A guided bus tour with local historian Jimmy Richardson highlighted Paterson’s most notable African American historic sites last Saturday, September 27th. The Paterson Historic Preservation Commission has been putting on historical tours that we’ve been enjoying all year and this one was no exception.
We started at Lambert Castle and started heading toward Market and Madison where the New Christian Tabernacle is located. Richardson spoke about how storefront churches were the origin of many congregations and were mainly an East Coast phenomenon. As the storefront churches grew, they tended to take over existing church buildings from congregations that had moved or dwindled. Even though the facade of the New Christian Tabernacle appeared to be painted stone it was actually built with cast concrete, a popular building material of the time. It’s the only cast concrete church in Paterson. Unfortunately, from our vantage point on the bus we couldn’t get a good shot of it.
Our first time outside the bus was in the gorgeous Christ Church United Methodist building at 27th Street and 15th Avenue. They are renovating their stained glass windows and they are already beautiful inside and out.
Churches like this were so important to the African American community because for many years church was the only legal place for African Americans to meet in groups. Everything happened in a church for this community so their hearts and dollars were poured into making them the nicest most beautiful places possible.
The vaulted ceiling and pipe organ were amazing!
We got off the bus next for the Bethel AME Church at Governor and Auburn Streets.
This was tour guide Jimmy Richardson’s home church and he even lived across the street for most of his childhood.
Formerly a Dutch Reformed church, the Bethel AME congregation was the last public speaking engagement for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. before he headed to Memphis and his ultimate assassination there. Ed asked if the church was packed that day and Richardson said it was standing room only inside and the streets outside the church were filled as well. There is a tale that speakers were placed outside the church so people could hear but turns out this was not the case.
Rosa Parks also spoke here so there was a lot of history to revisit here with Mr. Richardson. You could hear how proud he was of his home church. Across the street from the church the community is putting up a memorial park for many of the historical figures that graced Auburn Street. Landscapers were there as we heard about everyone who was going to be honored there.
Our next stop on the tour was at the location of the future Huntoon-Van Rensalier Station of the Underground Railroad monument on Broadway between Church and Memorial Drive. Josiah Huntoon hung a lantern in his house on this location to signal safety to those runaway slaves hiding in Garrett Mountain. Huntoon, a white man, trained William Van Rensalier, a free black man, to run the Underground Railroad and also trained him in engineering and other academic fields that he could help him with. It ended up being a partnership that helped many men and women escape to safety through New Jersey. This is a fascinating piece of New Jersey history and we are thrilled to see this monument becoming a reality.
Our final stop on the bus tour was at Hinchliffe Stadium where Negro League baseball championships as well as Latino Leagues played.
Gianfranco Archimede, Executive Director of the Paterson Historic Preservation Commission, gave us some history of the building of the stadium and how it’s being preserved now. We were especially interested as Ed’s father and brother played football here and his sister had track meets. Would love to see the inside of the stadium on the next tour.
The tours that the Historic Preservation Commission offers are always fascinating and this tour through the African American history of Paterson was one of the best ones yet. Keep an eye on the Great Falls of Paterson National Historic Park’s Facebook page where they post information about future tours of Paterson.
Check our all the photos from our trip through Paterson’s rich African American history:
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