At a community-wide celebration earlier this month, State officials presented a $150,000 grant award to the Hopewell Old School Baptist Meetinghouse for preservation of the site and plans to make it accessible for community use.
The event began with a benediction from community member John Buck and an acoustic folk rendition of the national anthem by Hopewell daughter, recording artist Danielia Cotton. Later, Cotton sang “Amazing Grace,” as a duet with her mother, jazz vocalist Wenonah Brooks. All were warmly received by a rapt audience of community members, historic preservationists, and political representatives.
This major grant award was funded from the FY23 State Fiscal Recovery Fund under the American Rescue Plan and made possible through the work of the 15th legislative district: Assembly members Anthony Verrelli and Verlina Reynolds Jackson and Senator Shirley Turner, as well as Hopewell Borough Mayor Paul Anzano and the Hopewell Borough Council.
Verrelli recounted the hoops that were jumped though in order to secure the funding, saying, “the process wasn’t easy, it was hard to navigate, but we took it that no doesn’t mean ‘no,’ it just means ‘not yet.’” He said he believes the historic site is important to educate future generations – “the trials and tribulations those people fought for got us where are today,” adding: “It gives me great pleasure to use the legislature to make this a reality.”
The church was organized at the home of Joseph Stout on April 23rd, 1715. They met in various homes until 1747, when John Hart, signer of the Declaration of Independence, donated land for a meeting house to be built. That first structure built that year was replaced by the current brick structure in 1822. In 1748, the congregation also maintained an educational facility across Broad Street, alumni of which founded Brown University. “Old School” applies to a 1832 division in the Baptist church, where the “old school” or “regular” Baptists hold to a very conservative, New Testament-adhering primitive theology.
At the celebration, John Hart, owner of Rosedale Mills and descendent of John Hart the signer, noted that it was a privilege to represent the family of the person who donated the land and stated his family’s appreciation of the work that has gone into preserving this piece of the Hopewell Valley’s rich history.
Turner, who, according to Verrelli, introduced the appropriation bill and worked to keep the issue alive in the legistature stated, “This is not a church, but our prayers were answered… It takes a village and we have a great village in Hopewell Borough with a mayor who was so tenancious.” She said, “in other parts of the country, they want to bury history but we’re not going to let that happen in New Jersey!”
Kris Provenzano, Board member of the non-profit that manages the church structure and grounds told MercerMe:
“The Hopewell Old School Baptist Meetinghouse, Inc., an NJ nonprofit, IRS 501(c)(3) registered public charity was formed in February 2023 to preserve and restore the meetinghouse and grounds. The Board of Trustees is executing a multi-year strategic plan which includes, but is not limited to:
- “National and State Historic Registration – on May 4, 2023, the property was granted a certificate of eligibility (COE) for the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Historic Preservation Office. The application was accepted by the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) in August and the nomination has been added to the November agenda for the State review board.
- “Site Historic Preservation Planning – The Board of Trustees is working with Historic Preservationists and Architects to create a preservation plan for the Meetinghouse which is expected to be completed in 2024. In September, Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) testing, a non-intrusive geophysical technique that uses radar to image and survey the subsurface, will be conducted at the property. This is needed to move forward with the Preservation Plan.
- “Programming – The Meetinghouse is currently open to the public every third Saturday of the month from May through October and for local community events at this time.
“The Board of Trustees is working with local historians and educators to plan programming events for next year.
“In addition to the above, the Board of Trustees has contracted a web designer to create a website for the Hopewell Old School Baptist Meetinghouse which is expected to be completed in 2024. Individuals interested in volunteering or joining the Board of Trustees are encouraged to contact the trustees via email at [email protected]. Donations are accepted via PayPal and checks may be made payable to Hopewell Old School Baptist Meetinghouse, a mailed to P.O. Box 23, Hopewell 08525.”