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Gospel brunch raises more than $6,600 for Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum

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The future home of the The Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum in Skillman.

The Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum, the first African-American Museum in Central New Jersey, is slated to open in Skillman  in 2018.

Area residents and organizations have been busy planning for the museum’s opening and raising funds to support it over the last few years. The latest fundraiser, the second annual gospel brunch at Hopewell Presbyterian Church, raised more than $6,600 for the project.

The Trenton Children’s Chorus and other musical groups performed at the event that was hosted by the Sourland Conservancy and the Stoutsburg Cemetery Association. A capacity crowd enjoyed food and drinks donated by the Brothers Moon, Antimo’s Italian Kitchen, the Boro Bean, the Bagel Barn, and the Hopewell Valley Bistro & Inn.

The interior of the Mt. Zione AME Church in Skillman.

The museum will be housed in the historic Mount Zion AME Church at 189 Hollow Road in Skillman. Th church was previously located on Mount Zion Road in Hopewell Township. The Mount Zion AME Church was established sometime before 1850 by members of the Sourland Mountain African-American community. The peach orchards provided the primary source of income for the congregants at the time. When the peach blight struck, the parishioners moved to Skillman to find work, and they took their church with them. They disassembled the structure, loaded it into horse-drawn wagons, moved it to its current location on Hollow Road, rebuilt the church and resumed worship there. Over the years, attendance declined and the church closed. Though unused for several years, the building and its contents have remained intact. ​

The Sourland Conservancy first became involved in preserving the historic structure in 2012. The Conservancy raised money to repair and paint the vacant church and the Montgomery Township Landmarks Commission paid for the materials through a grant.

In 2014, the Sourland Conservancy and the Stoutsburg Cemetery Association decided to partner on the project to make the dream of opening a museum a reality. Members of the two organizations worked together to plan, raise money, and establish a museum board of trustees. The Museum was awarded its own official nonprofit status in 2016, and donations are now tax deductible.

Currently in its second year of planning, the museum has formed a board of trustees and preliminary work on the museum grounds has begun. The trustees are John Buck, Catherine Fulmer-Hogan, Jack Koeppel, Bruce Daniels, Edwin Lloyd, Kevin Burkman and Marylou Millard Ferrara. ​

In 2016, the Sourland Conservancy was awarded two grants to support the project. A Somerset County Historic Preservation grant will be used to fund activities that will support the museum’s creation. Funds from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities will be used to offset costs for building repairs, staff, museum materials, and equipment needed to create oral history stations.

Musicians, speakers, carpenters, historians, high school students and more have rolled up their sleeves to do historic research, make maps, plan events, entertain, cook, design programs, and set up for events. Area businesses and organizations have contributed, as well. An old tree that was leaning over the building was removed thanks to a Pennington Day Grant and the work of Wells Tree & Landscape. The Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton has provided advice, expertise and display cases.  Hopewell sculptor Charles McCollough has created a sculpture of a family for the museum. The Hopewell Presbyterian Church has offered support, hosted the Gospel Brunch, and sewed popular “Church Lady Aprons” as a fundraiser. ​

The museum will feature various exhibits including original objects and documents, interactive exhibits, films and recordings of local residents, demonstrations and live
performances. The board is currently seeking documents, pictures and artifacts for the museum. For more information or to submit historic information and artifacts, email info@sourland.org.

The Trenton Children’s Chorus performs at the gospel brunch at the Hopewell Presbyterian Church.

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

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