Tickets are now on sale for the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum’s second annual benefit Gospel Brunch, which will be held on February 25, 2017 from 11:00am-2:00pm at the Hopewell Presbyterian Church, 80 West Broad Street, Hopewell, NJ 08525. This year’s event will feature the Trenton Children’s Chorus, an award-winning nonprofit organization providing exceptional musical, academic, social, and personal opportunities for young people in the Greater Trenton Area.
All proceeds from the event will benefit the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum (SSAAM): the first African-American Museum in central New Jersey. The museum will be housed in the historic Mount Zion AME church at 189 Hollow Road, Skillman, NJ. The site of the original church was on Mount Zion Road on the Sourland Mountain in Hopewell Township.
Last year’s sold-out brunch and performance were held in Fellowship Hall at the Hopewell Presbyterian Church. This year’s organizers are changing the format to accommodate more participants. Guests will enjoy a lovely brunch in Fellowship Hall with sweet and savory specialties donated by local restaurants and businesses, members of the SSAAM board, the Sourland Conservancy board and other members of the community. After the brunch, attendees will move upstairs to the sanctuary for the concert featuring the Trenton Children’s Chorus and other talented gospel performers.
The Mount Zion AME Church was established sometime before 1850 by members of the Sourland Mountain African-American community. At that time, the peach orchards provided the primary source of income for the congregants. When the peach blight struck, the parishioners moved to Skillman to find work. When they moved, they took their church with them. They disassembled the structure, loaded it into horse-drawn wagons, moved it to its current location on Hollow Road, rebuilt the church and resumed worship there. Over the years, attendance declined and the church finally closed its doors. Though unused for several years, the building and its contents have remained intact.
The Sourland Conservancy first became involved with this historic structure in 2012. The Conservancy conducted a special fund drive to repair and paint the vacant church. That work was completed in March 2012. The Montgomery Township Landmarks Commission provided a grant to pay for the materials needed for the repairs.
Local residents, Beverly Mills and Sharon Elaine Buck are members of the Stoutsburg Cemetery Association. The Stoutsburg Cemetery is an African-American cemetery located on Province Line Road in Hopewell Township. It serves as the final resting place for Hopewell Valley African-Americans including veterans of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Ms. Mills and Ms. Buck have strong family ties to the cemetery and history of the region. They are currently working with Wild River Publishing in Lambertville to write a book about the history of African-Americans in the area.
In 2014, the Sourland Conservancy and the Stoutsburg Cemetery Association decided to partner on the project to make their museum dream a reality. Members of the two organizations worked together to begin to formulate a plan, generate support, and establish a Museum board of trustees. The Museum was awarded its own official nonprofit status in June, 2016. Donations are now tax deductible.
Currently in its second year of planning, SSAAM has received its nonprofit status, formed a board of trustees, and begun preliminary work on the museum grounds. The trustees are John Buck, Catherine Fulmer-Hogan, Jack Koeppel, Bruce Daniels, Edwin Lloyd, Kevin Burkman and Marylou Millard Ferrara.
The partner organizations held two fundraisers last year: the first annual gospel brunch last February at the Hopewell Presbyterian Church and a historic camp meeting revival reenactment at Skillman Park in September. These events were very successful in bringing the community together, achieving their fundraising goals and celebrating the spirit of the project.
In 2016, the Sourland Conservancy was awarded two major grants to support the project: a New Jersey Council for the Humanities Grant and a Somerset County Historic Preservation Grant.
Somerset County Historic Preservation Grant monies will be used to fund activities that will support the museum’s creation including: writing architectural and structural reports for the church building and a vision planning report for the future use and enjoyment of the site, placing a roadside interpretive sign outside the museum, working on the grounds and removing a dilapidated outbuilding and shed. In addition, the partners will prepare a New Jersey and National Register of Historic Places Nomination.
New Jersey Council for the Humanities Grant funds will be used to offset costs for staff, museum materials, display screens, equipment needed to create oral history stations, building repairs/improvements and curriculum writing by middle school teachers to integrate African-American history and visits to SSAAM.
Though it will be several months before the Museum opens its doors, many volunteers have already offered their time and talents to ensure the Museum’s success. Musicians, speakers, carpenters, historians, high school students and more have rolled up their sleeves to delve into historic research, make maps, plan events, entertain, cook, design programs, set up tents, tables and chairs, and much more.
Area businesses and organizations have generously contributed, as well. An old tree that was leaning precariously over the structure was removed thanks to a generous Pennington Day Grant and Wells Tree & Landscape. The Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, NJ has provided advice, expertise and display cases. Renowned sculptor, Charles McCollough, created an original sculpture of a family for the museum. This sculpture will be displayed to symbolize the hope of the families that lived here. This concept is inspired by the work at the Whitney Plantation in Louisiana. The Hopewell Presbyterian Church and its members have offered support, hosted the Gospel Brunch, and sewed wildly popular “Church Lady Aprons” as a fundraiser.
The museum is planning to include several different types of exhibits including original objects and documents, interactive exhibits, films and recordings of local residents, demonstrations and live performances. The board is currently seeking documents, pictures and artifacts that would be of particular interest to donate or loan to the museum. Contributors will be acknowledged with a plaque next to the object. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information about the project, visit www.sourland.org, www.stoutsburgcemetery.org or follow the museum on Facebook www.facebook.com/stoutsburgsourlandafricanamericanmuseum
Gospel brunch tickets are available now online: adults $35; children 8-12 $20, children 7 and under free. To purchase, please visit http://weblink.donorperfect.com/gospelbrunch