By Ronald G. Greene
On May 19, 2013 I experienced the humbling honor of being recognized for having discovered the Zion Pilgrim Methodist Episcopal Church of Baxtertown in Fishkill, NY - a church that was a Station on the Underground Railroad. The foundation of the church is on my property, and during the recognition dinner I received the first annual Hudson River Valley Heritage Award.
After moving up from New York City in 1982 pursuing career advancement opportunities in NYS service, I purchased the property in 1998 from a local builder. For years we were afforded accounts that the property had formerly been owned by African Americans, that Baxtertown had been a relatively large, vibrant African American community in the 1800s - early 1900s, and that there had been an active church on the property. Following a Fishkill Planning Board meeting in October 2012, my interest peaked in the church and I embarked on a search for information which ultimately lead to the discovery of the church’s role is facilitating Freedom Seekers quest for independence from the horrors of slavery.
Since October 2012 we have amassed information about the church from several reliable sources including town records and maps, county records and maps, local and regional periodicals, through meetings with Fishkill town officials, through contact with the historian of Mother AME Zion church in NYC (Dabney Montgomery, who is a Tuskeegee Airman, by the way) and through documents on file at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Most notably, the Chapel Hill document by Bishop James Walker Hood entitled, "1831-1919: 100 Year’s of the African American Episcopal Church - or The Centennial of African Methodism" specifically cites the Zion Pilgrim ME Church of Baxtertown as a "Station". And, Bishop Hood’s citation of the church is the only suchreference in the 625 page document.
In his 1957 publication of "Blithe Dutchess" President Emeritus Henry Noble McCracken specifically wrote about the church and the Baxtertown area. He wrote that "a rigourous church life arose among them" speaking of Blacks and Wappinger Indians, and he wrote that "Baxtertown was a station on the underground railway – probably working with Quakers." So, the history of the church is clear.
We are in the process of working with NYS Parks & Recreation to gain historic recognition of the property in New York State. Inclusion of the property of the US national register will then be pursued. We seek recognition of the Zion Pilgrim ME Church of Baxtertown because its history is everyone’s history and the story should be brought forth for all to know. The process has been slow but our attention to the goals has been steady and, ultimately, we are confident that the community will witness the erection of a historical maker to connote the church, its role as a Station of the Underground Railroad and its former vital role in the life of Baxtertown in Fishkill, NY.
The May 19th event was well attended by family, friends, Democrats, Republicans, young and old alike. We were drawn together in the spirit of community - and of that I am particularly proud. Pray for us as we continue this important work.