The Mt. Zion AME Church was organized in 1866 by African American residents, descended from free and enslaved people, who lived in the Sourland region. Originally located in Zion (currently the corner of Spring Hill and Zion-Wertsville roads), the church serviced local residents who worked on farms as laborers, domestics as well as in the region’s trap-rock quarries and numerous peach orchards. In the late 19th century when the blight affected the peach industry, much of the African American community dispersed. Those that remained, in 1899, moved to the base of Sourland Mountain at the present location, and built a new church. That site, located on Hollow Road near its intersection with Camp Meeting Road in Montgomery Township, was donated by the True family. The name Camp Meeting was derived from large social events held to financially benefit the Skillman Mt. Zion AME Church. On the last two Sundays in July and the first two Sundays in August, hundreds of people who would gather in a nearby grove to attend these events which lasted up until the early 1930's.Click here to learn more about the camp meetings.
Original location of
Mt Zion AME Church
Present location of
Mt Zion AME Church
The map at left was produced in the 1850's, and represents the Hollow Road region in western Montgomery Township.
Hollow Road runs roughly south to north in the middle of the map, along Rock Brook, as it ascends Sourland Mountain. Camp Meeting Road intersects with Hollow Road at lower right
The original location of the Mt Zion AME Church can be seen at left, along the Province Line and unlabeled Zion Road (note the "African Ch." label). The site of the historic camp meetings, as well as the present site of the Mt Zion Church, are located near the intersection of Hollow and Camp Meeting roads.
J. W. Otley, L. Van Derveer, and J. Keily. "Map of Somerset County New Jersey Entirely from Original Surveys" (Camden, N.J.: Lloyd Van Derveer, 1850) [Library of Congress]
The Mt. Zion AME church would remain in service to the dwindling African-American community until it's doors closed in 2005. Unfortunately it was not long before the structure fell into disrepair. In 2012, through the efforts of the the Sourland Planning Council (now Sourland Conservancy) a special fundraiser, along with a grant from the Montgomery Township Landmarks Commission, assisted in providing the necessary materials needed to refurbish the church. The structure proudly stands just as it did over a century and a half ago, with its original pews and old kerosene chandelier.
Structure & Grounds
View of Mt Zion AME Church from Hollow Rd. Catherine Fulmer-Hogan, SSAAM Trustee, 2018
The simple one-room building is a wood frame construction on a stone foundation clad in vertical exterior beaded-board that is painted white. It has a pitched roof and each gabled end has an entry door and a decorative picket detail at the eave line. The interior is remarkably intact with stained and varnished vertical beaded-board. The pulpit is at the east wall on a raised platform and there are original wood pews. The building has a high degree of integrity and character-defining features.
The museum recently received a $15,000 matching grant from the 1772 Foundation/New Jersey Historic Trust; this money will be utilized for a number of renovation projects. The most significant of these is the replacement of the 8” X 8” X 30’ long center beam under the floor (the original beam was damaged by termites at some point in the past). This will be a significant undertaking. and will be the main focus of our immediate attention.
Water color created by Martha Haude, a freelance watercolor artist based in Montgomery, NY
Additionally there will be masonry repairs to the stone foundation – the joints cleaned and repointed, and the parge coat refurbished. Finally, we will be doing some exterior clapboard and trim repairs and repainting.
Following an extensive clean-up, the grounds surrounding the church have been power raked and graded. The area was then reseeded with a native pasture mix and a layer of mulching straw was applied; this represents a temporary fix in order to get control over a number of invasive plants that had taken over the property.
Sources: SSAAM, Sourland Conservancy, Historic Building Architects LLC, 2017