Former W.E.B. Du Bois church for sale; visitors center envisioned

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GREAT BARRINGTON >> The Clinton African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, former church of W.E.B. Du Bois and one of the most historically significant churches in Berkshire County, is up for sale.

Supporters of the church are hoping to find a "sympathetic" buyer who would be willing to purchase the church and allow the development of a visitors center there.

"We're hoping for someone to come forward and support an adaptive reuse of the building, instead of removing it," said David Glassberg, a history professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

UMass-Amherst owns the Du Bois Ancestral Homesite on Route 23 about a mile outside of town. Glassberg hopes a new owner would retrofit at least a portion of the church as a Du Bois Historical Site visitors center.

The church was constructed in 1857 and was the first African-American church in Berkshire County. Significantly, Great Barrington native and civil rights pioneer W.E.B. Du Bois attended services there in the 19th century. His uncle was a prominent member.

"There's no doubt that this is one of the most important structures in the history of the African-American community in Berkshire County," said Wray Gunn, a former member of the church.

Gunn added that residents living in that neighborhood are anxious to learn the fate of the structure, which is in a prime downtown location.

The church itself was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008, Glassberg said.

"We're concerned that its prominent location in the downtown area will attract a buyer" who would simply demolish the building and build a new structure.

The Rev. Warren Dews Jr. of the Price Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church of Pittsfield, has been charged by the elders of the Methodist Episcopal Zion New England District to appraise the structure and find a buyer.

The church has been vacant for the past few years, Dews said. The congregation worships elsewhere and the building is in danger of falling into disrepair.

Gunn said the congregation had about seven members, who now worship at other area churches.

He said that several years ago, Clinton AME Zion officials spoke with a local architect concerning options for the aging building. But, Gunn said, he didn't recall the actual costs of renovating the structure.

The building itself is assessed at $301,600, according to the town assessor's office.


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