Community works to save historic African American church

MT. HOLLY SPRINGS, Pa. (WHTM) — A Cumberland County community is pushing to save a church built by a freed slave and Civil War veteran.

Octogenarian Harriet Gumby’s grandfather, Elias Van Buren Parker, built the small church known as Mount Tabor AME Church in the 1870’s. It sits along the hills of Mount Holly Springs in a quiet, wooded area.

“My mother’s father came up from Virginia in the 1400’s and found this little settlement in Mt. Holly Springs,” Gumby said. “He built a church here for the black families that came before him and after him.”

The church and its cemetery have been listed by a state preservation group as an “at-risk” site. That means the site is now eligible for grant money that may help with repairs. A small, dedicated group of Harriet’s community have already begun work to fix up the property, spending the last year tending to the cemetery and clearing away brush from the church, including vines of poison ivy.

“The one wall is being held up essentially by vines, but it is still in place and it has been for a very long time. We have great hope that we can do something with the structure,” said Lindsay Varner, the community outreach director for Cumberland County Historical Society.

Varner helped to apply for the “at-risk” listing with Preservation Pennsylvania in an effort to get official recognition for the site’s historical value. With help from the state, the small community group hopes to create a community space to honor the sites African American history. At least seven soldiers are buried on its grounds, including some that served in the United States Colored Troops during the Civil War.

Carmen James attended Mount Tabor AME Church from the time she was 6 years old until around the time it closed its doors in 1970.

“It looks a little rugged, doesn’t look like it’s loved, but it is loved,” James said. “When you touch it and you think of the hands that built the church, the rich history – if this church could talk.”

To learn how to help with the preservation of this site contact the Cumberland County Historical Society at 717-249-7610. You can also click here to visit their website. 


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