$100,000 set for historic Clinton Church Restoration project

The former Clinton African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Great Barrington is the oldest original black church structure in Berkshire County and, since the late 1800s, an important spiritual, cultural and political meeting place.

GREAT BARRINGTON — With a grant from a combined town and state fund, a historic African-American church building gets closer to preservation and its eventual transformation into a cultural and arts center.

The town approved the $100,000 award to Clinton Church Restoration from its Community Preservation Act fund, money collected by a state match on revenue from a local property tax surcharge.

The money will go toward a first phase of work that will stabilize the former Clinton African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church on Elm Court, the oldest original black church structure in Berkshire County and, since the late 1800s, an important spiritual, cultural and political meeting place.

Wray Gunn, a longtime member of the church and chairman of the restoration committee, said the group is "grateful to the voters of Great Barrington," and said support and interest has been "overwhelming."

The money will combine with two other grants received this year for this initial work that will include covering the structure with a new wood shingle roof, completing drainage work and mold abatement, and raising the church about 2feet to make the basement usable and safe.

This year, the Massachusetts Historic Commission awarded the project a $75,000 emergency grant, and the National Park Service African American Civil Rights Grants Program granted it $389,000. The building is a site on the Upper Housatonic Valley African American Heritage Trail and on the National Register of Historic Places.

Yet the former church is in desperate shape, and so Great Barrington-based Clark & Green Architects has completed an extensive report on the building and its needs. The firm's Steve McAlister has previously said that leaks have deteriorated the roof's wood-frame supports, among other structural emergencies.

The restoration group raised $100,000 to buy the building in 2016, two years after the church closed.

A second phase of work will renovate the building for revolving exhibits and programs, and will feature the legacy of Great Barrington native W.E.B. Du Bois, the African-American scholar and NAACP founder. It will also honor the Rev. Esther Dozier, who died in 2007.

The restoration group will continue fundraising to pay for the entire project, estimated to cost $1.2 million, with a total of about $900,000 for construction. The first phase of construction, which includes the roofing, will cost about $500,000.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireagle.com or on Twitter at @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.