27 April 2019

Mt. Zion AME Church

For a great part of its history, going back to colonial times, New Jersey was a slave state. Africans labored on the farms, worked at the ports, and were employed as domestics. So important was slave labor to the economy that New Jersey was the last of the northern states to abolish slavery in 1804 - and then in a piecemeal way that left many blacks with the status of indentured servants.

Mt. Zion AME Church October 2018

Hillsborough Township did not escape the scourge of slavery. But to find evidence of Hillsborough's black history today sometimes requires looking beyond the city limits. On Hollow Road in the Skillman section of Montgomery Township stands the Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. Engraved on the front right cornerstone of the church is the marking "Nov. 19, 1899", representing the date that the church building was moved from its original location in Hillsborough and placed on a new foundation in Montgomery.

Historic maps dated, clockwise from top left, 1850, 1851, 1860, and 1873,
each showing the location of the Mt Zion AME Church
Because we know that freed slaves and their descendants lived in the Sourland Mountain region of Hillsborough going back to the 18th century it is not surprising to see the Mt. Zion AME Church shown as "African Church" on area maps as early as 1850. The church, originally located on Zion-Wertsville/Long Hill Road near the intersection of Spring Hill Road, became part of the African Methodist Episcopal denomination in 1866.

October 2018
Not much is known about the church or its congregation before it moved to Skillman in 1899. In the first decades of the 20th century, the church was known as the Skillman AME Church. The "ladies of the church" regularly organized fish pounds, oyster suppers, and strawberry festivals - but by far the most popular event was the annual Camp Meeting. Held each year over four consecutive Sundays from mid-July to mid-August at Brophy's Grove near the church, the Camp Meeting was a festival featuring religious speakers, gospel music, and of course, their famous chicken dinners served from noon to five each day.

Research project created by Hillsborough High School history students
on display in the church October 2018
The Mt. Zion AME Church continued to serve the African-American community until disbanding in 2005. Today the church building is owned by the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum. As of 2019, rehabilitation and restoration of the building has already begun, and there are plans to include a museum of African American history on the site.

October 2018

No comments:

Post a Comment