Stoutsburg African American Museum receives more than $300,000 in grant funding

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From left to right, the SSAAM’s Caroline Katmann, Bruce Daniels, Ian Burrow, Elaine Buck, John Buck, and Somerset County’s Kaitlin Bundy and Brian Levine.

The Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum was aided in its efforts to complete renovations to the historic Mt. Zion AME Church after receiving a grant from Somerset County.

The church in Montgomery Township was organized in 1866 by African American residents, descended from free and enslaved people, who lived in the Sourland region, according to museum officials.

“African American history is American history and should not be separated. This grant is specifically earmarked to complete all the renovations to the Mt. Zion AME Church, which is the site of our museum. This grants also allows us to also determine what we need for the adjacent property to the museum,” said Beverly Mills, a founder of the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum. “With the acquisition of the adjacent property next door it has opened the door to much more that we can do.”

She said the purpose of the land next door is to construct a cultural and educational center.

“Pretty much this grant is two-fold, to complete the renovations to Mt. Zion and complete an engineering report on the adjacent property. The grant helps us in these areas phase the renovations to Mt. Zion,” Mills said.

The museum purchased the adjacent property adjacent to the church in partnership with the Sourland Conservancy.

The 2019 grant is in the amount of $326,461 and from the Somerset County Cultural and Heritage Commission. The grant will fund architectural and engineering work and additional renovations to roof, porch, windows, HVAC system and electrical work.

“Our goal is to essentially bring the look of the church back to the way it would have been when it was placed in the 1800s on its current site,” Mills said. “Our plan is to have it as authentic architecturally as possible for that time period. We recently just completed our ‘Take a Seat’ program, where people sponsor the refurbishing of the church pews. This is all coming together.”

According to officials, the church sits at the corner of Spring Hill and Zion-Wertsville roads in Hillsborough.

Officials are looking at late spring for most of the renovations to be finished at the church.

“Considering where we were even a year ago, it has been nothing short of miraculous. This grant speaks volumes in the county’s confidence in seeing how our work is vital to this area,” Mills said. “I think that translates to the public as well when they see that the commission supports us.”

She said she wants people to takeaway from the church and museum the African American presence in the Sourland Mountain region and surrounding areas.

“African Americans who were enslaved built this region. This story has been put on the shelf and not thought about or asked about,” Mills said. “African American history is just something not many know about. We want to connect the past with the present.”

For more information about the museum, church and how to help, visit www.ssaamuseum.org.