Mt. Zion Methodist Church

On July 4, 1867 a "Dr. Brown" visited Woodstock and preached at a “colored” camp meeting. This meeting laid the foundation of what is today Mt. Zion Methodist Church.

The following year members of Woodstock’s African American community had raised enough money to purchase a plot of land at the intersection of Locust and Church Streets. In 1869 the congregation bought the frame work from the former St. Paul’s German Reformed church and moved it from the south end of town to their property. There they used the frame to build a church building. This building would be finished in 1887 when the inside was complete and would be renovated in 1898 when a belfry was added.

The members of this church chose to affiliate themselves with what was then the African Methodist Episcopal Church. This denomination was one of the few who opposed slavery in the years before the Civil War and members of the black community in Woodstock probably would have been connected with this more liberal denomination. Until the groups merged in the 1930s, the predominantly white Woodstock Methodist Church was a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church-South.

Mt. Zion’s congregation supported the first African American School in Woodstock. That institution was founded under the auspice of the Freedman’s Bureau in 1865 and operated until 1870 at the church under the name the “Lincoln School.” Sponsored by the American Missionary Society, this school enrolled between 15 and 60 students for each of its terms.
In 1881 the congregation took the lead in advocating for the community’s first local public school for African Americans which was built on church owned property immediately behind the church building. Members of the church strongly supported the students at those schools. Graduation, plays, spelling bees, and numerous other school events were held in the Church and often the lines between the congregation and school were blurred.

Besides their support for education, the church was also known for its “Bush Meetings” and children’s services. These weekend-long affairs were held annually and featured numerous religious services and other, entertaining activities. They were primarily held outside, often on an open plot of land near Indian Springs on what is now Water Street. Black churches from around the county and the valley participated and large crowds typically gathered.

In 1921 the congregation decided to replace the original church with a new building. Under the leadership of Reverend W.H. Polk they were able to raise over $1000 for the structure through a series of fundraisers. In September of 1921, the new church was completed.

During the 1960s the current United Methodist denomination was formed and Mt. Zion joined. Today it is part of the Shenandoah Valley Charge which includes Woodstock and Strasburg’s Mt. Zion Methodist Churches. It also maintains Riverview Cemetery, a burial ground founded for Woodstock’s African American population in 1906.