Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Must to Save: The Former AME Zion Church

Former AME Zion Church seen from Center of Excellence.
Photo: Samuel Gruber 2010.

Former AME Zion Church. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2010.

A Must to Save: The Former AME Zion Church

Yesterday I was glad to attend the opening of the new Center of Excellence. I'll write more on that in a separate post. But walking down, and then then looking south through the CoE's wall of glass, I couldn't help a feeling of dismay as I passed two of the most significant and most neglected buildings in Syracuse, the Gustav Stickley House on Columbus Avenue and the former AME Zion Church at 711 East Fayette, just a stone's throw from the CoE. Both are small buildings which once had small problems, but neglect has caused more damage and the future of each remains uncertain.

The former AME is, I think, the oldest purpose-built Africa-American church in Syracuse. The modest church building with elegant stained glass windows was (apparently) designed by leading Syracuse architect Charles Colton (who also designed City Hall). This was the successor home to the famous congregation that had been led by famed-abolition leader Jermaine Loguen during the mid-19th century.

I'd appreciate hearing from anyone with information or ideas about saving this important building. Given its prime location and small size it could be used for a variety of educational, exhibition and community purposes.

July Wellman wrote in Uncovering the Freedom Trail in Syracuse and Onondaga County (PACNY, 2002): “The AME Zion Church in Syracuse was the largest African American congregation (and for many years the only one) in Syracuse. It was the single most important community organization for African Americans before the Civil War, and it was one of the most important sources of abolitionist and underground railroad activity in the region. It also represents the central importance of churches for promoting the Freedom Trail.”

The original church was at 14 Chestnut (West side of South Crouse between Washington and Water Streets). The congregation moved to East Fayette in 1911. AMW Zion still owns the building, which has been occupied by other religious congregations. AME Zion is now located at 2306 South Salina Street.

From Syracusthenandnow (

“When Charles E. Colton died in 1914, he was hailed as "the most prominent architect in the city at the time." In Syracuse, Colton's best known work is City Hall, built in 1889. Colton was educated in the public schools of Syracuse and was engaged in various enterprises before he entered the architectural office of Archimedes Russell in 1873. Three years later he established his own architectural offices. Between 1880 and 1881 he was in partnership with James H. Kirby. New York State Governor David B. Hill (Gov. 1885-1891) offered Colton the position as State Architect, which he declined because of pressing work. Colton was Treasurer of the Western New York Association of Architects and was elected a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1888.”

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