New Hope for Old Sag Harbor Bell Tower

The old bell tower at the St. David African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Zion Church in the Eastville neighborhood of Sag Harbor may be soon ring out again.

A local Boy Scout, Dana Harvey, a senior at Pierson High School, plans to earn his Eagle Scout badge by organizing, fundraising and leading the way toward restoration of the bell tower. All this before his 18th birthday arrives this August.

“That bell tower has literally not rung in 25 years,” says Pastor Thomas MacLeod of the Sag Harbor United Methodist Church. “I am really hoping this can highlight some of the history of the church…and reunite the community.”

The St. David African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church was founded in 1840 to serve people of color in the Sag Harbor area, and it became an anchor for the growing neighborhood of Eastville. Its cemetery was founded in 1857, across the street, and is currently under the stewardship of the Eastville Community Historical Society. The old church remains a symbol to many on the East End, as the embodiment, the legacy, of the working class and the community of African Americans of the 19th and early 20th centuries who helped build Sag Harbor.

St. David A.M.E. Zion Church was built by blacks and Native Americans in the area, many of whom were sailors working in the Sag Harbor whaling industry. Reverend John Thompson, the first minister of the church, was known as an outstanding scholar and a strong abolitionist, and it’s believed that St. David’s Church was actually part of the Underground Railroad. There is reportedly a tunnel (now filled in) running from the first floor of the rectory to the church’s pulpit, which was used by runaway slaves. Although Thompson became an A.M.E. Zion Bishop in later years, he and his wife continued to keep Sag Harbor as their permanent residence.

Pastor MacLeod’s congregation found a temporary home in St. David’s A.M.E. Zion Church in 2010, after they sold Sag Harbor’s Methodist Church and before they opened their new church on Carroll Street. The pastor gave young Harvey the restoration idea when he needed a community project for his Eagle Scout badge.

It was kismet for Harvey, who already has an interest in architecture and construction (both his parents are architects) and plans on earning his own degree in engineering after high school. When Pastor MacLeod introduced Harvey to the task, Harvey didn’t know much about the bell, the tower or the A.M.E. Zion Church, but the young man persisted with the project nonetheless.

Around the middle of last year, Harvey, his parents and MacLeod went to survey the dimensions of the bell tower and to see if the rumors of the bell’s having been sold off long ago were true. Unable to reach the tower from the inside, the group was able to make their way up to the cupola through a louver from the roof. Not only did they discover that the original bell was still in place, but it was preserved in near perfect, operable condition.

In addition to the Eagle Scout project, Harvey also plans to restore the cedar shingles on the roof of the old church, a secondary task that underscores the scope of the commitment the Boy Scout has made. He plans to raise $30,600 for the church’s makeover, but his efforts will clearly go well beyond bringing in monetary resources.

“I chose the old church because I wanted to do a big project,” says Harvey, who earned approval from the Sag Harbor Village Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board. “Hearing about the church was interesting, and it’s something I want to make the community more involved in.”

Anyone interested in donating to support the St. David African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Zion Church project can send donations to: The Sag Harbor United Methodist Church Mission and Outreach Account, P.O. Box 1146, Sag Harbor, NY 11963. Please specify that the monies should go directly towards the St. David’s A.M.E. Zion Church bell tower cupola project.

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