The Journey Through Hallowed Ground

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Mount Zion Baptist Church

In 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, African American members of the Baptist Church on Park Avenue successfully petitioned to form their own congregation. Still prevented by Virginia law from worshipping together without a white minister, they nonetheless established The Delevan or First Baptist Church in 1864. In 1867 some members organized Mt. Zion Baptist Church and called “the horseback preacher,” Reverend Spottswood Jones, to become the first African American pastor in Charlottesville. They met in private homes and built a small frame church on Ridge Street in the 1870s. The growing congregation replaced it with a large brick structure in 1883/84 and added the steeple, stained glass windows, and a pipe organ in the 1890s. On Easter Monday, 1905, an overflow crowd witnessed the mortgage burning ceremony. When the church was built on Ridge Street, Charlottesville—like many southern towns—was residentially integrated, but during the twentieth century neighborhoods became segregated.  Not far to the north of Mt. Zion an Irish neighborhood evolved into the center of black social and business activity in Charlottesville, known as Vinegar Hill. The Mount Zion congregation continued to thrive and eventually outgrew the old church. They moved in 2003 to a large new building at 105 Lankford Avenue.

Designations

Virginia Historic Landmark, National Register of Historic Places

Resources

  • Mt. Zion First African Baptist Church Website.
  • National Register of Historic Places Registration Form. “Mount Zion Baptist Church, Charlottesville, Virginia.” VDHR File No. 104-0181, 1992. Available online in pdf format.
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