Religious life in 18th century Somerset County was dominated by Dutch Reformed and Presbyterian denominations. By the early 19th century, the Methodist faith was beginning to make inroads into the area - first with itinerant preachers, then through established churches.
|Detail from the Somerset County 1850 Map showing the area of Rock Mill(s)|
and the location of the original Mt. Zion Chapel
At first, the sparsely populated Sourland Mountain region in Hillsborough Township's southwest corner would seem an unlikely place to build a church in the first half of the 19th century. Originally populated by freed slaves and people that wished to remove themselves from society, and later by those looking to take advantage of water power for sawmills, gristmills, and especially earthenware production, there was enough enthusiasm by 1843 that a small plot of land was acquired and the first wood frame church was built.
|Circa 1908 postcard view of the second Mt. Zion United Methodist Church.|
Despite oftentimes having to share a minister with the Methodist churches in Neshanic Station and Centreville, the congregation grew - perhaps numbering as many as 200 by the time the original church was destroyed by fire in 1880. A new 30 by 60 foot building of random coursed stone was immediately built as a replacement, but the end of pottery manufacture on the mountain saw membership shrink and the church fall on hard times - such hard times that the church shut its doors between 1907 and 1916.
|A more recent view of the Mt. Zion Church after the 1975 fire and reconstruction.|