February 25, 2024 Projects/Initiatives

The First Zion Baptist Church building stands as a monument to the thriving African American community that once populated our towns.


In 2016, the Harpers Ferry – Bolivar Historic Town Foundation purchased the historic building used for many generations by First Zion Baptist Church at 1030 West Ridge Street. The Foundation’s first priority was to save and preserve this community landmark for Harpers Ferry and Bolivar so we could honor its important role in the African American heritage of our towns.

In 2021 the Foundation Board of Directors finally accumulated enough support through grants and donations to replace the roof and guttering–the most vital first steps.

Since then, the Foundation Board has chipped away at smaller rehabilitation projects as we obtained funding (see list of achievements below). In July 2023, The Mills Group LLL selected our project as one of four in West Virginia to receive pro-bono conceptual architectural services. Most recently, in January 2024 we received welcome news of a $100,000 grant award from the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund that we will use to restore the building’s exterior—windows, brick masonry and foundation stones, slate shingles, and wood doors.

Now that the Foundation Board is making this giant leap forward in preserving the building, we are beginning to envision what it might become and how it might be used as a community center to serve the Harpers Ferry – Bolivar community.

A community charrette will be held May 15, 2024, to share information and gather feedback about how to use the building to best serve community needs.

Fundraising is ongoing, as the list of projects to complete the rehabilitation is lengthy. We invite you to join us in saving this monument to Black history in our community.




Rehabilitation Accomplishments

Sanctuary Ceiling Demolition

Water damage to the drywall ceiling in the sanctuary gave us a tantalizing peek at the original wooden ceiling hidden beneath.  Was it still intact?

Local tradesman, Brad Chandler, removed the drywall to expose the original ceiling.

Thankfully, the handsome bead board ceiling beneath the drywall was largely intact.

Front Entrance Staircase

The weathered concrete front steps were due a refresh.  Beneath the contemporary red steps, we found the original gray color of the steps.

After scraping, sanding, patching, priming and painting, the steps are back in service.

Electrical Heavy-Up

We were able to eliminate the unsightly overhead power lines from the front facade of the church, move the connection to a less conspicuous location and bury the power line from the street.

A reliable new panel has been installed on the interior basement wall where the old oil tank once stood.

Oil Tank Removal

An obsolete oil tank had to be removed from the basement to make way for renovations.

With the oil tank removed, time to bring in the new electrical service!

Replacement of Main Roof and Gutters

One of our earliest priorities was to stop leaks that were damaging the interior of the church.

The original standing-seam metal roof was well beyond its service life.

With a generous grant from the West Virginia State Historic Preservation Office and matching funds from the Corporation of Harpers Ferry, the Foundation was able to replace the roof and guttering with historically accurate materials.

The building is now protected by a sound new roof.

Chimney Removal

The furnace chimney, a later addition to the building, was pulling away and threatening to collapse.

Before we begin working to replace the roof, the chimney has to go!

Foundation board member Rob Case took down the chimney brick-by-brick.

The outline of the old chimney is still visible on the exterior wall.

Shade Garden

With the support of the Harpers Ferry Womans Club, the Potomac Garden Council sponsored the installation of an attractive shade garden among the trees at the rear of the church property.

Who knew mulching could be so much fun?

Native Tree Planting

With a donation of 26 native trees from the Cacapon Institute, a volunteer crew enhanced the grounds of First Zion.

Pastor's Study Stabilization

Settling in the concrete steps had destablized the block foundation of the Pastor’s Study.

Generous support from the West Virginia State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) made stabilization of the Pastor’s Study foundation possible.  Foundation Treasurer Nadine Snowden shown here with the Governor’s Chief of Staff Mike Hall and SHPO Director Susan Pierce.

Work begins on demolition of the concrete steps.

New foundation support for the Pastor’s Study.

Painting the Pastor's Study

The Pastor’s Study was cleared of overgrowth revealing severely weathered siding.

A capable crew of hardworking volunteers ready to tackle the job.

The finished result looks handsome.

Removal of the Ramp

A dilapidated ramp lead up to the overgrown Pastor’s Study at the rear of the church.

Harpers Ferry Councilman Jim Jenkins begins the demolition.

Energetic AmeriCorps volunteers, coordinated by the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia, made quick work of the project.

Bye Bye Birdie

When the Foundation purchased the church, several windows were in disrepair and had missing panes.  The worst of these was this basement window.  Pigeons found accommodations at the church to be quite agreeable.

The missing panes were replaced throughout the building and the basement window shown above was mothballed until resources become available for its restoration.

Once the pigeons were excluded from the building, intrepid neighbor Jesse set out to clean the sanctuary.

Vehicle Graveyard

Abandoned vehicles were removed from the property.

Preservation Plan

With financial assistance from the Corporation of Harpers Ferry, preservationists David Gibney and Sarah Polzin were contracted to prepare a preservation plan for First Zion.  Shown here is one of the beautiful hand-drawn elevation renderings from the plan.

Hazardous Materials Survey

Board member Carrie Gauthier accepts grant check from the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia Director Danielle Parker and Northern West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center Director Patrick Kirby.  The grant covered the cost of a Hazardous Material Survey and remediation plan for First Zion.

The First Zion exhibit at the WV Brownfields Conference.

Written by blj_adjoll5