First Black Church - African Methodist Episcopal

First Black Church
African Methodist Episcopal

In 1879 the Rev. Elder Collins of Elmira, NY came to Olean to organize a group of black citizens known as "Mission Walk".  The group was formed to create a place of worship for their families.  The church was incorporated on April 21, 1879.  The trustees of this first black congregation were:  Irenus J. Palmer, President, G.D. Peterson, Secretary, Librius Wright, Treasurer and Edwin Bonner and Solomon Peterson.  The first local preacher was Joseph Thompson.  In 1882 Rev. Collins incorporated the Olean church as teh African Methodist Episcopal Church of Olean. 

The trustees soon began to look for a place to build their church.  They purchased property at the corner of South Fifth and West State Streets.  The land was nothing like it is today.  It was quite rural.  Actually it was a frog pond!  They bought the land for $300.  Soon a 28 by 40 foot structure was built upon sturdy log postss.  The church looked like the homes of the early lake dwellers.  It was dedicated by Rev. Collins.  The first regular preacher was Brother William George of New Jersey. 

Several years later, in 1899 the church was totally destroyed by fire.  The trustees purchased the old Lutheran Church which also burned.  With $600 from insurance and a new building fund at the First National Bank, a new church was built at 107 South Fifth Street for $3500.  Dedicated on September 23, 1900 a brief history writeen by Mrs. Victoria E. Palmer was placed in the cornerstone of the church.  She wrote that at the time, "Olean had a population of 18,000, five miles of paved streets, electric lights, electric cars, gravity water works, 15 churches and 8 schools.  J. H. Warring was mayor."  Soon this church also burned. 

On July 1, 1900 the church was transferred by Bishop Lee to the New York Conference and brother Lane was sent to pastor.  At the time the trustees were: J.B. Olby, President, T. H. Barnes, Secretary, J.C. Crawford, Treasurer, Menzo Marshall, Peter Williams, E.C. Randall, I.J. Palmer, and John Crandall. 

In 1938 a new church was built at the corner of South Third and West Green Streets.  That building still serves the Olean black community.


Source of this article: Olean Times Herald- Date unknown

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