Port Chester — Saint Frances African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the oldest African-American church and one of the oldest of all the denominations in Port Chester held its 4th Annual 50 State Rally, Saturday, to commemorate the states and their order of entry into the union.
The event was also to recognize members of the community for their contributions to improve or otherwise benefit the lives of the residents of Port Chester and the Town of Rye. Former Rye Town Supervisor Joseph Carvin was recognized for his efforts in supporting the summer internship program, creating the Port Chester Leadership Institute and the Tools for Change Program that brings together students from Port Chester, Rye Brook and Rye Neck. Port Chester Village Clerk, David Thomas was recognized for his efforts to restore and revitalize the African-American cemetery at Greenwood Union Cemetery in Rye.
In his remarks, Mr. Carvin thanked Mr.Thomas for also helping to make the office of the Supervisor more efficient, and technically proficient. Mr. Thomas acknowledged the integral role recent Trustee candidate, Alex Payan, played in the summer internship program. Mr. Thomas also announced that the cemetery now has 501c3 designation as the “Friends of the African-American Cemetery.”
St. Frances’ pastor, Reverend Natalie Wimberly, said she was grateful to both men for their contributions and urged the attendees to take the time to visit the cemetery, before “it is necessary to visit.”
The program was organized by Martha Bell, a leader at St. Frances and a member of the Port Chester/Rye NAACP. John Reavis, an officer at St. Frances, and president of the Port Chester/Rye NAACP, presented plaques to the honorees. Lunch was served after the ceremony in the fellowship hall.
Saint Frances African Methodist Episcopal Church located at 18 Smith Street in Port Chester will celebrate its 167th Anniversary.
The Smith Street location is not the original location of St. Frances. In the spring of 1849, residents began gathering at the home of “Auntie Banks,” located on South Main Street for prayers and testimonial services. Many of those who attended services at Auntie Banks had to travel to White Plains, Mamaroneck or New Rochelle to find AME Zion churches. Tired of the weekly treks, this small group met at Auntie Banks’ home until it grew too small for their growing group. They soon petitioned the Bishop Joseph Jackson Clinton, the presiding bishop of the New York Conference for a minister. One Father Tappan, a circuit preacher, was appointed to oversee this work in 1850.
The congregation moved to their first house of worship on King Street. In 1856, the Reverend Jeptha Barcroft was appointed as the first full-time pastor. During the Reverend Barcroft’s administration, the church on King Street was destroyed by fire, the congregation sold the property and purchased land on Pearl Street, where they built a new church in 1875.
After several years of worshipping in this new edifice, the congregation was dealt another setback when the Pearl Street building was condemned by fire. With the help of many residents of the village, the members in 1899 replaced an old schoolhouse on Smith Street that had been their house of worship, with a white-framed church. The new building was named St. Frances – honoring Mrs. Frances Quintard, a wealthy benefactor who was largely responsible for the completion of this new church building and its furnishings because of her very generous contributions. The Reverend Mark Bradley was the appointed pastor at this time in the church’s rich history.
St. Frances A.M.E. Zion Church stands as the oldest religious, fraternal, civic and/or social organization servicing the African-American community in this and surrounding communities.