One woman’s journey to save the third oldest African Methodist Episcopal Church in Texas.
By Breezy Lake-Wolfe
Palestine, Texas- Mount Vernon African Methodist Episcopal Church, located in Palestine, Texas, was organized as a church and school by freedmen in the early 1870s. The 142 year old church stands in the oldest African-American neighborhood, just northeast of the original town, which was founded in 1846 by the Texas Legislature.
Palestine has more buildings in the National Register of Historic Places than any Texas city except Galveston. Historians have identified over 1,800 buildings and features that meet the criteria of a historic resource. However, only a handful of buildings in the City have been determined to be so significant that they carry all three designations; National Register of Historic Places, Texas Historic Landmarks and City of Palestine Landmarks.
Mount Vernon A.M.E Church is one such building.
Formed in 1873, the Mount Vernon church is the third-oldest African Methodist Episcopal congregation in the state of Texas; only Reedy Chapel in Galveston and Allen Chapel in Fort Worth are older.
The early congregation met in homes from 1856 until 1873 when the “Old Roman,” John H. Reagan, donated an acre of land on Mulberry and Birch Streets to elders of this congregation and the (Antioch) Missionary Baptist Church “on which to build a church in order to worship God and educate their children.”
The church constructed at the time was called the “Union Church” because the two congregations worshiped on alternate Sundays in the same place. Mount Vernon purchased 2.2 acres at its present site in 1878. The original building was replaced by a red brick Gothic Revival style structure with two front towers. Money was raised in a “mile of nickels” campaign.
The red brick church atop a hill opened its doors to worshippers in 1921, and has been an iconic feature of the neighborhood since that time.
To preservationists and history buffs, Mount Vernon is a prized example of Gothic Revival architecture. To Tabitha Enge, it’s her heart and soul.
Tabitha, at the age of five, sang the loudest amongst the others in the youth choir at Mount Vernon. In 1985, she walked down the historic aisles on her wedding day and in December of 2013, she received a phone call from her mother letting her know the church that Tabitha called her “spiritual home” had closed its doors.
Residing in Katy, Texas at the time, Tabitha packed up and moved back to Palestine where she immediately began the process of preserving the beloved church she grew up in.
In January 2014, Tabitha went straight to the City of Palestine’s historic preservation officer where they both began the leg work for the Texas Preservation Trust Fund Grant Program, a matching grant awarded by the Texas Historical Commission (THC). After nine months of research, gathering information, endless phone calls and knocking on doors, Tabitha was able to fit all the pieces together and submit the first phase of the grant process.
On December 19, 2014, Tabitha received a letter from the THC informing her that she had been approved to move forward with the proposal stage of the Texas Preservation Trust Fund Grant Program application process.
February 27, 2015, the complete application for the $30,000 matching grant fund will be due. Tabitha has been able to raise $9,000 out of the $15,000 and is not looking back. If approved, $15,000 will be awarded by the THC to help begin the restoration process for the third oldest African Methodist Episcopal Church in Texas.
A Gospel Musical Fundraiser will be held on Sunday, February 15th at 3:00pm at the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church at 907 East Murchison Street, in Palestine, Texas.
For Tabitha, this is just the beginning of her journey. A total of $85,000 is needed to completely restore the iconic church.
Just as the congregation did during the “miles of nickels” campaign, Tabitha, with her orange notebook in hand, will keep pushing forward until she is standing back inside Mount Vernon, singing as loud as she can.