ROSSVILLE AME ZION CHURCH
584 Bloomingdale Road, Staten Island
Built: 1897; Andrew Abrams, builder
The 1897 Rossville AME Zion Church is a rare and important surviving building from the period when Sandy Ground was a prosperous African American community on Staten Island. Beginning in the 1840s through the early 20th century, this area, called Woodrow, Little Africa, or (more commonly) Sandy Ground, was home to a group of free black people residing in more than 50 houses. For much of that time, many of the residents were employed in the oyster trade or in farming. Sandy Ground is located is the southern
part of Staten Island, not far from the shipping port of Rossville on the Arthur Kill to the north and the prime oyster grounds of Prince’s Bay on the south. The first African-American residents purchased property in the area in 1828 and their numbers were bolstered by the arrival of numerous families from Snow Hill, Maryland, who settled in
Sandy Ground in the 1840s and 1850s. These were free blacks who had been involved in the oyster trade on the Chesapeake Bay and came to New York because Maryland had passed a series of harsh laws in the 1840s and 1850s that made it difficult for them to ply their trade. The Sandy Ground community thrived for many years, built substantial houses and established successful businesses and institutions, chief among them the Rossville AME Zion Church. The founder and first minister of the church was William H. Pitts, a Virginia-born African Methodist Episcopal Zion minister who purchased land in Sandy Ground in May 1849 and began holding prayer services in his home. The African Zion Methodist Church in the Village of Rossville, now Rossville AME Zion Church, was formally established in December 1850. In 1852, the congregation purchased land on Crabtree Avenue, near Bloomingdale Road where they erected a no longer extant church building (dedicated 1854) and established the Rossville AME Zion Church Cemetery (a designated New York City Landmark). By 1890 the congregation had outgrow n its first church and
purchased this site. The present building was constructed in 1897 by Tottenville builder-developer Andrew Abrams. Over the years the AME Zion Church has played a central role in Sandy Ground. It has had a number of prominent ministers including the famed abolitionist and civil rights leader Thomas James (1872), Rev. Isaac Burk Walters (1906-07), and the renowned minister, missionary, and suffragist Florence Spearing Randolph (1919-1922). Rossville AME Zion was also renowned for its camp meetings, open- air barbecues, clambakes, and other social events that drew hundreds of participants both
black and white. The church remains in use and descendants of the original founders are still members of the congregation.
Directions: To visit Rossville AME Zion Church, from Manhattan, take the Staten Island Ferry from the St. George Terminal and then transfer to the Bricktown Mall bound bus. Get off at Bloomingdale Rd near Kramer Avenue and walk to the church.
THE OLDEST NORTH AMERICAN BLACK COMMUNITY ESTABLISHED BY FREE SLAVES IN 1828 ON SOUTH SHORE OF STATEN ISLAND
AME ZION CHURCH
Inside The Church