HARPERS FERRY, W.Va — Although Harpers Ferry, which is nestled in a historic pocket of the Eastern Panhandle, is abundant with remnants of the past, many spaces serving as reminders of its rich background are suffering the test of time.
That’s why the Harpers Ferry-Bolivar Historic Town Foundation is hoping to gather the funds to purchase First Zion Baptist Church on West Ridge Street, which is in need of extensive repairs and is currently not being utilized.
Carrie Gauthier, a member of the foundation, said she hopes the foundation can preserve the church’s heritage, as well as move it forward for future generations to enjoy.
“The foundation has wanted to help with projects like these, and when we reached out to the owners, they were amenable and excited about the project. It just seems like a really good opportunity,” Gauthier said. “Everybody is trying to do more with talking about our history, and (the church) seemed like a historical hinge pin of our local community. To purchase and renovate it would be great.”
While the foundation is ready to jump in and buy the church to begin the renovation project, it has been appraised for a price tag of approximately $70,000. To kick off the fundraising effort and brainstorm ideas for its future, the foundation is hosting a call for volunteers event this evening at the Guide Shack Cafe on West Washington Street beginning at 6 p.m.
Gauthier also said the church has an interesting history.
“We’re interested in preserving older buildings in town, and this building has a significant history. We’re really interested in preserving the black history in the community, the civil war history and the armory history,” Gauthier said. “The community gathered there on Sunday, the African American community regularly met there and business leaders attended the church, which was built between 1894 and 1896. For a time, there was even a two-room schoolhouse in the basement.”
Gauthier said the first step of the restoration project is actually acquiring the space. The family who owns the church is interested in signing a contract with the foundation to purchase the property, according to Gauthier. The first repair would be the roof, then Gauthier said she hopes to create a community space with the building that can seat about 100 people.
“It’s beautiful. It still has the original benches that the congregation made, it has the original furniture, the original lighting fixtures. It would be a wonderful concert hall,” Gauthier said. “We want it to be a community effort to renovate it. It used to be used for ice cream socials, dinners and other things. We’d love to bring music back, and we’d like to have events where we gather local history before it’s gone. I think it’s going to be a positive thing, and really, if we don’t allow some of these alternative uses for some of these older buildings, we’ve basically gone ahead and condemned them.”
Before anything can be completed, Gauthier said the initial focus of the foundation is fundraising. If community members wish to help, they can make cash or check donations, but Gauthier said the purpose of tonight’s event is also to brainstorm.
“We need people who know about grants and donors, a little bit of this and that,” Gauthier said. “It doesn’t seem to be a huge task. We might be able to find relatives of people who maybe attended there or others wanting to preserve the history. Otherwise, we’re just going to see these buildings crumble if we don’t find ways to work with the owners and communities to preserve them.”
Those unable to attend tonight’s event, but wanting to help or acquire additional information can email [email protected].
-Staff writer Emily Daniels can be reached at 304-263-8931 ext. 132 or www.twitter.com/emilykdaniels.