The Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum's mission is to educate the community about the unique culture, experiences, and contributions of the African American community living in the Sourland Mountain Region.
The museum site, located at 189 Hollow Road, Skillman, NJ, is still under development, and not yet opened to the public. When open, SSAAM will present exhibits, lectures, programming, and cultural activities. The museum will use its unique surroundings and valuable community partnerships to offer a glimpse into the past while simultaneously educating its visitors on the merit of preserving vital traditions that continue to be relevant and instrumental in securing a bright future.
The preservation of land adjacent to the historic Mt. Zion AME Church will allow SSAAM to tell stories of the people and places left out of the history books.
Learn how SSAAM worked with D&R Greenway and the Sourland Conservancy to acquire land for the museum.
The land upon which SSAAM stands is part of the traditional territory of the Lenni-Lenape, called “Lenapehoking.” The Lenape People lived in harmony with one another upon this territory for thousands of years. During the colonial era and early federal period, many were removed west and north, but some also remain among the three continuing historical tribal communities of the region: the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation; the Ramapough Lenape Nation; and the Powhatan Renape Nation. We acknowledge the Lenni-Lenape as the original people of this land and their continuing relationship with their territory. - Rev. J.R. Norwood, PhD
Restoration Work at Mt. Zion AME Church
SSAAM is pleased to announce that the final phase of restoration work on the historic Mt. Zion AME Church has now begun! In addition to making much-needed renovations to the building, the work has already turned up new discoveries at the site. SSAAM's structural engineer recently reviewed the building from foundation to attic, joined by archaeologist and SSAAM Board member Ian Burrow. Monitoring excavation work at the rear of the church, Burrow discovered that the stone foundation extended 30 inches below grade, much deeper than expected!
As of June 2022, concrete foundations for the front porch and mechanical room have been poured; a large dead Ash tree was removed by Wells Tree & Landscape; and the old roof was replaced with a new cedar roof.
This project is funded by a generous grant administered by the Somerset County Cultural and Heritage Commission. The work is being coordinated by SSAAM Board member Bruce Daniels, Vice President and Chair of the Buildings & Grounds Committee. We are also grateful to Mills + Schnoering Architects and contractor Al Whitman of Lewis Graham Inc. for helping make this important work happen.
Historic Purchase of True Family Farmstead
SSAAM and Sourland Conservancy have partnered to purchase and save the historic True family farmstead. Located in Skillman, the property was originally owned by a Black Union army veteran who worked as a farmer after the Civil War. In 1891, after his death, his wife Corinda married Spencer True, a descendant of the former slave Friday Truehart; Truehart had gained his freedom in 1819 and became an early African American landowner in the Sourland Region.
Spencer and Corinda True made their home on the farmstead, which originally included the land on which the National Historic Register-listed Mt. Zion AME Church stands today. Spencer and Corinda donated the land for the church in 1899 after the original church, built around 1866 on the Sourland Mountain, burned down. Mt. Zion AME Church welcomed its African American congregants until 2005, and now serves as the home of the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum.
Descendants of the True family sold the adjoining farmstead to the Normile family in 1994. With the recent purchase of the farmstead and recombining of the parcels, the True family story has come full circle.
The historic True family farmstead in Skillman, New Jersey, located adjacent to Mt. Zion AME Church.
Archaeological Dig at the Mount Zion AME Church
December 12, 2020
On Saturday December 12th 2020, seven professional archaeologists and 32 volunteers made history at the Mount Zion AME Church. This was the very first archaeological investigation at the site, and was a joint project of SSAAM and Archaeological Society of New Jersey (ASNJ).
We recovered about 250 artifacts dating from the late 1800’s and 1900’s and include window glass, nails and bricks, plain white ceramics, coal and even an iron padlock. The artifacts will be cleaned up, identified and cataloged, and will become part of the SSAAM collection. The technical details of the work will be presented in a written illustrated report, copies of which will be sent to local historical organizations, libraries, municipalities and to New Jersey Historic Preservation agencies.
Hopewell Council of Churches Sunday of Service
November 1, 2020
Volunteers came to Mt. Zion AME Church on Hollow Road and, under the guidance of SSAAM president John Buck, helped to move fencing and remove overgrowth along one of the tree lines.
We extend our gracious thanks to the Hopewell Council of Churches for helping to beautify our site!
Somerset County Historic Preservation and History Award
October 28, 2020
SSAAM was awarded a 2020 Somerset County Historic Preservation and History Award, for our outstanding contributions to the enhancement of history education and leadership in Somerset County.
John Buck, president of SSAAM, accepted the award via a virtual presentation hosted by Somerset County.
Historic Signs Site Review
July 18, 2020
On Saturday, July 19, board members of SSAAM, the Sourland Conservancy, and the Pennington African Cemetery visited sites to study the placement of future historic markers, related to African American history in the region.
The sites included the Mt Zion AME church (future home of SSAAM), Stoutsburg Cemetery, Pennington African Cemetery, and the Bethel AME church in Pennington.
The sign at Mt. Zion was funded by a New Jersey Conservation Franklin Parker Conservation Excellence Grant, SSAAM, and the Sourland Conservancy. The Church & Dwight Employee Giving Fund, Inc., Sourland Conservancy, SSAAM, and the Hopewell Historical Society funded the Pennington sign.
We are grateful to all of our grantors and supporters for making this work possible!
Architectural Restoration Survey
On Thursday, June 25, 2020, SSAAM welcomed our architectural restoration team to the Mt. Zion AME Church, to survey the existing conditions and gather information on what will be required for repair and restoration of the historic building and systems.
The team includes:
M+Sa - Architects
Keast + Hood - Structural Engineers
Loring Consulting Engineers - MEP (Mechanical/Electrical/Plumbing)
These forthcoming renovations to the Mt. Zion AME Church, the site of the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum, are funded by a 2019 Somerset County Historic Preservation Grant. SSAAM is very grateful for Somerset County’s consistent support for this project.
Progress at the Whidden Property
In July 2019, the Sourland Conservancy, Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum, Montgomery Township, and D & R Greenway closed on the Whidden Property, located just north of the Mt. Zion AME Church, on Hollow Rd. On this property, we hope to build an exhibit and education center that will advance our mission.
As part of our vision for this Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum/Sourland Conservancy campus, we recently took the next steps in this process: the removal of two dilapidated structures on the property. We are now ready for the next phases of the project, which will include engineering and architectural design, and fundraising, to help get our vision off the ground.
Somerset County Open Space, Recreation, Farmland,
and Historic Preservation Trust Fund &
Somerset County Cultural and Heritage Commission Grant
SSAAM received a grant award from the 2019 Historic Preservation Grant Program in Somerset County. This program is a part of the Somerset County Open Space, Recreation, Farmland and Historic Preservation Trust Fund. Grant applications are reviewed and rated by the Somerset County Cultural and Heritage Commission. A ceremonial check was presented to SAAAM President John Buck on October 8, 2019 at the Somerset County Administration Building. Also in attendance were SSAAM Vice President Bruce Daniels, Advisory Board Members Elaine Buck and Caroline Katmann, and Trustees Ian Burrow and Kevin Burkman. Representing Somerset County were Freeholder Director Brian D. Levine, and Tom D’Amico and Kaitlin Bundy of the Cultural and Heritage Commission.
SSAAM received the total amount of our request, $326,461, to complete renovations on the historic Mt. Zion AME Church, 189 Hollow Road, Montgomery Township. This 2019 grant from the Somerset County Cultural and Heritage Commission will fund architectural and engineering work and additional renovations to roof, porch, windows, HVAC system and electrical work. A recipient of Somerset County’s 2016 Historic Preservation Grant and a 2016 New Jersey Historic Trust/1772 Foundation Grant, the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum, in partnership with the Sourland Conservancy, has completed many structural, masonry and siding renovations already at the AME Church. In addition, grant funds were used to fund vision planning, writing of a historic register nomination and some demolition and site work.
“Speaking for the entire Board of SSAAM and all of our partners & supporters, I cannot begin to thank you for your extreme vote of confidence in our mission to tell the story of the unique culture, experiences and contributions of the African American community of Sourland Mountain and surrounding regions," stated Buck, during the ceremony. “Your support allows us to make great leaps forward in fulfilling our vision of a strong community partnership while simultaneously educating all on the importance of preserving vital traditions, which will inspire future generations.”
We are extremely grateful to the Somerset County Freeholders and the Cultural and Heritage Commission for their strong support. It is very encouraging to those of us involved in the creation of the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum to know that so many individuals, government agencies and organizations understand the importance of preserving the Mt. Zion AME Church and of telling the story of African American history in the Sourland region.
The Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum recently purchased property adjacent to the AME Church property, in partnership with the Sourland Conservancy. (The Conservancy’s mission is to protect promote and preserve the unique character of the Sourland Mountain region.) Both organizations are looking to build program and office space on this newly acquired property.
Acquisition of the Whidden Property
July 29, 2019
SSAAM and the Sourland Conservancy have become co-owners of a lovely preserved property where they hope to build their new shared administrative and program space at 191 Hollow Road, Skillman, in the heart of the Sourland Region. The property overlooks the beautiful Rock Brook and preserved woodlands next to the Museum. The two groups have begun to jointly raise funds to support the project.
On Monday, July 29, 2019, the Sourland Conservancy, Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum (SSAAM), Montgomery Township, and D & R Greenway attended a closing for the property on Hollow Road and the adjacent stream and woodlands. Present at the closing were D&R Greenway Land Trust President and CEO, Linda Mead and Laurie Emde Director of Operations; Sourland Conservancy Executive Director Caroline Katmann and Board President, Dante DiPirro; Montgomery Township Open Space Coordinator, Lauren Wasilauski; Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum Board President, John Buck and Vice President, Bruce Daniels; Keith Wheelock and Georgia Whidden, property owner.
From left to right: SC Board President Dante DiPirro, Montgomery Township Open Space Coordinator Lauren Wasilauski, SC Executive Director Caroline Katmann, property owner Georgia Whidden, SSAAM President John Buck, D&R Greenway Land Trust President/CEO Linda Mead, and the Greenway's Director of Operations Laurie Emde.
The next steps toward creation of the “SC/SSAAM Campus” are demolition of dilapidated structures on the property and fundraising for the next phase, which includes engineering and architectural work.
“There are many conservation groups in the area, and there are also several historic societies,” said John Buck, SSAAM Board President. “The partnership of SSAAM and the Sourland Conservancy is a unique combination of both fields. Our organizations are hoping that through our strong partnership and with the support of entities like D&R Greenway and Montgomery Township we can provide a unique museum and educational center that will advance our missions in a way that will enrich the community as well.”
SSAAM President John Buck
John Buck, Sourland Conservancy Executive Director Caroline Katmann, and the Conservancy's Board President Dante DiPirro
Renovations on the church continue. The latest round of work involves floor repairs and painting, bead-board restoration, non-historic chimney removal, and exterior repairs.
The stone foundation and stucco restoration and siding repair & restoration were accomplished with financial assistance from the 1772 Foundation in cooperation with and administrated by the New Jersey Historic Trust.
View of sagging non-historical chimney
Exterior during chimney removal
Note the "ghost-like" appearance of pews, which were removed for renovations
Repaired and painted floor
Exterior wood/stucco condition
View of new floor boards and repairs to wall where chimney once stood
Some long-awaited renovations on the building began in January 2019, with the removal of the church’s pews and floorboards to facilitate the replacement of a deteriorating support beam. Removal of these building features gave local archeologist Ian Burrow an opportunity to investigate the exposed lower-level of the structure, enabling us to learn more about the construction of the c. 1900 church building. A few artifacts were recovered, and we also discovered that the main beam supporting the floor joists is actually two separate pieces of lumber re-used from other places.
The most interesting artifact is an intact amber-colored glass 16-ounce “strap flask” dating to about 1900. It has the words “warranted flask” molded in the upper part. These mass-produced flasks were used mostly for liquor. The manufacturer of the contents would stick their label below the words “warranted flask”, which were intended to assure the purchaser that they were getting the amount of liquid claimed by the manufacturer.
We can only guess why this empty liquor bottle was left lying below the floor like this. Maybe one of the carpenters building the church found it to be thirsty work!
Archaeologist Ian Burrow investigating the sub-floor area of the church.
Liquor bottle found under the floor boards.
Part of the western beam component. This is seven feet long, 8 inches wide and 6.5 inches thick. The four rectangular holes are from iron spikes driven to hold in place the iron “chair” which once held a rail. Yes, this is a re-used railroad tie!
One of two angled mortises seen on the longer of the two sections of the main beam. This shows that it was probably salvaged from a barn or other frame building.
Sunday of Service (SOS)
November 5, 2018
Photos by Patricia Swartz
On Sunday, November 5th, the Hopewell Borough Council of Churches - a union of the five Churches in Hopewell Borough - Sunday of Service (SOS) volunteers brought ladders, drop clothes and paint brushes to scrape and prime the entire SSAAM building.
Other SOS projects included sorting and packing winter outerwear for Refugee Relief, 5 mile walk for clean water, packing bag lunches for Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, soup mix jars for Fisherman’s Mark Food Pantry, Wagon Train (Boy Scouts' food collection), Atrium Nursing Home Visit, and Sole Hope Pattern Party (making shoes for shoeless).
SSAAM’S sculpture project is moving forward, as we recently had a plaster maquette by local sculptor Charles McCollough’s digitally scanned. This was done at the Digital Atelier in Hamilton, New Jersey, and sets the stage for the future enlargement to life size of a 19th century family grouping (a father, mother, and child seated together on a church pew). Additionally, we scanned one of the actual Mt. Zion AME pews in order to assure a precision fit with the completed sculpture.
The life sized figures will be digitally milled out of 30 lb. urethane, a substance with the consistency of wood. The figures will then be taken to the adjacent Seward Johnson Atelier where they will be painted with a rubbed bronze finish.
Photo by Bruce Daniels, SSAAM
Visioning Workshops & Evaluation
2017 - 2018
Throughout 2017, several visioning workshops sponsored by Historic Building Architects LLC gave community members an opportunity to weigh in on the future of the museum, including renovations, visitation, exhibits, and programming.
Historic Building Architects also conducted an evaluation of existing building conditions at the historic Mt. Zion AME Church. The results from this evaluation were included in the Condition Assessment Report. Overall, the building is in good condition, given its age. However, if the building is going to be used and interpreted, some renovations will be necessary, and will occur over the next few years.
Since the spring of 2018, the grounds around the church have been transformed; large dying trees have been removed, invasive species eradicated, the removal of two non-historic out buildings, and regrading of the soil around the church.
Photos by Bruce Daniels, SSAAM & Historic Building Architects