back to abandoned churches: ebenezer a.m.e. in frazer on bacton hill road

Well since Malvern Patch once again featured my favorite abandoned church (Malvern Historical Photo Location Revealed. Do you know this old Malvern building?) I figured it was time to share the above.

ebenezer ameA friend of mine and I met recently with another Chester County lady interested in preserving the ruins of Ebenezer A.M.E. Church on Bacton Hill Road.

reasonShe gave us this fascinating report written in 1989 by another Eagle Scout named Daniel P. Baker.  Eagle Scout Mathew Nehring also adopted this site in 2010 and documented graves and did a clean up. I find it interesting that even with clear interest in this site throughout the years, that no one from the A.M.E. Church to East Whiteland Township Historical Commission, to East Whiteland Township, or any other of the non-profits nationally and locally one would think would be interested in this site have done anything.

And isn’t it past time to preserve this site? (Check out photos I took a couple of years aliceago here) I wrote to Justin Heinze the latest Patch reporter to mention the church (Pete Kennedy had already done it in 2012), but never heard back.  He may not have cared for my corrections.  I suggested he clarify that the location is Frazer. On Bacton Hill Road in East Whiteland Township. (I would’ve hoped that the East Whiteland Historical Society would’ve pointed that out. )

We do have our own identity everything is not “Malvern” and to say Malvern should even have clarity because Malvern is not just a borough, it is a town in multiple municipalities in addition to the borough.

I asked if he knew at least one freed slave is buried there? Or an African American Civil War Soldier? I also asked if East Whiteland Historical Commission was doing anything about this.joshua

ann brownI got back nothing and I am sure my mentioning East Whiteland Historical Commission will elicit more comments on this blog from them but the truth is they have to be more than seat warmers (a friend describes them something akin to that).

Friends of mine and I have for the past couple of years try to get in touch with people that we think would be interested in saving this church – the structure is basically gone and needs to be secured as a ruin, but the graves represent extraordinary historical significance for the area. My research indicates that the AME national church still owns the land.  I tried writing them different times over the past two years about the site and they never even acknowledged that I contacted them. (Anymore than this latest Patch reporter.)

another graveSince I moved out here from the Main Line I have heard stories of Civil War soldiers and Revolutionary war soldiers  sort of just getting paved under with progress. (one of the supposed paved over locations of Revolutionary War Soldiers was around Bacton Hill and Swedesford Roads but I have no documentation.)

I think the site deserve some sort of recognition and preservation. Which was why a friend of mine and I were so thrilled to have coffee with another lady of a similar mind set. She brought with her the document above and another cool book that I knew of because I know  the author, Catherine Quillman.

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That photo of Ebenezer A.M.E. Church is one of the only ones I have ever seen of the church when it was whole. I tried looking for minutes and any reports by the East Whiteland Historical Commission. The last time they had anything posted on the East Whiteland website appears to have been 2009! Yes, 2009. What. A. Joke.

Here is an excerpt of the document at the opening of the post. History of The Ebenezer A.M.E. Church from 1989:

A stone building, dilapidated and crumbling from the outside in, still stands on Bacton Hill Road….The gravestones which surround the building clearly show that it was a church.  Nearly all the headstones have fallen downhill and lie, face up crumbling from the wind and rain.

Records show that this church, formerly named the Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church, was built in 1832 on what was originally known as the Yellow Springs Road.  A celebrated gospel church, it was regularly attended by Negroes who lived and worked on Bacton Hill. Very few of the lives of these people, who were once a great part of the history of East Whiteland, have ever been chronicled.

Early tax records for Chester County show a listing of “free men”. Actually these “free men” were colored slaves who had been given their freedom from bondage when they reached the age of 38.  Later on, the age of freedom was lowered to 23 years of age and finally a state law granted that any person born in the state of Pennsylvania was a guaranteed free man.

The farmers of Valley Hills would often give these free men, after their term of bondage was up, a small plot of land for their own upon the hills in Bacton.  On these, the former slaves built small log cabins or stone buildings.  Many ran small farms while still working during the day timbering the summit of Bacton Hill and carting lumber down to the Great Valley for the lime kilns.

In or around 1832 these free men who lived and worked around Bacton Hill built a church, and eventually a stone building was built. Gravestones date back to that era, I have seen them and photographed them. In 1989 when the paper was written, 80 graves were documented. When the next Eagle Scout documented graves, I believe he only documented 26. When I photographed the site a couple of years ago now, I did not even see that many. The graves are disappearing. Sinking into the murky and often swampy land (several springs underneath apparently), and it would not surprise me if other headstones had simply been removed. Yes, people steal from the dead and that includes headstones.

Anyway, riots and “disturbances” between 1848 and 1870 caused the church to not be used as much and it apparently fell to ruin the first time. But in 1872 the old church was brought back to life and reopened December 8th 1872.  “:Important” clergymen were reported as having been present, and in June of 1873 the church was re-dedicated as Ebenezer African American Methodist Church.

At this point the church remained in use until 1910.  Then the church may not have been used again until the 1940s. In the 1940s it was reported to have been some sort of a big the church to celebrate it’s history. It was said people from all over Chester County gathered with “prominent” members of the A.M.E. Church.  It is believed that is when the church was electrified.  After that, the church stopped being used, and the woods and swampy marsh grass grew up around it, and a mobile home ended up next to it.

Bacton Hill Road is a hodge podge today. Occasional houses, a couple down long, long driveways we can’t even see. It also has a mobile home/ trailer park, a couple corn fields, and industrial buildings. Where it meets Swedesford is an office park and part of the Chester County Trail System.

May 30th of this year was my most recent post on the church and graveyard. I love the history of this area, and to me, this site, the church, and the deceased buried so long ago are important pieces of history. So why is it in Chester Couty many remember the part this county played in the Underground Railroad, yet no one can preserve this site, let alone formerly remember it?

When all the schools speak of African American History Month every year, does anyone look to our local history? Or care? On the website for Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) I found a suggested theme for Black History Month 2016. Remarkably they say it may be “2016 – Hallowed Grounds: Sites of African American Memory”. ASALH was founded in 1915 by Dr. Carter G.Woodson.

Anyway, if East Whiteland Historical Commission is going to continue essentially sitting on their collective hands while history like this rots, maybe the people of Chester County and beyond can help? Ebenezer A.M.E. is important.  How can we save it? It deserves to be saved and have a secure and recognized place in history.

Thanks for stopping by.

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One thought on “back to abandoned churches: ebenezer a.m.e. in frazer on bacton hill road

  1. Reading Daniel Baker’s report from 1989 was a pleasure. His map of the headstone locations is excellent…i had no idea there were that many! And sadly, you are likely correct, they have sunk out of sight or been stolen. The name Abraham America stood out, have read of him in Phila history but not certain where or why. It is an outrage that the AME national Church ignores this site but they always have and likely will continue to do so. I wonder if the Ches Co. Historical Society might have a more complete list of the graves…back in the depression the WPA documented many cemeteries. Thank you for continuing to bring attention to the Church.

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