Union AME Church 2016-10-20T16:23:09+00:00

Union AME Church

Located on Forester Avenue next to the Shingle House, the UAME Church was originally erected by its parishioners and patrons in 1906 on nearby McEwen Street.In 2007, the UAME Church was moved to its present site.

The Warwick Historical Society plans to restore this historic house of worship to an African-American exhibit.

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NY Times  N.Y. / REGION | WARWICK JOURNAL

WARWICK, N.Y.

In the early 1900s, the community came together to build the Union African Methodist Episcopal Church on McEwen Street as a place of worship for Warwick’s black families, most of whom lived on that street.

Residents donated construction materials and lent their horses to haul them, and the local Roman Catholic parish helped with the construction costs, estimated at $1,500.

Today, the community is once again banding together, this time to save the hundred-year-old American Gothic structure, which must be removed from 98 McEwen to make way for a new building to serve the congregation, now more than 100 strong.

But time is running out. A groundbreaking ceremony for the new church was held on Saturday, and the old structure must be removed within the next several weeks to make way for construction of the new church, which has been aided by significant donations of time by the engineer and architect on the project and financial support from the community.

The congregation was forced to replace the old building because it had high operating costs — heating alone ran $1,300 a month in winter — and because the membership had outgrown the living-room-size space.

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Residents of Warwick, N.Y., are working to preserve the 1906 Union A.M.E. Church building. A bigger church will be built on the site.CreditG. Paul Burnett/The New York Times

The cost of picking up the 20-by-40-foot church and hauling it to another site, which would be donated by the Historical Society of the Town of Warwick, is estimated at $35,000 to $40,000. Only $5,000 has been raised, but contractors and other businesses are examining what role they might play in the move.

Officials of the historical society say that if they cannot move the church, they will have it dismantled and stored in a barn.

“If there was a way the people of Warwick Village could come over and lift it up and move it, it would already be done,” said Peter Lyons Hall, who created and runs a Web site about the Warwick Valley.

The white clapboard church is considered significant to the village for both its architecture and the story it tells. Michael Bertolini, curator for the historical society, said the church, built in 1906, is a classic example of American Gothic architecture at its sparest. “Obviously, when you come to a little village, it was minimized to the most simple thing you could do,” he said.

Most of the stained-glass windows are plain, but they were made of opaline glass in the manner of Tiffany. The steeple is small, but the original bell is still there.

The church was built to serve the black families of Warwick.

The historical society has preserved another church, this one the more stately Old School Baptist Meeting House, a Federal period structure. In addition, four other historic homes and buildings have been saved by the historical society and turned into living museums.

Until now, the stories of slaves and servants of African descent who worked on farms and estates in the area have been largely obscured.

The first account of African-Americans in the area dates to 1755. A large influx was recorded in the mid-1800s, as workers came to serve wealthy families who moved to Warwick from New York City, about 60 miles south. It was around then that African-Americans began to settle on McEwen Street.

“Our strength as a community is that we really understand our history,” said Mayor Michael J. Newhard. “We understand where we came from, and we’re respectful of that. The more we identify our diversity, the stronger we become as a society.”

The Rev. Vernon H. Peters, pastor of the Union A.M.E. Church since April, said the outpouring of help was a bit overwhelming.

“It’s just a blessing to be part of this,” he said. “I think it is a wonderful thing to see the town come together so the next generation and the next generation will be able to see something great took place here.”