A Historic Church
Dedicated in 1887, the Clinton A.M.E. Zion Church in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, served as the spiritual, cultural and political home for the local African American community for nearly 130 years. The shingle-style church is historically and architecturally significant for its association with the religious and cultural heritage of African Americans in rural New England, and as a distinctive example of 19th-century vernacular church architecture. It is also distinguished by its connection with Great Barrington native W.E.B. Du Bois, one of the country’s most influential scholars and civil rights leaders, and cofounder of the NAACP. As a teenager, Du Bois who wrote regular newspaper columns about the activities of the A.M.E Zion Society, which built the church after 16 years of fundraising. Du Bois scholars have called the church, “a crucible that nurtured the spirit and honed the skills of ‘Willie’ Du Bois” and “a place of continual and important social reference for him.”
Tucked away at 9 Elm Court in the heart of downtown, the church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Massachusetts Register of Historic Places, and is a key site on the Upper Housatonic Valley African American Heritage Trail. In 2018, Preservation Massachusetts added the church to its list of Massachusetts Most Endangered Historic Resources.
A Community Mission
Clinton Church Restoration was formed in late 2016 by a group of local community members concerned about the fate of the historic property. The church, vacant for two years, had recently been deconsecrated and put on the market. With longtime congregant Wray Gunn serving as chair, the group incorporated as a Massachusetts nonprofit and began fundraising to save the church. Thanks to the contributions of more than 400 donors, we surpassed our initial $100,000 fundraising goal in just five months and in May 2017, purchased the property.
Now a 501(c)(3), Clinton Church Restoration’s mission is to restore the historic property for adaptive reuse as a vibrant heritage site and visitor center that interprets the life and legacy of W.E.B. Du Bois, celebrates the Berkshires’ rich African American heritage and honors the history of the church and the work of its first female pastor, the Rev. Esther Dozier.
A Plan for the Future
Clinton Church Restoration has been working with key stakeholders, architects, designers, planners, and consultants to develop a plan for the preservation and ultimate use of the property since the beginning. Efforts to date include:
- Visioning Process (2017): The Jackson Design Group facilitated a public session and two charrettes to garner public input on the project and engage key stakeholders.
- Asset Mapping and Design Charette (2017): Partners for Sacred Places and the Jackson Design Group facilitated an asset mapping workshop and design charrette with architects and key stakeholders.
- Historic Structure Report (2018): Undertaken by a team led by Clark and Green Architects, this 142-page HSR documents the church’s social and architectural history, assesses existing conditions, and identifies and prioritizes treatment recommendations.
- Project Architect Hired (2019): The award-winning firm Huff + Gooden Architects was selected to lead the design team for the restoration.
- Construction Kickoff (2019): General contractor Larochelle Construction began work in late October to replace the church roof and repair related damage.
- Exhibit Design Team Hired (2020): A team lead by Proun Design was selected to develop a comprehensive interpretive plan for the site, design all exhibits and interpretive elements, and oversee exhibit fabrication and installation.
The preservation of the historic Clinton Church, which is part of a growing movement to preserve African American historic places around the country, has already garnered national attention. In 2018, the National Park Service African American Civil Rights Grants program awarded a grant to Housatonic Heritage for Clinton Church Restoration’s initial stabilization and planning phase. The project has also received grants from the National Trust for Historic Preservation African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, Massachusetts Historical Commission Preservation Projects Fund (emergency grant), Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund, and Community Preservation Act funding from the Town of Great Barrington. Additional support has been provided by the Jane & Jack Fitzpatrick Trust and the Feigenbaum Foundation.
Please join us! We invite you to explore this site to learn more about our activities and meet our board of directors and advisory board. Stay updated by adding your name to our mailing list below. Donations to the project may be made here.