Great Barrington — Despite the 150th anniversary of W.E.B. Du Bois’ birth having come and gone, there continues to be cause for celebration in Great Barrington: On March 15, the National Park Service African American Civil Rights Grant Program awarded a grant of $388,508 to Housatonic Heritage for the initial phase of restoration work on Great Barrington’s historic Clinton A.M.E. Zion Church, a place of significance for the civil rights activist and Great Barrington native son.
The history of Clinton Church dates back to its dedication in 1887. The building itself, a distinctive example of traditional New England shingle-style architecture, currently stands empty and in disrepair. In many ways, the iconic bell tower – sheathed in white clapboards but missing a bell – serves as a fitting symbol of the congregation’s purpose, one rooted in the practical allocation of resources that allowed it to become the spiritual, cultural and political home for the African-American community in the southern Berkshires.
The grant, part of $12.6 million awarded to 51 projects in 24 states, is aimed at preserving sites and highlighting stories related to the African-American struggle for equality in the 20th century. The Phase I work on Clinton Church will focus on areas of the building that most urgently need attention and will include a new wood-shingle roof, abatement of mold and mildew, improved drainage, replacement of the basement floor slab, raising the building to make the basement usable, and repair or modification to the parsonage to prepare it to be used for programming and interpretation.
“Getting this grant was reinvigorating for the board of the CCR and for the project itself,” said Dan Bolognani of Housatonic Heritage. “It rekindled enthusiasm for the project and our hope is that we will be able to use the energy from this grant find additional funding to get this project finished,” he added. The grant for Phase I restoration work includes critical infrastructure; Phase II costs remain a little unclear at this point, the challenge being that they have yet to complete planning for use which will inform the future construction costs. “As in any large restoration project, there are so many variables,” said Bolognani, whose best informed estimate is in the neighborhood of $900,000 in total construction costs.
Clinton Church Restoration is, as a group, working at a steady clip to move the project forward. CCR has been granted 501(c)3 tax-exempt status by the Internal Revenue Service. This designation was made possible in part by Bolognani and Housatonic Heritage, who had been acting as the fiscal sponsor since the project’s November 2016 inception. CCR also engaged Liana Toscanini, a nonprofit consultant and founder of the Nonprofit Center of the Berkshires, to work with them for three months on a variety of organizational matters including the transition from Housatonic Heritage’s fiscal sponsorship. Toscanini’s significant experience in fundraising, grant writing, and historic preservation has been a boon to the burgeoning nonprofit sector in myriad capacities, most notably in the past two years since she launched the NPC in April 2016.
Under the leadership of Steve McAllister, Clark and Green Architects has completed its impressive 125-page Historic Structure Report on the former Clinton A.M.E. Zion Church. The HSR includes an assessment of the building’s current condition, a discussion of the historic significance of various aspects and components of the building and site, and recommendations for treatment.
Finally, CCR was chosen as the inaugural voice in a new storytelling feature, part of the Preservation Massachusetts newsletter, which shares local preservation stories that can serve to educate and inspire others. The series, which was launched in March, features the historic Clinton A.M.E. Zion Church and the dedicated advocates who banded together to save it.
Beginning Sunday, April 1, donations to the support the ongoing project may be made directly to Clinton Church Restoration, P.O. Box 1075, Great Barrington, MA 01230.