Last September the Bread and Water Theatre group expressed interest in purchasing the Westminster Presbyterian Church at 660 West Main Street after learning that its owner had asked the City for permission to demolish it. That demolition request has been denied (for now). Meanwhile, the same theatre group now has its eye on another historically significant church…
The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in the Cornhill Neighborhood [map it ] has a very rich past, and I’d highly recommend reading this article from the Burned Over District Blog about the church and its congregation. Here are the historical CliffsNotes…
The current building is actually the second church built on this site by the congregation. The first was a one-story wooden structure built in 1831, about 15 years after the Memorial A.M.E. Church was founded in Philadelphia. This church was used by Harriet Tubman as a stop on the underground railroad and Frederick Douglass printed his North Star anti-slavery publication in the basement. The second church was built in 1879, and it’s believed that timbers from the old church were used in the construction of the new one.
From the church’s web site :
Some members of the AME Zion congregation believe that Frederick Douglass’ printing press is still somewhere in the building. But I’m skeptical, as Douglass’ publication ceased in 1861, eighteen years before the new church was built. In any event, I can’t seem to find this building on any historic/landmark list (local, state, or national). That seems strange to me.
Also noteworthy… in the 1960’s the congregation was forced to relocate to their current home on Clarissa Street because the Inner Loop and I-490 (west) were being planned to run right through the site. As fate would have it, I-490 skirted to the north and the church was never torn down. It sat vacant for many years after that.
Now owned by Greater Bethlehem Temple, the 6,100 square foot church has been on the market (listed at $499,900) for nearly a year. This week Bread & Water Theatre launched a campaign to try and raise the needed needed to buy it and turn it into their home and a community space.
“We are in final negotiations to purchase the church,” says J.R. Teeter, the group’s artistic director. “To be successful in our efforts we need to do two things: we need to have the highest bid, and provide a large down payment demonstrating that we are serious about purchasing the building. We believe that both are possible – if people hear our message and donate to this cause.”
Teeter says if his group is successful, he will open the building up and make it available to everyone, including the original congregation. “We believe that this building is vital to the history of Rochester and our goal is to preserve it using its bricks and mortar to help uplift a community and honor the legacies of Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, and Harriet Tubman whose histories are all part of the legacy of this building.”
How You Can Help
UPDATE: From Cynthia Howk, Landmark Society of Western NY: “The church at 42 Favor Street is an officially designated City of Rochester landmark . This official landmark designation is via the City’s Preservation Ordinance, which is administered by the Rochester Preservation Board, working with staff at the City’s Department of Planning. City Landmark status provides protection from (1) demolition and (2) unsympathetic alterations to the exterior of the building. It does not regulate changes to the interior of the building, nor does it control the use of the building (for example, the church could be sold to a new owner, who might want to put a dance studio in the sanctuary – instead of using this as a house of worship). The use of a building is controlled through another section of the City’s zoning code.”
Tags: 660 W. Main Street, A.M.E. Zion Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Bread & Water Theatre, Cornhill neighborhood, Favor Street, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, J.R. Teeter, North Star, Susan B. Anthony, underground railroad, Westminster Presbyterian Church
This entry was posted on Thursday, April 18th, 2013 at 7:48 am and is filed under Interviews, Rochester History, Rochester Images, Rochester News, Urban Development. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.