July 7, 2024 Blog

In 2016, the Foundation purchased the historic First Zion Baptist Church building at 1030 West Ridge Street in Harpers Ferry. First Zion was one of three African-American churches that served the thriving Black community in Harpers Ferry through the first three quarters of the 20th century.

The Foundation’s first priority was to save and preserve this community landmark for Harpers Ferry and Bolivar and to honor its important role in the African American heritage of our towns. Thanks to a $100,000 grant from the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund and conceptual renderings generously donated by The Mills Group, this vision is coming to fruition.

This past spring, the Foundation solicited input from Harpers Ferry and Bolivar residents and members of the Foundation regarding how First Zion can best serve the community. While we wanted to learn more about the types of events and outreach opportunities our stakeholders desired, we also wanted to receive questions and concerns. Local residents and other stakeholders were invited to provide insights and ideas via an online survey about the ways they envision the use of the building.

Then, on May 15, the Foundation held a community charrette at the Bolivar Community Center. The Foundation shared some history of the church and its neighborhood and introduced a set of conceptual drawings showing what the rehabilitated church might look like. Community members were invited to share their thoughts and ideas. The event attracted about 50 people, and participants were incredibly constructive in offering their feedback. Check out a few pictures from the event at the bottom of this post!

Also, WV Public Broadcasting did a wonderful story on the charrette and the broader effort to preserve African American history in WV that you can listen to here.

Next Steps

This summer, the Foundation board will spend time reviewing all the responses received, both online and in person. Then, the real work begins: Finding ways to be most responsive to community needs while also coming up with creative solutions to address community concerns. This process will likely take a few months, but we promise to stay in touch as big decisions are made. Watch the blog and our Facebook page for ongoing updates.

Of course, funding is the big hurdle to overcome before we can do anything more than maintain the building. Any time you see the Foundation sponsoring a fundraiser for the building, we hope you will spread the word and come join us.

We also continue to welcome additional thoughts and suggestions! If you would like to offer your feedback, please email our board chair, Lynn Pechuekonis, at chair@historicharpersferry.org.

Written by Rachel Meyer