|Rossville A.M.E. Zion Church, 584 Bloomingdale Road, Staten Island, New York|
As the oyster industry flourished, more free people of color found their way to this community in the years before the Civil War. At the time, Sandy Ground served as one area where free blacks owned their own property. Other such areas in New York included Seneca Village, a neighborhood in Manhattan that would be destroyed in the building of Central Park, and the former Lefferts family estate in Brooklyn, now Bedford-Stuyvesant. According to documents prepared by the Landmarks Preservation Commission in support of Rossville AME Zion Church's application for landmark status, the "oyster industry was quite successful on Staten Island and some of those who pursued it became wealthy, while others were able to support their families in a comfortable manner for many years." (source available as a pdf) When the oyster trade suffered as a result of industrialization and polluted waters offshore, the community turned to raising strawberries, as Reverend Jones explained.
This church that has long served as the spiritual heart of the community was founded as the African Zion Methodist Church in 1850 at the home of minister William H. Pitts, and the first church building on Crabtree Avenue was built in 1854. With the community's growing prosperity, land for a new church was purchased in 1890 on Bloomingdale Road. The congregation held its first service in this new church in December of 1897. Down the road, near the location of the original building, the church's cemetery is nestled behind lush overgrown plants and trees.
One of the sites selected for the Partners in Preservation initiative in 2012, Rossville AME Zion Church is looking to restore the interior of the church, beginning with an analysis for removing more modern features added over time, including acoustic tiles, worn carpet, and siding. Pulling back layers to possibly uncover evidence of earlier details serves as an appropriate metaphor for a church that prizes the long memories of its members. Sandy Ground, Reverend Jones said, "lives in the spirit of the people."
Directions: To visit Rossville AME Zion Church, from Manhattan, take the Staten Island Ferry from the St. George Terminal and then transfer to the Bricktown Mall bound bus. Get off at Bloomingdale Rd near Kramer Avenue and walk to the church.
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Images by Walking Off the Big Apple. A big thank you to Reverend Janet H. Jones for her warm reception and sharing the story of her church.