[Watertown, NY] – With the official public announcement on 15 January 2024, the Friends of Thomas Memorial are proud to share that Thomas Memorial AME Zion Church has received $100,000 in funding from the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, a program from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The Friends of Thomas Memorial consists of historic preservation stewards from Preservation In Color, Adirondack Architectural Heritage (AARCH), Neighbors of Watertown, the Preservation League of New York State, People's AME Zion Church, Crawford & Stearns/Architects and Preservation Planners, PLLC, New York Landmarks Conservancy and Richard Margolis Art and Architectural Photography Studio.
With the Adirondack Architectural Heritage (AARCH) acting as the grant’s fiscal sponsor, the funding will support the roof stabilization efforts for the Thomas Memorial AME Zion Church.
Since 2017, the Action Fund has raised more than $91 million in philanthropic funding, and serves as the largest U.S. resource dedicated to the preservation of African American historic places.
The Thomas Memorial AME Zion Church, located in Watertown, New York at 715 Morrison Street, was built in 1909 as the first African American church in Jefferson County. The congregation, formed in 1878 and incorporated in 1880, worshiped in a private residence at River and Court streets until a bequest of $500 from Watertown resident Henry Gaines enabled them to build a new church. Under the leadership of longtime member and Board president Frank Thomas, congregation members, many of whom were railroad workers, molded the concrete blocks and built the church themselves with funding assistance from local community organizations such as the YMCA. The church was a place of refuge for the legacy of African Americans who served as abolitionists and who had connections to the Underground Railroad. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2002 in recognition of its significance in architecture, social history, and African American history, particularly its longstanding association with the African American community in Jefferson County. A most recent achievement was the 2022-2023 selection as one of the “Seven to Save” sites which is an initiative managed by the Preservation League of New York State.
The church has been without an active congregation at least since about 2012. Its caretaker, William “Buster” Crabbe, passed away in 2017, leaving the care of the church in limbo. A group of enthusiastic preservationists began meeting in the Fall of 2021 virtually to discuss and plan ways to advocate for the restoration of the church. Now they have hit a major breakthrough with the award of the Preserving Black Churches grant.
“We are excited about being a recipient of the Preserving Black Churches grant. This is a tremendous achievement for the church. To be recognized for its historic value and to receive the support to keep the physical building in the community is an honor. This truly has been a collaborative effort amongst a group of people who believe the same. I look forward to sharing more about the progression of the repair work and working with the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.”-Shameika Ingram, Preservation In Color
“Thank you to the National Trust’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund for providing much-needed funds to repair Thomas Memorial’s tower roof and masonry. Adirondack Architectural Heritage is proud to serve as fiscal sponsor for the project, led by Shameika Ingram, Preservation in Color.” Erin Tobin, Executive Director, Adirondack Architectural Heritage.
“This grant is a crucial step towards the restoration of the Thomas Memorial AME Zion Church while preserving its cultural legacy for generations to come.”-Pastor Daren Jaime, People's AME Zion Church
“We created the Preserving Black Churches program to ensure the historic Black church’s legacy is told and secured. That these cultural assets can continue to foster community resilience and drive meaningful change in our society,” said Brent Leggs, Executive Director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund. “We couldn’t be more excited to honor our second round of grantees and ensure that African Americans – and our entire nation – can enjoy an empowered future built on the inspiring foundations of our past.”
“Black churches have been at the forefront of meaningful democratic reform since this nation’s founding. They’re a living testament to the resilience of our ancestors in the face of unimaginably daunting challenges,” said Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., historian, and advisor to the Action Fund. “The heart of our spiritual world is the Black church. These places of worship, these sacred cultural centers, must exist for future generations to understand who we were as a people.”
See the full list of this year’s grantees and site descriptions here.
About AARCH: Adirondack Architectural Heritage (AARCH) is the nonprofit historic preservation organization for New York State’s Adirondack region. Formed in 1990, AARCH’s mission is to promote better public understanding, appreciation, and stewardship of the Adirondack region’s unique and diverse architectural heritage.
About Preservation In Color: Preservation In Color is a platform that serves to bring awareness to the creative ways we preserve Black History, Culture and Community. It is intended to be a space for grassroots preservation work and collaboration.
About the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund: African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund is a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation that works to make an important and lasting contribution to our cultural landscape by elevating the stories and places of African American resilience, activism, and achievement. With more than $90 million in funding, the Action Fund is the largest U.S. resource dedicated to the preservation of African American historic places.
To learn more about our mission to tell the full American story, visit https://savingplaces.org/african-american-cultural-heritage.