The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church of Kingston was the first black church in Ulster County. It was organized on May 2nd, 1848 on the corner or Franklin Street and Broadway, presently occupied by a Sunoco station. At that time, the streets were known as Union Avenue and Bowary Street. The founder of the church was the consecrated efforts of the late Mrs. Sarah Ann Hasbrouck. The Rev. William H. Bishop served as the first pastorate and the congregation had been functioning for two years before it was legally organized. In the year 1863, the church was erected on its present location, 26 Franklin Street.
In the early 1800’s Mount Zion Cemetery was established for enslaved Africans and their descendants who lived in Ulster County. Black Soldiers of the USCF 20th Regiment served with honor, as well as many black families who lived in Kingston and attended the AME Zion Church rest in peace on that site. We are proud of those that have gone before us and they will not be forgotten.
A former slave by the name of Jeremiah R. B. Smith was a pastor at the church in 1882 and the five years of his service, he was successful in reducing a church indebtedness from $5,888 to $1,800. He died in 1896 and is buried with full military honors at the Mount Zion Cemetery located on South Wall Street.
Under the pastorate of Rev. William Newby in 1910, the first parsonage was purchased at 76 Liberty Street. On October 18th, 1925 the mortgage was satisfied under the tenure of Rev. Ebenezer O. Clarke.
In 1926, a fire started in the cellar ceiling of the church. Prompt discovery of the fire saved the church from total destruction. Flames shot up into the church setting fire to decorations placed on the electric light fixtures. It had burned several of the church pews, the floor and the cellar ceiling. Also, there was considerable damage to the paint and varnished woodwork in the church. The property damage was estimated to cost $1,500 to $2,000.
The ground was cleared and on May 25, 1927, a foundation was dug by volunteer efforts of members and friends. The cornerstone was laid October 26, 1927. Service was held at the Clinton Avenue Methodist Church, after which joint congregations marched from Clinton Avenue to Franklin Street and Bishop Josiah Samuel Cladwell put the cornerstone in place. The first service in the sanctuary was on Easter Sunday, 1929 during the pastorate of the REv. Ebenezer O. Clarke, builder of the church. In later years, the church also served as a meeting place for such clubs as the Boy Scouts and the Elks Club.
Rev. Dr. Stephen Conrad, a former pastor of the church, was featured in Life Magazine in 1938. In Peekskill, NY the Pastors Association of the city’s seven protestant churches met and unanimously elected him the first Negro president of the association. He was the son of a one time slave who studied at Howard University in Washington, DC.
In 1981, the parsonage on 37 Van Buren Street was purchased under the leadership of Rev. Arthur Randolph. Since then in 2005 through the efforts of the present pastor, Rev. Willis Freeman, the church obtained the parking lot next to the church.