Future of historic AME Zion Church remains in doubt — but things aren't as bad as you think


GREAT BARRINGTON, MASS. >> The future of the shuttered historic AME Zion Church on Elm Court remains in doubt, but town officials say they'll have a say as to whether it would be razed or altered if it gets sold to a developer.

The church, constructed in 1857, was the first African-American church in Berkshire County.

It is best known for being the church in which former civil rights leader and Great Barrington native W.E.B. DuBois and his family worshipped.

In 2008, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The church population has been dwindling over the years, and in 2014, it closed for good. The seven remaining parishioners now worship elsewhere.

Andrew Mick, the listing agent for the New England Conference of AME Churches, said he regularly gets calls on the building, sometimes several a week. But there have been no firm offers, he said.

Professors at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, which owns the W.E.B. Du Bois Ancestral Home on Route 23, have previously indicated they would like a benefactor to purchase the church for use as a visitors' center, but that has not happened, said Mick.

The church is located on Elm Court, which is near the center of downtown. Mick noted, for example, that the building is located about 100 yards from the Triplex Movie Theater.

Town Planner Christopher Rembold pointed out that the building's positioning as part of the Village Center Overlay District offers some protection to the structure.

There can be no external alteration to the building, which would include demolition, without a special permit from the selectmen and a review from the town's Design Advisory Committee, according to Rembold.

Rembold said that while the structure is listed on the National Register, that listing "is more a list of honor. The National Historic Registry has no regulatory powers."

The lone exception, he said, would be if there were federal funds involved in the renovation.

"But this project will probably be done by the private sector," he said.

Contact Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251.


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