The Mount Tabor Preservation Project is looking for a contractor who could stabilize the foundation of a historic black church in Mount Holly Springs before the onset of severe weather this winter.
“Stability is the main thing we’re concerned about,” said Carmen James, former worshiper and president of the grassroots organization trying to restore what was once the spiritual center of an African-American community around Cedar Avenue.
“We met our architect,” she said. “The last we can work on the foundation is November. The concern is how long the building can withstand.
Time and neglect have taken their toll on the dilapidated church. So far this year, efforts to find a contractor have been unsuccessful. Now the clock runs on the highest priority.
“We are looking for someone to work on the foundation,” James said. “We hope to find a contractor that we can afford. It would be great to have a contractor to do it all, but life doesn’t work out as smoothly as you’d hope.
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Mount Tabor Church traces its history to Elias Parker, a former slave who moved from Hagerstown, Maryland, to Mount Holly Springs after serving with American Colored Troops during the Civil War.
A Baptist minister, Parker was also a mason and carpenter who built the church on Cedar Avenue. The congregation was active until around 1970, when many congregants moved to follow the work.
For decades, the church sat vacant until the grassroots effort was launched in 2016 to bring it back from the brink not just for tourism, but for community use.
In 2020, the borough took ownership of the church, removing the main impediment to preservation efforts. In July 2021, the Borough Council engaged SBA Architects of Sunbury, Northumberland County, to carry out architectural design and engineering work on the rehabilitation project.
The result is a proposed two-phase project to develop the church and its neighboring cemetery into a historic site to educate the public and attract tourism.
The first phase is the rehabilitation of the structure to National Park standards to maintain the historic integrity of the building. This includes improvements to modernize the building by adding capacity for electrical, an HVAC system and an ADA [handicapped] accessible ramp and door.
Phase two is parking, restrooms and a U-shaped driveway. Parking will be in the form of cobblestone or gravel while the driveway and a disabled parking spot will be asphalt.
In February, the council agreed to solicit bids to rehabilitate the church in its past role as a flexible space.
“We had an offer,” James said. “It was significantly higher than what we had money for. We did it again. We had no bidders. As of August 1, the borough is now leasing the old church to the Mount Tabor Preservation Project. The stipulations are a bit different for us to do [seek contractors] compared to what is done by the borough. The borough recommended that this might be a better way for us to get an affordable contractor. Finding a contractor is not as easy as we hoped.
She attributed the difficulty to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has slowed projects to the point where contractors are still catching up on the backlog. There have also been supply chain issues. There has been progress elsewhere.
Interpretive panels were delivered and set up at the cemetery where seven veterans of American Colored Troops are buried. Other signs may be displayed at the church. The panels were purchased with a $5,000 grant from the South Mountain Partnership.
A parking area and walking path were added to the cemetery, along with a flagpole donated by the Rotary Club of Carlisle-Sunrise. Preservation Project volunteers were approached by a Scout interested in working on an arched entrance to the cemetery as part of an Eagle Scout project.
The Eagle Scout project will also include a memorial garden dedicated to the memory of Harriett Gumby, whose family served as guardians of Mount Tabor Church for decades before the grassroots effort was organized by volunteers.
Photos: Church of Mount Tabor in Mount Holly Springs
Joseph Cress is a reporter for The Sentinel covering education and history. You can reach him at [email protected] or by calling 717-218-0022.