Blackwell Chapel AME Zion Methodist Church is one of the most significant structures in Jamestown, New York.
As the first African American church established in Chautauqua County, it has a long and storied history that stretches over more than 130 years.
It was founded by former slave Catherine Dikes Harris who operated a station of the Underground Railroad out of her home before opening this church.
In fact, over a period of years she used her home on Seventh Street to help an untold number of slaves with food, medical care and refuge on their way to freedom in Canada. This was dangerous business and costly if she were caught as she risked a hefty $1,000 fine and jail time.
This woman’s bravery, strength and determination to do the right thing, to do the Christian thing, while helping others in need seems a fitting beginning for a church. It’s no wonder they have lasted all these years.
I was there early on a Friday morning so there was no hope of seeing inside. From the outside, it’s clearly not a fancy church but it’s a proud one and seems solid. Here’s hoping that the church and its congregation continue to serve the community for many years to come.