood and sweat into this," Allen said. "But I've really enjoyed it."
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