A century of prosperity
Mount Zion Baptist Church served as the key gathering place for the Black community of Athens and Southeast Ohio from 1905 until the 1990s. Over the course of its rich history, the church supported the cultural and social contributions of Black Americans in the Ohio River Valley.
Cornerstone for the Black Community
Between 1905 and 1909, a thriving community of free born and formerly enslaved Black Americans built the Mount Zion Baptist Church as a place of spiritual solace and social connection. The historic building stands at the intersection of Carpenter and Congress streets in uptown Athens as one of few remaining examples of Black American architecture in Southeastern Ohio. The region was once nationally renowned for Black entrepreneurship, education, and community building. Unfortunately, many of the area’s numerous Underground Railroad stations remain unidentified, and sites associated with prominent Black-owned and operated schools (e.g. Albany Enterprise Academy, est. 1864) and businesses (e.g. Berry Hotel, est. 1892) are no longer standing.
During the public groundbreaking ceremony for Mount Zion on November 12th, 1905, among the items placed within its cornerstone were copies of Black Ohio newspapers. Their inclusion reminds us today, 115 years later, of the church’s important mission to amplify the perspectives and accomplishments of Black Americans. Throughout the 20th century, Mount Zion did just that by functioning as a vital education hub for members of the Black community. Bible classes and choir rehearsal provided spaces free of cultural prejudice and racial discrimination, where Black congregants could develop, hone, and expand their thought, speech, and voice. Despite its fluctuating membership, Mount Zion has nurtured an environment of Black worldmaking and identity formation that continues to inspire and propel hope.
A small group of Black Athenians gather for religious services at the home of Joseph and Henrietta Miller.
Services held in a wood-framed single room church on Lancaster Street.
During the 1880s and 90s, before the new church building was constructed, baptisms took place in the Hocking River (Athens Messenger, 25 April 1895).
Church members Edward and Mattie Berry donated a corner lot in an underdeveloped part of uptown Athens as land for the new building. The Berrys were renowned entrepreneurs, having built, owned, and operated the Berry Hotel from 1892 to 1921. Their historic building was demolished by developers in 1974.
Ground-breaking ceremony on September 12 (Athens Messenger, 21 September 1905)
Starting in September, church services were held in the basement of the new building (Athens Messenger, 8 September 1906).
Building formally dedicated in a three-day ceremony in September (Athens Messenger, 25 September 1909).
Bible classes and choir rehearsals provided spaces free of prejudice and discrimination, where Black congregants could develop, hone, and expand their thought, speech, and voice. The choir is seen here during the 1940s.
Cab Calloway and his orchestra visited the church when they came to Athens to perform at the Ohio University Junior Prom on March 20.
Gospel Voices of Faith choir established under Dr. Francine Childs, as part of a resurgence of the congregation (Spectrum Green, Ohio University Yearbook, 1976).
Building added to the National Register of Historic Places in acknowledgement of its status as a historical, social, and cultural landmark. Access the nomination form in the National Archives. (Kathleen Andrews, photographer, February 1980)
Gospel Voices of Faith places 2nd in Gospel Fest, held in New York.
Mt. Zion Baptist Church Preservation Society formed. Founding members included Ada Woodson Adams, Ron Luce, Linda Philips, and Henry Woods.
Society selected by the National Endowment for the Arts as one of three partner communities to work with the Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design.