Photo credit: P. Touart , 09/1986

Property Name: Mt. Zion Memorial Church
Date Listed: 11/1/2007
Inventory No.: S-405
Location: Polks Road, Princess Anne, Somerset County

Description: The Mt. Zion Memorial Church, also known as the Mt. Zion Methodist Episcopal Church or Mt. Zion United Methodist Church, is a single-story asymmetrically planned T-shaped frame structure facing north onto Polks Road. The timber frame structure, on infilled brick piers, has a marble datestone in the northeast corner of the foundation inscribed with the initial construction date of 1887 and the date of a major remodeling in 1916. The stone is inscribed with two names, Rev. H. T. Rich, who was the minister in 1887, and Rev. R. C. Hughes, the minister during the remodeling in 1916. The church faces north with the principal gable oriented on a north/south axis. On the east side of the church is a cemetery with many above-ground vaults. The north elevation of the church is an asymmetrically arranged facade with a three-story entrance tower rising in the northeast corner of the T-plan. A double-door entrance pierces the first floor of the tower and diamond-shaped windows mark a second story. The top of the tower tapers slightly as it rises toward the open belfry. The tapering portion of the tower is sheathed with wood shingles. The belfry is distinguished by Victorian sawn brackets and paired spindles across the bottom and top levels of the belfry opening. The belfry is capped by a short pyramidal roof, which is a modification of the original spire. Defining the adjacent gable-front wall of the main body of the church is a Gothic inspired tripartite window filled with early-20th century colored and opaque glass panes. The edges of the roof are finished with an extended eave. Piercing the front edge of the roof is a single-flue chimney stack. The west side elevation is defined by a single-story gable-roofed structure flanked by shed-roofed side sections that extend from the main body of the church and house the altar area, choir, and an adjacent vestment room. The altar wall is pierced by a round colored-glass window, and the shed-roofed sections are pierced by Gothic inspired single-pane colored glass sash. The south elevation is an asymmetrically planned facade with the gable end of the sanctuary pierced by another Gothic-inspired tripartite window fitted with an early-20th century colored glass panes. The adjacent shed roof to the west is marked by a door opening fitted with an early-20th century five-panel door. Another single-flue brick stove chimney pierces the roofline. The east elevation of the T-shaped church is finished in a similar fashion with the gable end wall pierced by another Gothic-inspired tripartite window. The church interior survives with a blend of finishes dating from the 1887 and 1916 building programs. The main sanctuary occupies the rectangular center section of the church with the altar and choir to the west. The east transept is an adjacent seating section housed in a room that can be closed off with a folding set of paneled doors. When the seating demands require, the two spaces can be consolidated into one large space. It appears, through the pervasive use of wire nails, that the interior was significantly remodeled in 1916. The sanctuary is trimmed with two periods of vertical board wainscoting. That which distinguishes the sanctuary is finished with a layer of oak graining, whereas the wainscoting around the altar and choir areas is distinctly different with a dark mahogany grain. The use of wire nails in the altar, choir, and vestment room were reworked in 1916. The altar and choir are distinguished by round-arched openings and turned-baluster railing that stretch across each area. The turned baluster altar rail is semi-circular. One of the most distinctive finish features of the interior is the early-20th century beaded board ceiling. A gridwork of panels, fitted with alternating diagonal tongue-and-groove boards distinguishes the ceilings of the main sanctuary east wing. Bulls-eye blocks mark many of the points where the panel framework meet. Hanging from the ceiling are the original 1916 milk glass style globe chandeliers. Around the church are burial grounds which contain many above-ground concrete vaults due to the low-lying nature of the lot.

Significance: Mt. Zion Memorial Church is architecturally significant due to its essentially intact condition and survival as one of a small collection (approximately 16 in number) of late-19th and early-20th century African-American churches in Somerset County. The formation of a Methodist church for the rural black population residing in the Polks Road community of Hungary Neck dates to the closing years of the Civil War, and until 1980 the original meeting house stood at this location. The Victorian church the congregation financed in 1887 follows the asymmetrical Gothic Revival format advocated by the mainstream Methodist Church hierarchy. The design of the church is almost certainly derived from one of the numerous mail-order plans created by architect Benjamin D. Price and published from Philadelphia by the Board of Church Extension of the Methodist Episcopal Church during the late 19th century. The interior underwent a thorough remodeling in 1916, and the early-20th century finishes remain largely intact. The use of curved pews and folding doors across the east side of the sanctuary reflect the denomination-wide movement to incorporate the Auditorium plan and lecture room arrangement that dominated Protestant church architecture during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Only a handful of the remaining African-American churches in Somerset County have survived with such a high level of original fabric. Most churches have been remodeled and enlarged periodically as congratulations demanded larger and more modern facilities. The Mt. Zion Memorial Church is the only distinctive and historically important structure surviving in this African-American community along Polks Road in northern Somerset County.




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