Local AME Church and Museum Listed on National Register of Historic Places

A scenic view of Mt. Zion AME Church. (Photo by Catherine Fulmer Hogan)

Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church, the home of the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum (SSAAM), at 189 Hollow Road in Skillman, Montgomery Township, Somerset County, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on June 7, 2021.

The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historic and archeological resources.

Mt. Zion AME was recommended eligible for listing on the National Register “for its historic association with the ethnic heritage of African Americans in the Sourlands and … as a humble example of rural Black church architecture with a high level of material and design integrity,” wrote Patrick Harshbarger, vice president of Hunter Research, Inc., on Mt. Zion AME’s National Register Nomination Form. The nomination of the Mt. Zion AME Church for listing on the National Register was funded by a Somerset County Historic Preservation Grant.

“The Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum is grateful for all of the support we have received from the county, state, foundations, and individuals. We are truly blessed to have this support, and the privilege of working on such an important project,” said Caroline Katmann, SSAAM’s executive director. “Listing on the National Register is an acknowledgment of the importance of our mission to bring African American history to light and to preserve the structures that were part of that history.”

The National Register reviews nominations for preservation; offers guidance on evaluating, documenting, and listing different types of historic places; and helps qualified historic properties receive preservation benefits and incentives. 

“What does it mean for our church/museum to be on the National Register of Historic Places? Primarily, it is a recognition, at the national level, that this is an important place to be preserved as part of the history of the country,” explained Ian Burrow, SSAAM board member, archaeologist, and cultural resource management specialist. “This is something to be celebrated and made widely known.” 

John Buck, SSAAM’s board president, said, “We cannot thank the team at Hunter Research, Inc. enough for writing Mt. Zion AME’s nomination. We are also extremely appreciative of the support we have received from Somerset County and the Cultural & Heritage Commission for their support from the very beginning of our work to preserve this site.” 

Beverly Mills, SSAAM founder and Advisory Board member, added, “We would not be where we are today without the support of our donors and many grantors, including the NJ Historic Trust, Somerset County, the NJ Council for the Humanities, and the Bunbury Fund of the Princeton Area Community Foundation. The African American story here is the story of my family and ancestors. We are committed to telling the truth about American history to honor those who came before us.”

“Everywhere we go, people are hungry for information about the culture, contributions, and experiences of African Americans in our state,” said Elaine Buck, SSAAM founder and Advisory Board member. “This is a story that has been ignored until recently. Our state and nation will not heal from centuries of racism until this history is told. We hope that our museum, and the beautifully restored Mt. Zion AME Church, will be a place people will visit to learn about and honor the enslaved and free African Americans who contributed so much to the culture, economy and landscape of this area.”

SSAAM and the Sourland Conservancy have partnered to restore the Mt. Zion AME Church and the cultural history of the Sourlands for over a decade. Laurie Cleveland, executive director of the Sourland Conservancy and SSAAM Advisory Board member, said, “An important part of the Sourland Conservancy’s mission is to preserve the rich history of the Sourland Mountain Region. The important contributions of African American residents throughout history are an integral part of that story. We are proud and grateful partners in this effort and look forward to continuing this critical work.”

The final stage of restoration of the Mt. Zion AME Church will be overseen by Mills + Schnoering Architects of Princeton. 

“We are looking forward to opening the doors of our beautifully restored building to visitors on a regular basis in 2022,” said Katmann.