Status: Progress Made
07/2010 Update: The Church acquired a corporate donor in Engineered Arresting Systems Corporation (ESCO) from the Pureland Industrial Park in Logan Township, NJ. Employees of Pureland donated their time to paint the interior of the church, remodel the two bathrooms, install entryway doors and clean the cemetery. These projects were completed in 2008 and 2009. For the 2008 grant round, the Church received a grant from the NJHT in the amount of $12,000 for a Conditions Assessment and Stewardship Plan. Matching funds in the amount of $4,000 were provided by ESCO. This work is currently underway and being completed by Kise Straw and Kolodner of Philadelphia, PA. In 2009, the Church received free and clear title to the Mt. Zion Cemetery. Unfortunately, church membership is at an all time low, making the task of upkeep of the physical building difficult. The Fellowship Hall, which is a ‘modern’ addition, has a deteriorating roof that is allowing mold contamination. Efforts are being made to remediate the problem, but years of neglect are taking a toll on the building. The Church still conducts weekly worship services.
The Mt. Zion congregation was founded in 1799 on land set aside by anti-slavery Quakers. Incorporated in 1832 as the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, Mt. Zion was part of the AME denomination that was started in 1816 by Richard Allen, a Methodist preacher who inspired churches throughout greater Philadelphia and southern New Jersey. Mt. Zion’s first house of worship was constructed in 1834, the current structure in 1887. Church members participated in the Underground Railroad, assisting runaways fleeing the slave South by providing protection, food and supplies, and guidance to escapees; a trap door under the church vestibule is a physical reminder of this. The cemetery contains an estimated 200 graves, including a dozen African American Civil War Veterans.
Despite Mt. Zion’s significance to African American history, it is under substantial threat. A leaking roof and resulting deterioration threaten the structural stability of the building, and recently a new problem developed: flooding brought on by altered drainage patterns from new construction in the area. The small congregation cannot keep up with the maintenance requirements of the church, nor can it afford the professional support it needs to research and challenge encroachments to the property.
The Mt. Zion Cemetery received a $21,750 management grant from the New Jersey Historic Trust in the 2005 grant round.